At this time of year we tend to think about making improvements in our lives – get fit, lose weight, start new projects - but generally we find our New Year resolutions difficult to maintain. However much we want to eat healthier food, get up a bit earlier, walk more, we find we drift quickly back into the old ways, if we start at all! Long-held habits and behaviours can be very resistant to change.
Change is challenging because the more we repeat behaviours, the more they become hard-wired into our brains, making actual physical connections in our nervous system and, like a needle on a record, we tend to stick in the familiar grooves.
It was thought in past times that the brain did not change after adulthood but modern science recognises that the brain can change its structure and function in response to experiences throughout life. New pathways of nerves can be developed, representing new behaviours and if the old pathways are no longer used, they get pruned away and disappear. This is termed ‘neuroplasticity’ and it explains how we are able to learn new skills and how the brain can recover from injury and disease. So, why do we find it so difficult to make a new groove?
Let’s consider how the brain works. The part of the brain that we use in our day to day lives can be termed our conscious brain and this is where our intellect lies. When we are operating in this part of the brain, we tend to get things right in life and come up with answers based on a proper assessment of a situation. We also tend to be nicely positive. But we also have a primitive or subconscious part of the brain which is there for our protection and which has the job of ensuring our survival. This part of the brain is alert to danger and sets off the fight/flight/freeze response to help us to deal with or to avoid situations that pose a threat to life. Being alert to danger means that this part of the brain has a tendency to be negative – always anticipating the worst case scenario in order to keep us out of trouble. We can have a problem in modern life when the primitive brain, designed to deal with sabre-toothed tigers and angry tribespeople, misreads daily stress and general ‘busy’-ness of life as a real threat and steps in to help. If we are operating in our primitive brain, i.e. the subconscious mind, then we are encouraged to keep acting in the same way; we survived yesterday so the safe thing is to repeat the actions of yesterday in order to stay safe today.
So, while our conscious, intellectual mind knows that changes in lifestyle and habit are good for us, unfortunately our subconscious mind really does not like change. Stress tends to make us operate more in our subconscious mind and there we make automatic decisions which follow the old ways. We find we say ‘yes’ to the wrong type of food for example, or find any distraction that means we avoid going to the gym. We are much more likely to succeed with our new regime if we are relaxed and operating in our conscious mind where we can make those decisions that enable changes to be made.
So, how do we ensure that we are operating in our conscious mind and not letting the subconscious make the decisions for us? Well, we know our conscious mind is more in control when we are relaxed and positive, while our subconscious mind operates in negativity. So we need to do things that engage our conscious mind and keep us positive. When we are positive, we get actual chemical changes in the brain that encourage healthy behaviours. The neurotransmitter serotonin, for example, is a chemical which encourages us to be motivated, happy, confident and helps us to cope. When we involve positive activity, positive interaction and positive thinking in our lives, we get a nice steady flow of serotonin.
Positive activity need not be running marathons – just walking more, or taking a small amount of exercise to start with. Walking in nature for just 10 minutes a day can have a tremendous impact on mood. Positive activity can also mean getting through the jobs list, ticking off small goals throughout the day, providing a sense of achievement.
Having positive interactions with people is an important factor in feeling good. When we feel a bit down, the tendency is to stay away from other people, but we are tribal creatures and we benefit from being with our tribe. That may be family members, friends, work colleagues or just familiar faces around and about where you live. Making conversation and having a laugh and a joke with others is vital for good mental health.
Perhaps most importantly, we need positive thinking to get in the right frame of mind for change. We need to engage self-belief and determination – thinking “I can, I will” is far more encouraging than “I’ll never be able to do that” or “I’ll never get thin”. What we say to ourselves is important but so is how we say it - saying out loud what it is you want to achieve can be helpful.
Interestingly, our subconscious mind doesn’t know the difference between what is real and what is in our imagination, so you can start the process just by visualising your goal and enjoying imagining the desired outcome. For example, see yourself getting to the finishing line of that 10K run, or see yourself in the mirror looking so much better for losing a stone.
So get out there, get positive and make the change that you want to see in your life!
Sometimes, with the best will in the world, we can’t do it alone and find we need a little help in making a change in our lives. Solution Focused Hypnotherapy uses trance to help the two parts of the brain to work together to achieve the desired goal. If you are interested in using Solution Focused Hypnotherapy to help you to make a change in your life and achieve your goals, please contact Jane Fox Hypnotherapy for further information.
Phone: 07870 882234
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