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.