|It’s time for New Year’s resolutions that can work
If you are older than 10, you’ve learned New Year’s resolutions (or most resolutions for that matter) usually don’t work; at least not over the long term.
Why is this, and how can we create goals in our lives that actually work?
To answer those questions, let’s consider how our brain works, and how psychology has evolved to help answer these questions.
In 1975, a psychologist by the name of Dr. Albert Ellis published a little book titled “A Guide To Rational Living.” It was this book that became the springboard of cognitive psychology.
Prior to his death in 2007, Psychology Today magazine described Ellis as the “greatest living psychologist.”
Ellis explains how our behavior today comes from how we think today. This seems obvious, but prior to the 1970’s, Freudianism postulated our behavior was from our upbringing and “unresolved childhood conflicts.” “No!” responded the behaviorists. It’s due to “cause-and-effect. “ “Wrong!” protested the environmentalists. It’s the environment that makes you the way you are. “Wrong again!” exclaimed the ethnologists. It’s all has to do with our cultures. And on and on.
“No!” exclaimed Ellis. Our behavior comes from what we believe about ourselves (our self-images), and our beliefs come from what we tell ourselves about ourselves. This is called our “self-talk.”
And you know what? This very simple observation explains the reason the other psychologies were also correct.
How can this be? Well, when I say my behavior comes from my upbringing, it’s absolutely true.
Why? Because my brain believes everything I tell it, and then does everything it can to make it true.
So what does this have to do with goals and resolutions?
To answer that, let me tell you about a client who was a smoker most of his life. Every January, he announced, “This is the year I will quit smoking.” And it lasted for maybe three days, or a week. (One time it lasted a month.) And then he went back to smoking. Why? Because he never changed how we saw himself in his mind.
As long as he smoked, his self-image was that of a smoker. So when he declared, “I will stop smoking?” his subconscious responded “Why? If you’re a smoker, and have been telling yourself that for years, why are you not smoking?” In other words, his brain would not let him be unlike himself.
This cycle lasted for decades and culminated in his flying to Michigan as his father died of lung cancer. When his wife picked him back up at SFO, he got in the car, looked at her and declared, “Honey, you are looking at a non-smoker!” He has not smoked since.
Now what happened? For decades, he told himself he was a smoker, and therefore was a smoker. The reason? Because his brain believed him, for it believes what we tell it as certainly as our heart pumps blood.
That’s the scary part. But there’s also a wonderful part?
Your brain believes what you tell it.
So, when my client said to his wife in the car, “You are looking at a non-smoker,” his brain believed that just as quickly. And then did everything it could to make it true in his life.
Now…what does all of this have to do with resolutions and goals?
When we create resolutions or goals, they’re usually expressed by what we do. “I will lose 30 pounds,” “I will quit smoking,” “I will repair that relationship.”
Do you know what’s missing? You’re not changing how you see yourself. You are not affecting your self-images. So if you weigh 230 pounds, and you declare “I’m a 230 pound man who must lose 30 pounds,” your brain only hears “I am a 230 pound man,” and then does everything to keep you at 230 pounds. That is its job. It will not let you be unlike yourself.
Another caveat to this is when you say, “I will lose 30 pounds (sometime in the future)” your brain responds, “Great! That sounds wonderful. Since I have no control over what happens in the future, I can’t do a thing to help you, so I think I’ll go take a nap.”
So how do you create resolutions that work? First, concentrate on statements which emphasize who you are, rather than what you are doing. Psychology calls statements like these “affirmations.”
An affirmation is simply a goal, when written correctly, triggers a picture in your mind of a goal that has already been accomplished. “I look great at 30 pounds,” “I love being a non-smoker,” “My relationship with my wife is so very loving.”
Second, rather than keeping your goals in the future, express them as if they have already been accomplished. “I am a non-smoker.” “I have a great relationship with my wife.” “I look great at 160 pounds.”
Your brain is not stupid, and will at first protest these statements are not true. But when you express them in the present tense, and mentally lock onto them as true, it will do everything it can to make them true in your life.
Steven Campbell is the author of "Making Your Mind Magnificent" and conducts "The Winners Circle" every two months at Sonoma Mountain Village in RP. He can be contacted at 480-5007 or email@example.com. For more information, go to www.anintelligentheart.com.