8 Scientific Tips to Help You Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions in 2011sam
New Year’s Resolutions: we’ve all made them, and we’ve all broken them. Whether your goal last year (and the year before that, and the year before that) was to lose weight, spend more time with your family, or be more financially responsible, chances are that not much in your life actually changed between January 1st and December 31st. If so, you’re not alone: studies show that between 80 and 90 percent of Americans don’t stick to the resolutions that sound so attainable when the ball is dropping and the champagne is flowing.
Ever wondered why that is? It’s true that a lack of motivation, a lack of specificity, and unrealistic expectations contribute to “resolution wrecks.” According to author Patt Lind-Kyle, our failure to follow though isn’t solely a matter of willpower—the root of the problem lies in the way our brains are wired.
“Human beings have a lot less free will than they think they do—in fact, many of us are essentially prisoners of the automatic reactions, thoughts, and habits that are encoded into our personalities,” explains Lind-Kyle, author of Heal Your Mind, Rewire Your Brain: Applying the Exciting New Science of Brain Synchrony for Creativity, Peace and Presence (Energy Psychology Press, 2009, ISBN: 978-1-60415-056-8, $26.95) and mind training guide whose voice appears on the book’s companion CDs. “That said, it is possible to keep those New Year’s resolutions and change your life in any way you want to. But first, you have to understand what’s at the root of your problems: your mind and the way it directs your brain to function—basically, where you place your attention.”
In other words, it’s not enough to swear you won’t go near a fast food drive-thru window in 2011. You’ve also got to figure out why you’re compelled to go there in the first place, and consciously replace your unhealthy reaction with a more productive one.
Breakthroughs in scientific understanding have shown us that the brain is constantly rewiring itself in response to events in our lives. In fact, the human brain exhibits a high degree of adaptability, and can actually change the size and function of its structures by strengthening the neuronal connections between different areas of the brain—a quality known as neuroplasticity. Lind-Kyle’s book and companion CDs apply this new science in practical ways, giving us a training program that will literally rewire our brains and repattern our behaviors, enabling us to consciously change mental frequencies.
According to Lind-Kyle, we must literally reprogram the neural networks through which information and energy flow. The key? Mind training.
“Over the years, I have come to realize what immense power mind training has,” she writes. “Our minds can essentially be trapped by the ways in which they function, which can put us into frantic and depressed conditions. Mind training helps us focus our attention, quiets a scattered mind, and brings flexibility and clarity that enable us to see other options.”
Each structure of the brain is characterized by a specific brainwave, Lind-Kyle explains. For many people, one wave dominates the others, which leads to dysfunctional attitudes and behaviors. However, focusing on each brainwave separately through mind training helps us become more aware and eventually enables all four brainwaves to be in harmony with one another. Neuronal circuits fire in tandem, resulting in a state of whole brain-mind integration. This is called synchrony, which balances brain disharmony and produces a heightened sense of peace and awareness. When you achieve brain synchrony, you will consciously begin to change the way you do things.
In addition to the easy-to-follow mind training instructions in her book, Lind-Kyle’s companion CDs guide listeners through the mind training exercises for each of the four brain frequencies. When the book and the CDs are used together, Lind-Kyle insists, readers tend to have significantly more success in their mind training efforts. A free mp3 of one exercise can be downloaded at http://www.healrewireyourbrain.com/cds.
Many people might initially and unfairly associate mind training (which involves meditation) with flaky, touchy-feely, New-Agey segments of society. A quick flip-through of Lind-Kyle’s book will dispel that notion. It’s a richly detailed, highly readable science lesson, delving into the evolution of the brain and the electrochemical reactions that give rise to the mind—and explaining precisely how meditative exercises change neurological structures and functions.
Ready to get serious about hardwiring your New Year’s resolutions into reality? Then read on for a taste of what you’ll find inside of Heal Your Mind, Rewire Your Brain:
The mind is the CEO of the brain. The words “brain” and “mind” are often used casually as synonyms, but in reality they refer to two distinct concepts. The brain itself is a physical organ—“a three-pound tofu-like structure that sits on the top of our spinal cord,” as Lind-Kyle puts it, that regulates our physical functioning and emotional behaviors. In contrast, the mind is not located in any specific place in the brain, yet it is intimately involved in all the brain’s activities.
Recently, neuroscientists have defined the mind as “what the brain does.” To use an analogy that most of us can easily relate to, the mind is the CEO who decides what instructions to give the brain so that things will “get done” in and through our bodies. For example, the mind holds the intention that you’d like to turn the page of the book you’re reading. In response, the brain sends messages through your nervous system to the muscles in your arm and hand, enabling you to complete the action. “Of course, the mind can (and does!) lead us astray,” Lind-Kyle acknowledges, “but it also has the ability to reform itself when it achieves synchrony.”
It might be Western culture that’s making you unhappy. We live in an intense, fast-paced, goal-driven, and competitive society. Frankly, it can be exhausting! No matter how much we achieve professionally, socially, or personally, there always seems to be another level of success to attain. And by reaching for that next level, we’re allowing society to mold us into something other than what we naturally are. To make it worse, few of us ever meet the standards of “success” for which we strive. No wonder we’re under so much stress! In fact, according to Lind-Kyle, much of our unhappiness and many of our bad habits are linked to the pressures we feel to be something we’re not.
“That’s why it’s so important to work toward brain synchrony, which will allow you to consciously switch mental frequencies,” Lind-Kyle stresses. “True peace can only come from finding a sort of ‘home base’ inside yourself. Even though the world around you might be in turmoil, you’ll always have that refuge. Of course, you can move your mind into other frequencies and shift your attention to the outside world when you need to take care of business. But underlying everything, you’ve got a permanent refuge that will help you stay grounded and centered. It is possible to live a Western lifestyle and still be at peace!”
You CAN teach an old dog new tricks. It’s true! Your eight-year-old dog can learn the “Sit!” command as well as your four-month-old puppy. The same principal holds true for humans. Our brains have a huge capacity for change, and we can choose which new tricks we want to teach them—at any age! It almost sounds too good to be true, but there exists strong evidence that the brain continues to evolve throughout adult life, long after we’ve put away the schoolbooks. Neuroscientists have termed this ability to continually change and adjust “neuroplasticity.”
“The actions that we take physically, emotionally, and mentally can literally expand or contract areas of the brain, depending on the functions that are used most frequently,” explains Lind-Kyle. “When you do something new (like learn a second language) or practice something repetitively (like your tennis serve), your brain’s neural networks fire up, and a tissue region is actually sculpted or increased in response to that activity. In fact, the neuroplasticity of the brain is the leading edge of your own personal evolution. The more you train your mind, the more you change your brain. The more your brain changes, the more your mind evolves. In this way, you will heal your mind and discover your Home Base, a source of peace, calm, and vitality in your life.”
Thinking positively can restore your mental health. We’ve all heard (and heard, and heard, and heard) about what a difference seeing the glass half-full can make. Whatever, the skeptics among us might think. I can play “Pollyanna” all day. But I’ll just be living in denial about how I really feel. Right? Wrong, says Lind-Kyle. Research actually indicates that the brain can be sculpted by pure mental activity. For example, the size of the brain’s motor cortex will increase if you simply imagine yourself practicing the piano, even if your fingers haven’t actually come close to a keyboard.
“You can change the way you react to a situation by practicing a new ideal response,” explains Lind-Kyle. “When you generate new thoughts, you change neuronal pathways in your brain and release the hold of old emotional patterns. And that will enable you to feel, think, and behave differently. You can alleviate depression, anxiety, and stress—literally bringing health to the physical body—by changing the way you think. Your mind and brain are naturally wired to give you peace and happiness. You’ve just got to give that wiring the TLC it needs in the form of practice, attention, experience, and conscious awareness.”
Happiness is your birthright. That’s right. Life isn’t meant to be characterized by one struggle after another, with a little joy thrown in every now and then. Humans were designed to be happy—all of the time! So why aren’t we? Essentially, we are driven by the desire to be special, to be liked, and to be the best. In fact, The Buddha classified these desires as a form of suffering, because they mainly produce stress, tension, and discontentment.
“The good news is that we are all wired for what will make us happy,” Lind-Kyle asserts, “and what we really want is not success and fame—it’s peace, kindness, and happiness. Fulfillment does not come from attaining your desires in the outer world, but from embracing your inner self, which is the real source of your greater identity and peace of mind. You need to be comfortable with yourself as you are, not as how society tells you to be.
“This is achieved through attaining brain synchrony via meditative mind training. With practice, you are able to release yourself from your negative automatic thinking, focus on what doesn’t work in your life and in the world, and change it. I’ll admit—cutting yourself off from the outside world through inward-focused mind training can initially be frightening for some, because that’s where they perceive their identities to be—but mind training is ultimately freeing.”
Mental training can enable you to find your Flow. Have you ever had one of those days during which you were “on fire”? You were mentally focused, engaged, and immersed in what you were doing. Perhaps you even felt that the people with whom you needed to connect simply showed up exactly when you needed them. This is the notion of “flow,” which moves in the direction of the prefrontal lobes, the area of self-awareness that gathers meaning from the external world. (Carl Jung has called this flow between the inner and outer experience of reality “synchronicity.”) By whatever name, Flow is a mental state that merges action with acute awareness, and it is usually accompanied by a sense of being alive and joyful. At such a time, your brain functions and neural networks are working together optimally.
“Unfortunately, your experience of Flow can very easily be disrupted,” says Lind-Kyle. “Often, your thoughts, emotions, and actions are stuck in automatic patterns that perpetuate stress, as well as its negative effects on your health. With mental training, though, you can begin to identify and remove the automatic thoughts and reactions that cause your stress. You can maximize your ability to be aware and your potential to be peaceful. When information is moving through your brain in an optimal manner, you will have flexible responses, be rational in your thinking, self-aware and reflective in your thought processes, intentional in your communication, and positive in your attitude.”
Mind training literally grows the brain. The practice of meditative mind training is a central component of consciously rewiring the brain, and Lind-Kyle acknowledges this by weaving both the science behind meditation as well as practical instructions for doing so throughout the second half of her book. The mental focus that meditation requires activates your brain’s circuitry and literally promotes brain tissue growth. (Lind-Kyle cites one study by Dr. Sara Lazar that suggests the more often a person meditates, the thicker his or her gray matter becomes.) Furthermore, the awareness and self-knowledge that come from regularly meditating enable you to regulate your emotions in a more positive manner and respond to difficulties with greater ease.
“Meditation is a scientifically proven method of training the mind, and thereby of changing aspects of your life,” asserts Lind-Kyle. “Meditation can train the mind to reduce health problems and stress, and it can also increase your potential and success in life by enabling you to attain synchrony. Essentially, it will allow you to reprogram and evolve your brain to a higher state of consciousness and function. Quite simply, meditation is one of the most valuable tools available to people—if only they would use it.”
There are four mental tools that can help us make desired changes in our lives. Lind-Kyle uses four tools to train and awaken the mind. Each is used in the brain-wave mind training processes that are described in her book and guided meditation CDs.
- Intention. Quite simply, the brain thrives on direction and purpose. When you give yourself intentional directions, you give each level of your brain a specific focus to explore how that particular “frequency” functions. For example, you might set your intention on having emotional awareness. Intention is about “what.”
- Attention. Attention is where you place your focus. When teamed with intention, it enables you to establish a field of awareness and sustain your mind in a single-focused manner. Since concentration can bring balance and stability, attention is an essential stress-reducing tool. Attention is about “where.”
- Receptivity. The mind is adept at blocking out what it does not wish to acknowledge. By learning to combat this instinct through embracing what is in your mind, you will become more sensitive to what is happening in each moment. Your responses will be more flexible because past thoughts and automatic influences will be disrupted. Receptivity is about “when.”
- Awareness. True awareness helps you distinguish between your perceptions of what is happening and what is actually happening. It comes from being attentive, and keeps you from getting lost in the randomness of your thoughts. When you are truly aware, you are open to meaning, purpose, and hope, and you are able to penetrate the “me-focus” that veils your mind. Awareness is about “how.”
“The mind-brain is facile, flexible, and plastic,” says Lind-Kyle. “With training, such as the tools provided in this book, it is possible to reprogram what blocks the mind’s Flow and move quite rapidly from a less evolved state of mind to a higher state of synchrony, one that better serves us and the life around us.”
“Think about it this way,” she adds. “You only thought your resolution for 2011 was to lose weight or stop smoking or get out of debt. But when you achieve that goal through rewiring your brain, you are also participating in the collective evolution of the human species. You’re helping manifest in our behavior a state of kindness, love, and caring for our planet. Not a bad return for a small investment of your time and energy!”
# # #
About the Author:
Patt Lind-Kyle is an author, therapist, speaker, trainer, and consultant. She is a former professor at Foothill College, and founder of a learning assessment company that applies neuro-monitoring tools for stress management, health, and peak performance. Her research, writing, and teaching in the mind/brain field center on using an EEG brainwave monitoring system to help individuals maximize their brain-mind potentials.
Patt has written a chapter in Audacious Aging: “Building Community from the Inside Out” (Elite Books, 2009). She is also the author of When Sleeping Beauty Wakes Up (SwanRaven,