Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer


Posted by Dr. Vollmer on December 17, 2015


We turn over the calendar with hopes and dreams of turning over into a new and better self. We promise to exercise and eat better, pay more attention to our friends and family, and we hope to work either more or less, depending on our self-perception of the role that work should play in our lives. Inevitably, by mid-January, old habits return and the glow of new year’s resolutions dim. This return to ourselves, the part of ourselves which we find troublesome, or self-sabotaging, is so disturbing and yet so predictable because fundamental change requires a fundamental overhaul of the psyche. Hoping that a change in the calendar will somehow undo the bad habits that we have accumulated over decades is naïve, at best, and misguided, at worst. We can’t tell our addict loved ones to stop using drugs, nor can we tell our obese loved ones to eat less, since they both already know this. On the other hand, we can be sympathetic to how hard change is, any change for that matter. Most of us bumble along by inertia, doing what we did yesterday, not creating a lot of surprising behaviors. That is because habits are hard to break, even bad habits, because the familiarity of the habit may override the desire to stop it. The hope for a new beginning is endless. Each new week, each new month, and each new year can give us the notion that things can be different, because, after all, the calendar changed. Can we use the calendar change to cause internal change? Sure, but the effort is monumental, and without being braced for the intensity of change, relapse is bound to happen. We are creatures of habit, and with age, habits are more deeply entrenched. So we return to the importance of childhood, the importance of setting up good habits, both in terms of behaviors like diet and exercise, but also in terms of expectations for a relationship, the expectation of giving and taking and treating others with respect. The sooner we can lay down these neural pathways, the better each individual, and hence society will be. There is a critical period for the developing brain to learn how to take care of himself. As a society, nothing is more important than respecting that. Happy 2016! May all your wishes come true, with the associated effort required, of course.

2 Responses to “2016”

  1. Shelly said

    Shirah, when you write, “There is a critical period for the developing brain to learn how to take care of himself,” are you saying that most of our long-term behaviors are learned in childhood, when our brains are developing? Drinking coffee or alcohol, choosing to lay on the couch instead of going to the gym, working long hours instead of spending time with the family, etc.? Your post talks about taking care of oneself and developing good habits, but then you write, “As a society, nothing is more important than respecting that (i.e. learning how to take care of himself.”). What if the individual wants to work hard? What if he/she thinks there is value in working hard and that is important? Doesn’t it all depend on what the individual considers valuable, even if others don’t agree?

    • Living up to one’s values is a way of taking care of oneself. There is a critical period of brain development where good habits and good thoughts are made through the developing circuitry, but then added on top of that is the individual’s sense of oneself, including their sense that working hard feels good to them. So, yes, there are health habits that we all agree are important for good living which include diet, exercise, social relationships and sleep. Then, there are the way people spend their time which individually is determined by personal satisfaction. Layered over that is the need to support the community and to be a team player and help others. When these layers are taken care of, there is a sense of fulfillment and contentment, whereas when one or more of these layers are denied or not attended to, then there is internal dissatisfaction which comes in the form of depression, anxiety and/or irritability. Thanks, as always.

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