Around this time of year, we are often asked, “What are your New Year’s Resolutions”? Rather, what changes are you going to make in your life for the New Year? It’s an easy question, but it’s reported that less than 10% of people actually keep their New Year’s resolutions!
When it comes to change and the brain, there is both good news and bad news. The good news is that the brain has “plasticity”, meaning that it has the ability to change by adapting to new situations and experiences throughout our entire lifetime. It does this by changing connections between cells and areas of the brain, and in some cases, even by changing its very structure. This amazing ability enables us to continue learning throughout our lifetimes, no matter how old we are. It also helps us navigate through life-changing experiences, injuries, or other major changes that might take place.
The bad news is that while the brain can change and adapt, it gets used to doing things a certain way over time, often making change difficult. Repeated behaviors, emotions, and thoughts become reinforced in the brain through neural pathways that become more set the more we use them. In fact, from an evolutionary standpoint, our brains often challenge change to the point that the very thought of it makes our guard go up. This is why certain behaviors and habits are so difficult to break, in spite of our best efforts and intentions.
This means that while making change in our lives is very possible, we know how difficult it can be to actually do. As with most things related to our brains and bodies, the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Exposing yourself to new ideas and situations on a regular basis can help your brain be more open to change. Don’t be afraid of failing, and don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get it right on the first few tries. Rather, recognize this as part of the process and know that you are setting your brain up to be more open to growth