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How to Create a New Year’s Resolution That Works!

December 21, 2013

TLC GUEST BLOGGER: Barb Dorrington, MEd

Having fought excess weight all my life, I feel qualified to represent the eternally failed New Year’s resolutions from years past to lose the excess pounds. Recently, Rick Hanson, a neuropsychologist, spoke about the human brain being more like an old cassette recorder rather than a modern iPod. Finally, someone is talking my language! Dr. Hanson suggested cultivating a positive mindset by first visualizing a positive mental state, then “installing” the attached positive feeling. How? Hanson talked about holding that image on pause, sensing and imagining the experience intensely as if it were really happening. He suggested absorbing the multi-modal experience by repeating that same positive thought a handful of times in a day and attaching a body sensation and motion to it. For Hanson, he called it staying with a “Goldilocks moment” of being not too big or small, not too hot or cold. He refers to this approach as “Let Be – Let Go – Let In” to make the lasting change, shifting from the negative to the positive.

Positive thinking alone never helped me reach my long-term goals. My job is stressful working as a school social worker, and I recognize I am a stress eater. There is nothing better than a handful of chocolate almonds. Neurons that fire and wire together for me historically have been if I have eaten something bad today, I might as well eat bad food all day!

TLC’s William Steele and Caelan Kuban wrote in their book, “Working with Grieving and Traumatized Children and Adolescents,” how trauma interventions need to incorporate a safe place for children where they can see it, hear it, smell it and touch it. In this way, children absorb this positive experience. The authors discuss how finding a personal relevance for “what happened” is crucial, including helping a child make meaning of the previous experience through the eyes of the helper, who acts as witness. People around us, especially helpers, can have significant impact on our own feelings and behaviors. Negative thoughts get bottlenecked and block the transmission of positive thoughts, so connection with others who are positive is an important part of being human.

WorkingwithBookAnother concept that Steele and Kuban shared in trauma work is to be curious, to think like a child, and realize empathy can grow from this, including empathy for our own personal goals. There are many effective sensory interventions shared in this new book. I encourage you to read this soon, to stay current with how we can heal the wounds of small or large traumas.

What are the lessons learned from brain science and trauma work for sticking to a resolution? Well, I need others to bear witness and help me avoid unhealthy food, I need to hold myself accountable and recognize that relapse is normal. In order to stay motivated, my goal has to have relevance to me. I need to think like a child, to create space in my mind, to daydream and to imagine. I have to show gratitude for the smallest of accomplishments. Just as in trauma work, it is sometimes a matter of getting through the next ten minutes when avoiding a temptation.

You may see me closing my eyes to embrace a moment of walking away from that handful of chocolate and sweeping my arms out as if to say, “Ta da!” Trauma is within each of our personal histories, some are large and some are more on a stress continuum. While I am not sure if I will lose all those unwanted pounds, I will celebrate every ounce I do lose!

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