The truth is that we are all under construction. We all have areas of growth and we are lucky that each day we can improve ourselves. No one loves or believes in change and goals more than a therapist. But there is one tip that can make a huge difference in helping us to improve and reach those goals or keep those New Years Resolutions.
That top tip is this: Replacement. When you are looking to improve your life by letting go of something that isn’t the best for you, instead of just focusing on getting rid of that thing, you need to replace it with something better.
We are just learning more and more about the capacities of our brains. They are absolutely remarkable and complex. There are some things that researchers have found about our brains that can apply directly to our ability to improve ourselves and how we can make more progress in reaching our goals. For one, there is a term called neuroplasticity which basically is how the brain forms and recreates connections–or how the brain rewires. What they have determined is that anything we give attention to or anything we emphasize in our experiences and interactions creates new linking connections in the brain. So, where attention goes neurons fire. You can and do create new linking connections all the time. No matter what habit you are trying to break or new habit you are trying to develop– neuroplasticity means you have hope to be able to make any necessary brain rewiring needed.
One other aspect of the brain that researchers have found which gives a lot of hope regarding breaking and creating habits is about neural pathways. I’m simplifying greatly here for the sake of explanation but knowing how our brains work is crucial in knowing how we can improve or fix our thinking. Your brain is full of neural pathways which is basically the paths your thoughts travel and your brain is trained to take the shortest and easiest, most worn path if it doesn’t get different directions from you. Kinda makes sense now when you hear the phrase ‘we are creatures of habit’ now, huh? The hope lies in that we can direct our brains and we can create new paths or detours if you will to avoid our previous paths or ways of thinking. With the replacement option, when we have a tendency to go down a path that we are trying to change, you can direct your brain to hop onto and travel the replacement option instead of fighting within your mind to not go down the path you are now trying to avoid. (Our brains really don’t like to be told no–they much rather prefer –go this way instead. Knowing about neural pathways allows you to understand why it can be difficult to change behavior when the pathway is been so thoroughly ground in. It takes time to build new neural pathways and so don’t be discouraged when you recognize a tendency to return to old habits. Remember that you are building something better and focus on ways you can reinforce those thoughts that will allow you to progress in the goals you have for yourself.
For example, if you are looking to improve your health by limiting a particular food that you find isn’t healthy for you, you will be much more successful if you replace that food with something better for you rather than by only just cutting that out of your diet.
If you are looking at overcoming a pornography addiction, you will be more successful in this journey by replacing. Replace the time you spend alone pursuing a path that doesn’t lead to connection and add a meaningful connection like volunteering at an animal shelter or at a food kitchen or finding someone to serve. Replace the darkness with light. Tell your mind what to do instead of simply telling it to stop.
So when you are considering your improvement goals or your New Years Resolutions, don’t just look for what you should stop doing, but look for positive ways and things that you can replace what you want to stop doing by what you should start doing. We are all under construction, but knowing how our mind is constructed and using the replacement (detour) technique will surprise you how much more success you will find in progressing, reaching and accomplishing your goals this year.
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