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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

The New Year: Recognize, Release, Refocus

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Jan 5th 2011

happyOn many of our minds in the New Year is what we want to change in the coming year. What do we want more of and what do we want less of. Maybe we want more exercise, to eat less donuts; to connect with our intimate partners more, to be kinder, more grateful, or more disciplined. The list can go on and on.  However, no matter our determination, at some point or another we’re going to get hooked into old patterns of behavior. It’s not our fault it’s just the way our brains work.

The brain relies on old memory to influence current behavior. It’s like the old saying goes, “It’s like riding a bike.” The reason we so easily remember how to ride a bike is because we have what’s called procedural memory. It’s a memory about how do to a certain procedure. An old habit of sitting on the couch and flipping on the tube instead of going out for that 20 minute walk is a procedure and is easily remembered (as many of us can attest to).

The question is what is the felt sense of that moment we get hooked into an old pattern? What’s happening in the body? The thought of going out for a walk may bring up a tightness in the shoulders or face that is easily relieved when we pick up the remote control. However, that’s not going to change the old behavior.

I’ve developed a catchy combination called the 3 R’s to help us through these moments of getting hooked:

  1. Recognize – This is the moment we recognize that we’ve been hooked. Maybe we’ve been sitting on the couch for a little bit and just remember that we promised ourselves we’d go on that walk. What’s the feeling that’s there, is it tiredness, frustration, or maybe restlessness? How does that feel in the body? Take a few moments to really recognize what’s here.

  2. Release – We can recall what it was that we wanted more of and what we wanted to change in this coming year. Maybe we wanted to change our laziness or old habit of just getting overly sucked in by the tube, email, Facebook or any myriad of things. Just as a side note, none of these forms of media are unhealthy in and of themselves, it’s only when they’re used to avoid something we want more of, like in the exercise example.

    We can turn this into a practice. As you breathe in, imagine taking in what you want more of (ease with exercise) and as you breathe out imagine releasing what you want less of (laziness or old habit).

  3. Refocus – Now that you’re present in this space you can choose the response that aligned with your value. Get up and go. If the feeling is still there, you can do this practice again.

Even if you never get out to exercise, practicing and repeating being more present is likely to automatically make you more aware when you’re getting hooked and you’ll notice more opportunities to make the change. 

Breaking old patterns can be difficult, so watch out for negative self judgments that drain your energy, and try and be a bit gentler with yourself in this coming year. You might be surprised how effective this can be.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom we can all benefit from. 

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

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