A New New Year’s Resolution

Artwork Copyright (c) 2016-2017 John P. Dennis

Think about how many people make a New Year’s resolution only to break it within a few months. Some people avoid making any resolutions, goals or plans to avoid being disappointed if the commitments are broken. Some would like to become a better version of themselves, but fear the determination and follow through that is required. If this sounds familiar, for you or someone you know, I’d like to suggest a new New Year’s resolution: Gentle Redirection.

Gentle Redirection is a practice that strengthens the mind, heals the brain and is a great model for life. And it only takes one minute to start! Begin, by setting a timer for 60 seconds. During that time, attempt to keep your attention focused on your breathing. If your mind goes to something else, that’s OK, as long as when you recognize your attention has drifted, you gently bring it back to your breathing. “Gently” is important: Redirect your thinking without self-criticism for becoming distracted. Even if your attention is distracted 100 times, it’s OK. Each time, simply bring it gently back to focus on your breath. Try it now.

To me this exercise is like weight lifting. In weight lifting, there is the idea of the “max lift.” In a max lift, as much weight as possible is put on the bar and it is lifted one time. If you can lift it twice, it wasn’t your max lift. Doing a max lift, if done correctly, can strengthen muscles. This is similar to being able to focus your attention on your breathing the entire time: It will strengthen your mind.

However, the other idea in weightlifting is repetition. A reduced weight is used and the bar is lifted repeatedly. This also strengthens muscles. In Gentle Redirection, this is similar to shifting your attention back to your breathing after becoming distracted. If you are distracted 10 times and each time you re-direct, you get in 10 repetitions. If you are distracted 100 times, and each time you redirect, you get in 100 repetitions. Either way, remaining focused or redirecting, you are strengthening your mind.

In addition to strengthening your mind, the brain is literally being rewired during the practice of Gentle Redirection, which is a mindfulness meditation. Dan Siegel, MD, a researcher at UCLA, demonstrates video-recordings of neurons in the brain making new connections during mindfulness meditation. He suggests that dysregulation in the front of the brain is responsible for a wide variety of mental and emotional problems: stress, depression, anxiety, attention problems, just to name a few. And he notes that the rewiring seen during exercises like Gentle Redirection can help to resolve these concerns. Check out Dr. Siegel’s TED Talk on the subject at: http://purposeandplan.com/mindsight-personal-growth/

Finally, in addition to Gentle Redirection strengthening the mind and rewiring the brain, it is a great model for life. Think about someone who decides to lose weight by adopting the strategy of no longer eating dessert. This seems reasonable: Decrease the number of calories and weight should be reduced. Now imagine this person avoids dessert the first day, the second and the third, but on the fourth day, eats dessert. Then imagine on the fifth and sixth day no dessert is eaten, but on the seventh, dessert is eaten again. Is it possible this person would feel discouraged on the seventh day? For many people it would, even though going from eating dessert seven out of seven days to only two out of seven days represents huge progress. Feeling discouraged or disappointed can make it even harder to achieve the desired goal. But what if this person gently redirected? What if, rather than feeling bad, the progress made was recognized and the effort simply started again?

You may have heard the example that during a flight, an airplane will be off the straight line between the two airports as much as 90% of the time. The plane lands exactly where it is supposed to land because the pilot makes thousands of minor course corrections during the flight. The obstacle to progress isn’t getting off track, it’s the failure to get back on track. Gentle Redirection reminds us that if we fail to follow through, rather than beating ourselves up, we can simply start again.

If you’d like to make a new New Year’s Resolution, to live life with the principle of Gentle Redirection, I would invite you to start small. Intend to spend a few minutes each day focusing on your breathing and practicing redirection. If you miss a day or two, that’s ok, simply start again. If you find that you’ve missed more than two days, it means your priorities need to change. Again, without beating yourself up, simply, and gently, redirect.

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