Many people make New Year’s resolutions at the end of December, and most resolutions are abandoned by mid-February. Change is hard, and it is not impossible. What makes it so hard, and what makes it possible, is the way our miraculous human brain works.
The human brain is a highly sophisticated pattern-making learning machine that is changed by everything we experience. Repeated experiences strengthen neural networks, and the stronger they become, the more likely we are to repeat the same responses. This is called conditioning.
Once we become conditioned to a particular behavior, it is hard to change it. However, the brain continues to grow throughout our lives, producing new brain cells and building new connections between brain cells as we have new experiences, and we learn. This is called neuroplasticity.
Conditioning drives our habits. We might decide that we want to change a habit, and we keep repeating what we wanted to change. Our brain has created a pattern that we follow automatically, no longer requiring much attention. Change requires much more effort.
If we are determined to change our behavior, we can meet the challenge with the help of neuroplasticity. When we respond to an experience in a new way, we create a thin strand of a new connection in the brain. As we repeat this new response, that new connection is strengthened as though we are weaving new threads together into twine and eventually a thick rope.
Think of a baby learning to walk, first taking a few tentative steps with full attention and many falls. With more practice the baby takes more steps with fewer falls, and within a short time the baby is walking with no effort, and eventually becomes a toddler running with little attention.
How mindfulness sparks change
Mindful awareness gives us the space for choice, enabling us to change our habits rather than continuing on autopilot. The JabuMind app helps us develop mindful awareness, and setting clear intentions (one of the steps in the iRest practice in JabuMind), also keeps us on track towards our goals. Whenever we notice straying from our intended path, that is a moment of mindfulness. We then can make a choice to return to our intention, strengthening new neural networks, leading to change.
It takes time and attention until new conditioning automates our new behavior, just as it takes time for a seed to grow into a plant that nourishes us. What new beginnings would you like to plant in your garden of dreams? Are you ready for lasting change through mindful awareness and clear intentions for 2022?