A New Year’s Resolution
The concept has become ubiquitous in our culture — an idea full of hope and confidence that, this year we will successfully make a change that sticks. Maybe it is a resolution to eat healthier, exercise more, learn a new skill or have more patience with those you love. Whatever your particular version is of your best, this seems to be the time of the year to begin the hunt for the recipe and the willpower to make it happen.
But Old Habits Do Die Hard
Just this once, we eat the donut, skip the yoga class or stay up a little later to watch another episode of that awesome series. Just this once morphs into twice and thrice and, slowly but surely, we come to the realization that we are right back where we started.
Truly breaking a habit means changing our brains. This is actually good news! Our brains are highly malleable, and contrary to what was common understanding at the turn of the century, neuroscientists now know that our brains are not finished developing at a particular age; they change as a result of experience and stimuli right up until the moment that we take our last breath. Wittingly or unwittingly we mold our brains by the things we repeatedly do, the stories we tell ourselves and where it is that we direct our attention. We develop the neurological “grooves” that make habits so automatic, so ingrained and so very resistant to change.
Mindfulness can change our brains. The benefits of mindfulness are well-documented and varied — from boosting the immune system to lowering harmful cortisol levels to increasing brain matter and activity in areas of the brain that control memory, empathy and cognitive functioning. Mindfulness practices have been shown to decrease anxiety and depression, increase compassion, attention and memory and to enhance relationships and a sense of wellbeing.
At its most basic definition, mindfulness is about paying attention. This practice of training attention can help us notice when thoughts, emotions, sensations or behaviors arise that can derail our intentions – our resolutions. Mindfulness can provide the necessary pause to purposefully respond to a thought or feeling rather than to automatically react. Mindfulness can create that little bit of space you need to make a conscious choice.
A mindfulness practice can support you in making and keeping an important commitment to yourself. But, mindfulness requires cultivation. Like any skill, mindfulness is developed through quality instruction and regular practice. Here are some recommendations for getting started:
- Dan Harris’ book 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge and Found Self Help That Actually Worked – A True Story is a great place to start. Harris, an anchor for ABC news, calls himself a “fidgety skeptic,” and his book is entertaining as well as informative. He recently launched a mindfulness instructional app, created in conjunction with Joseph Goldstein, a highly skilled and respected mindfulness meditation teacher.
- Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book Mindfulness for Beginners is a great resource. It comes with a CD of guided meditations to support your daily practice. Check out this lecture by Dr. Kabat-Zinn, delivered at Google’s headquarters: Mindfulness Meditation Presentation
- Learn more about the science, and in particular about the Harvard study referenced above, in this TED talk by Sara Lazar. http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/TEDxCambridge
- Sign up for the next six-week Foundations of Mindfulness series at Evolve Movement. The series begins on Tuesday, January 12th and meets from 7:15 PM – 8:30 PM. Register here.
- Attend a two-hour workshop on Mindfulness: The Art and Science of Habit Change this Saturday, January 9th at Evolve from 3:00 – 5:00 PM. Register here.
Wishing you all the very best for a Happy, Healthy and Mindful 2016!
For more information about the benefits of mindfulness go to http://www.mindfulresolution.com