It’s resolution time. You promise yourself this is the year you’ll exercise and eat better. This is the year you’ll be more patient and spend more time with your family. This is the year you’ll take time to realize the dream that’s been on the back burner. You can promise all you want, but nothing will change unless you first make an internal mental change.

Why Change Is Hard

We’re programmed in a certain way, that whenever something happens to us, we follow a certain pattern in our head. First, we take the information in, we process the information through our filters, and we keep a portion of it. We distort some of it and we delete some of it. Then, whatever’s left of the real situation is processed through our mind, and we decide to react to it in a certain way.

We get very good at repeating our actions because the unconscious mind likes repetition. In other words, the more often we respond a certain way, the better we get at it. The only way to change a habit or a behavior is to change the auto-response.

A Few Examples

For example, when you finish dinner, you crave something sweet. You can make all the resolutions you want, but if you don’t replace the response to these cravings or this habit of eating something sweet when you finish your meal, no resolution will last.

You finish work and you’re on your way home, tired and exhausted. You get home and you know you’re now supposed to grab your gym clothes and go work out. But your habit of staying home is already holding you back and creating all kinds of excuses.

Your child happens to be in the kitchen and just like small kids do sometimes, he drops a glass of water on the floor. Tired from your busy day at work, you snap at him. You yell (and you regret it right away) because somehow, your auto-response is stronger than you.

How to Change Your Responses

The only way you can be successful at keeping a resolution is to change the internal auto-response that happens in your head. How do we do that? We change the filters. We step back and take a minute to ask ourselves how we want to react to this particular event.

First step is to find a situation where you had a good reaction: One time in your life where you were successful at doing what you’d like to do. Make the image of yourself doing or having this reaction in your head. Whether it’s to choose to finish your meal with an herbal tea instead of dessert, go to the gym instead of staying home, or patiently responding to your child when he makes a mistake. Go back to that memory of yourself doing the behavior you want to instill. Live it in your head as if it’s happening now. Anchor this behavior in your mind, taking a snapshot of it, and know that you can access this behavior anytime you want.

Then, mentally rehearse the situation. See yourself after dinner or coming home from work or in front of your child’s spilled glass. Visualize yourself stopping for a second. Then apply your wanted behavior instead. Put this series of images on a big screen in your mind, like a little movie in bright colors. Play this movie in your head as many times as you can so that your brain understands that this is the way to react when this situation occurs.

Then go ahead and live your life. Wait for any situation to present itself and take a step back before you say or do anything. Ask yourself: How do I want to react to this? What do I want to do right now? What do I want to say, really? And apply this new behavior regularly.

Making It a Habit

It only takes 21 days to re-establish new neuro-pathways in your brain. So most likely, you won’t have to do this visualization that long. Very soon, your new behavior will become the new one that you do automatically without thinking about it.

Now go ahead… Make a New Year’s Resolution and this time, do what it takes to keep it. Re-program yourself to a new behavior. New year, new you!

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