Having a clean slate in the new year feels like the second chance we have been waiting for. But do we need a calendar day to grant permission to create healthier habits and lifestyle choices? Social norms have conditioned us to think we do. If you already feel like you’re not succeeding in your goals or resolutions for 2024, we’re here to tell you it’s okay. It is not January 1st that has the power – you do. Each minute is an opportunity to begin again. Continue reading as we think beyond the scope of New Year’s Resolutions to understand the mind-body connection to create lasting change.
Why say no to traditional New Year’s resolution expectations?
Though well intended, most New Year’s Resolutions consist of drastic lifestyle changes driven by intense pressure – the pressure we put on ourselves to achieve the goal, pressure from media campaigns reaffirming “New Year, New You” slogans… Let’s face it, the pressure that comes with being asked countless times about our New Year’s resolution also takes a toll.
Additionally, New Year’s resolutions suggest that everyone should restart at the same time. Perhaps there is a recent goal set a few months prior that you are still working on. Continue working on your goal at your own pace. Setting intentions and goals at the start of the year is one way to ensure success–not the only way. Quarterly, monthly, or weekly check-ins are options and recommended to use in combination to measure the success of your progress throughout the year. It’s not a matter of when but more of how you set your goals. Allow your tradition to be your choice.
About 80% of New Year’s Resolutions fail by February. We have been conditioned to expect that change should occur as soon as we decide it. When it doesn’t happen that way, we feel discouraged and give up quickly. Here at Awakened Path, we want you to succeed in achieving your goals and will share more effective ways with you. Understanding how the brain works is extremely helpful in preparing for changes and forming new habits.
Understanding the mind-body connection and change
Change can be extremely difficult. The brain’s resistance to changing behaviors and habits is rooted in the formation of strong neural pathways through repetition, creating familiarity and efficiency. Habits often trigger the brain’s reward system, associating them with pleasure and making them difficult to break. The brain seeks stability and balance, resisting change that disrupts homeostasis. Additionally, changing behaviors requires conscious effort and may introduce a fear of failure or the unknown. Overcoming this resistance involves understanding these factors and employing strategies such as gradual changes, positive reinforcement, and conscious effort to create new neural pathways and reshape established habits.
Think about a time when you wanted to create a change in your life. It started with a thought. That thought then prompted a behavioral action in your life. While creating that change resistance arose and sounded something like “I can’t do this” or “This is too hard” or “I’ll start fresh again next week.” Most of us assume self-limiting thoughts to be true and refrain from challenging them. When in reality, these self-limited thoughts are rooted in unconscious old programming that came to the surface but was not based in reality. Recognizing our limiting beliefs and challenging them is the key to creating lasting change; bringing the unconscious to the conscious -taking back control. If you are doing something consciously over and over it will become your new hardwired program, only this time you are choosing your programming. When this rewiring process occurs by challenging our beliefs (mind), the behavioral actions that we are taking (body) are realigning our mind-body connection.
Deeply hard-wired habits or “programming,” not only influence our thought patterns and behaviors but also manifest physiologically in our bodies. Much like the process with our thoughts, our bodies respond similarly to change. When change is implemented to disrupt the familiarity the body may trigger an anxious response to return to the old programming. Anxieties manifest physiologically in our body and can look like but are not limited to–a sense of panic, nausea, sweating, jitters, muscle tension, intrusive thoughts, and/or heart palpitations. Our bodies view familiar feelings and behaviors as comforting. For example, perhaps you have decided to start exercising regularly as you no longer want to live a sedentary lifestyle. It’s time to go to the gym and you feel extremely anxious and almost sick to your stomach. You consciously (mind) want to go to the gym, however your body is feeling uneasy about the sudden change, prompting you to stay in the comfort of your couch.
So how do you align your mind-body connection to disrupt your old “programming” to create a new one?
First, when the inevitable self-doubt and resistance arise–view it as an open door to your unconscious mind. It’s an opportunity to rewire your brain by making new connections, thus modifying the existing pathways. There is no way around the resistance that comes with creating change in your life. Unconscious thoughts are embedded in our biology (body), neural wiring (mind), and personality (soul). With conscious effort, we can transform our reality and work towards getting our mind-body in coherence with new programs. Though conscious efforts can have a tremendous impact on your transformation, it is important to note individuals who have experienced more adversity in their upbringing may have more hardwired stress and trauma responses. Therefore, rewiring some of those “programs” may require professional help from a trained therapist.
Here are some tools to help you create your new reality and realign your mind-body connection:
Visualization is the process of deliberately creating mental images in your mind for a desired future or outcome. This tool is effective in creating change due to its impact on the brain’s wiring. When practicing this technique, be sure to create the feeling and emotion along with the mental image. Emotional responses are what registers in the body. The combination of creating the thought (mind) and emotional response and feeling (body) is the key is connecting the mind-body through this experience.
What makes visualization a power tool is the trick it plays on your mind. Your mind does not know the difference between external experiences and imagery that you are creating internally with visualization. For example, imagine you have an upcoming presentation at work. In the past, this experience made you extremely anxious. However, this time you are using this visualization technique to help prepare you. You close your eyes and rehearse the meeting in your head by imagining yourself confidently articulating your words, feeling empowered and calm in your body, being proud of yourself, and celebrating your success at your favorite restaurant with immense joy and gratitude. When it comes time for the external experience, your mind can feel as if the experience already happened, lessening stress responses, increasing confidence, and enhancing your performance. Athletes are trained in visualization techniques to enhance their performance. Mental imagery is a practice and may require additional support to get started. If you find it challenging to focus, try these suggestions.
- Journaling: Write down what you want to visualize first. Perhaps you want to imagine a first day at a new job. Write down as many details and feelings about the day and leading up to it. What will you wear? How will you greet the receptionist when you walk in and how will you feel? How will you introduce yourself to your coworkers and what will that feel like? Once you have everything written out try closing your eyes and visualizing it happening.
- Guided audio visualizations: Tons of resources help facilitate questions to ask yourself to think outside your current reality. Remember that we are trying to think outside of our current reality to create a new one, so new thoughts and ideas are a great way to get beyond that.
- Use external images to visualize: Imagining and looking at images of people, places, or things. Maybe you are having a hard time knowing exactly what you want to visualize. Think about places to visit, people in which you admire, or material things you desire. Look up images or videos and then close your eyes and try to recreate that image in your mind. Eventually, you will find it easier to create images based on your thoughts.
Renowned neuroscientist and best-selling author, Dr. Joe Dispenza discovered the healing power of meditation teachings and practices in his community. Thousands of people in his community attested to profound transformations, powerful breakthroughs, and miraculous physical healing as a result of implementing meditation practices into their lives. While it has many known benefits including stress reduction, improved brain function, and connecting the mind and body– it brings your attention to your inner world. Our external worlds are filled with constant stimuli and distractions. Most of the time we are in the same environments having the same experience therefore limiting exposure to new thoughts and ideas. When we meditate, we are detaching from our known environments to tap into the unknown, which is necessary for change.
Creating stillness in the mind can clear out energy and repetitive thoughts that take up emotional, physical, and mental space. When our mind is consumed by the energy of our known/familiar thoughts it gets in the way of allowing new thoughts to enter. For us to successfully implement change and create a new reality we need new thoughts and experiences. Think of it as freeing up energy for clarity on creating a new reality.
A common experience in trying meditation for the first time is a lot of mental chatter. This may persist amongst beginner meditators and even advanced meditators. Many of us may feel discouraged or that “meditation isn’t for me.” Instead, we encourage the practice of self-compassion when the incessant chatter comes along and to plan for it. A useful plan is to observe the thoughts without judgment and focus on the breath. Thoughts have meaning when we attach an emotional response to them. If we remain neutral and notice the thoughts without judgment, we are taking back control of the mind. Focusing on the breath is a helpful way to bring us back to the present. Each time this is successfully achieved, the mind is becoming more susceptible to change.
Transform your Mind and Body
At Awakened Path we understand how conditioned “programs” stand in the way of achieving your greatest potential. The incoherence this causes in your mind-body can make change feel impossible. Our trained therapists utilize a holistic approach focused on connecting the mind, body, and soul. We are here to tell you and show you sustainable ways to utilize evidence-based practices to aid transformation. This year doesn’t need to start with the pressure of unreasonable resolutions. You are capable of changing and achieving your goals. Schedule a call today and allow us the opportunity to guide you along your journey.