Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year!!! :) :)

Happy New Year everyone! I hope that you all had a happy and safe holiday! I am so thankful for this past year of my life and for all that I learned both professionally and personally. I am really excited that 2010 is here and I am optimistic that this is going to be the best year yet. I love that a new year affords each one of us opportunities to experience new things, try things differently than we have in the past, and to make a fresh start... which brings me to the subject of ...New Year's resolutions!

I personally think New Year's resolutions are a little over-rated. And, according to a study I read recently, which stated that 92% of new years resolutions are not kept, I would say the experts probably agree with me (ha ha) :). To be fair, I found many conflicting statistics about how many people actually keep their New Year's resolutions- the general theme though is that more than half of people that make resolutions do not keep them. Why is this?? Well, I am sure there are lots of different reasons, but I would imagine that it has to do with people having unrealistic expectations and goals as well as desiring to make behavioral changes that require the brain to make actual physiological changes. This process which involves the creation of new neural pathways in the brain is probably a topic for another blog post, but I have provided some basic background information below (courtesy of a site that you can also view below) that may be helpful for conceptualizing behavioral change.

Neural Pathways

The basis for working with, and modifying, habits comes down to the creation and reinforcement of neural pathways.

Neural What?

Our brains are made of neurons. If you imagine the habit of putting on your seat belt, there is a sequence of events that occur. You sit, your arm reaches across to grab the belt, your arm pulls it across your body, and then inserts the buckle. For the sake of this example, imagine there is an individual neuron responsible for each step. All the neurons connected together to form this action, this behavior, is a neural pathway.

Once these pathways are established, and are 'triggered', they function automatically. Depending on how they were created, and what reinforcement they have had, they can be very difficult to change.

Behaviors, Habits and Beliefs

If you consider a simple habit, like locking the door or putting your seatbelt on once you get in your car, it is an automatic function. You do not consciously think about doing it. It is a dominant neural pathway generally created via repetition. Most people can change this habit given time and reason. People that have had a traumatic event around one of these functions, such as being followed to their car or experiencing an auto accident, may have a much more difficult time changing this habit. Their neural pathway was created by repetition and reinforced by strong emotion. If they were to try changing this behavior, they would be working 'against' a dominant neural pathway with a strong emotional association.

To find out more info about the brain and behavioral change, and how neural pathways are created and re-created, click here! Very interesting stuff. And on a side note, you may get where I am going with this as it relates to eating disorders and eating disorder behaviors.... but the habits and repetitious nature of particular compensatory behaviors (purging, etc) make change very difficult. More on this later, but this is an important physiological piece in eating disorder treatment/recovery and so I want to come back to this! I do want to say that this information is is no way meant to provide an out for people in that it relieves one of taking responsibility for his or her actions, but it is important for us all to be educated about the process of change and how truly difficult it is! I don't know of many who think that change is a simple process, but this provides more evidence that change is not typically an easy 'snap your fingers and voila' kind of process.

So, what does this all have to do with New Year's resolutions and more importantly, body image and weight? Great question! :) I am going to follow up with another post on this shortly. I sort of got sidetracked on the neural pathway train, but my thought process is that culturally we all tend to make various resolutions for the new year, and I wanted to examine this process.... especially since most people have resolutions that involve going to the gym more, losing weight, ... resolutions that are focused on weight and our bodies. If you are reading this, please check back in soon for more on resolutions!! And again, Happy New Year!!!!

ps- the site used in this post as a mini tutorial on neural pathways is a hypnosis site- as a disclaimer, i do not use hypnosis nor do i know much about it. i am not promoting hypnosis, i simply appreciated the clear and simple manner in which this site detailed information on neural pathways!

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