Reconsidering those New Year’s resolutions
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By Steven Campbell  January 3, 2014 12:00 am

I have a dear friend who smoked for decades. On the first of every January, he would say, “This is the year. I’m going to stop smoking.” And it would last…perhaps for a couple of days…or even a week. (One time he stopped for an entire month.) But he always went back.

Why is that? Let’s look at some reasons.

We’ve learned in this column that all your thousands of self-images are based solely on our self-talk. In fact, everything you are is based solely on what you say to yourself about yourself. For instance, for 25 years I told myself “I am a 230-pound man who needs to lose 40 pounds.” When I did, my brain responded, “Ok. You are a 230-pound man. And my job is to make sure you stay at 230 pounds.” Why? “Because that’s how you see yourself, and I will not let you be unlike yourself.”

This went on for 25 years. It was not until I began giving different messages about myself…that I began eating and exercising like a 190-pound man, and over a year, the weight gradually came off. Now, to understand how this works, we also need to understand there are many levels of self-talk. We’ll look at two today.


‘But I’m really trying…’

Whenever a student did badly on a college exam and slumped down in my office protesting that he was “really trying,” I put a stapler (or some other object) in front of him. I then instructed him to “try” and pick up the stapler. His face assumed a rather quizzical look. He hesitated for a few seconds and invariably reached out to pick up the stapler. “No,” I protested. “Don’t pick up the stapler, try to pick up the stapler.” He sat there in front of me completely baffled. I then gently told him that “trying” to do something is completely meaningless. You are either going to do it or you’re not. But saying that you are trying to do something is simply a cop-out. 

You know why? Because our brain hates to change and has an amazing arsenal to stop change from happening. One of its favorites is when you say, “I’m trying.” It then says, “Great. Try the rest of your life. I then don’t have to change a thing.”


‘I quit’

The second way is usually in the form of a New Year’s resolution. “From now on, I quit smoking.” 

However, New Year’s Resolutions usually don’t work because they concentrate on what you are doing, not how you see yourself. And it must begin there, on the inside, with your mind, for what you do starts with what you say to yourself about yourself.

Did my friend ever quit smoking? Yes. A number of years ago, he flew home and watched his father die of lung cancer. When I picked him up at San Francisco International Airport (SFO), he got in the car, looked at me rather somberly and said, “Steve, you are looking at a nonsmoker.” He has not smoked since.

Why? Because after the death of his father, he told himself that he was a nonsmoker. Not that he would “try to quit smoking,” but he was a nonsmoker. And this became one of the strongest pictures of his life.


Creating the strongest picture

Do you remember when you first learned to ride a bicycle without the training wheels? Your father, mother, brother or sister ran alongside while your hands desperately clung to the handlebars, the bike wobbling every which way. When they finally felt you were ready to ride without their help, they pointed out a rock in the middle of the dirt road 50 feet ahead, and warned you not to run into that rock. They gave your bike a gentle push and off you went. And to keep yourself from running into that rock, you kept your eyes fastened to it. You know what happened – Bam, right into the rock!

This illustrates an amazingly important brain principle, and that is our brains are teleological; they seek the strongest picture.

They are like a guided missile. Just as a missile seeks objects, they seek pictures or ideas. Unlike a bullet, which never veers from its path, we are continually correcting ourselves to find whatever target we are locking onto. And what is that target? It is simply the strongest picture, and that strongest picture is your own self-image. 

For example, when I was trying to lose all that weight, my strongest picture (i.e., my self-image) was that of a 230-pound man because that was who I was. My brain then locked onto it and never veered away.

However, as I learned to see myself as a 190-pound man, (or as a non-smoker, or as a person who does not lose her temper with her children) and locked onto those new self-images, my brain did too.

It’s interesting. Somewhere in my brain, floating about in the trillions of patterns it contains, there is still a self-image of myself as a 230-pound man. (The only way to get rid of it is through a pre-frontal lobotomy, which I’m not going to have…thank you very much.)

But you know what? I don’t pay attention to it. I’ve decided that it is not the strongest picture. 

The image I have locked onto is that of a 190-pound man, and that is the one my brain is also locked onto.

And all of this is accomplished through what you say to yourself about yourself. You lock onto what you want to be…now. As if it has already happened. And do you know what your brain does? It locks onto it, too. And then it does everything it can to make it happen.

What a wonderful way to start 2014!


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 For more information, go to

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