Resolutions, Sangkalpa, and Neuroplasticity

Resolutions, Sangkalpa, and Neuroplasticity

My New Year’s Resolutions don’t always go so well— but I am a brain doctor, and I figure there’s gotta be some trick about how the brain works that I can use to my advantage to increase the chances that my resolutions will stick. So I dove into the research with this question in mind, and I think I’m on to something…

It actually starts with an ancient bit of yogic teaching called “sangkalpa,” which is kind of the original New Year’s Resolution.  The idea is to set a specific intention to align your moment-to-moment actions with your heartfelt desire. For example, if you want to lose weight, you might set a sangkalpa to honor your body’s signal that it is full, and stop eating.  So you’re choosing to perform an action over and over again that is likely to result in your intended goal. And here’s the brilliant part- when you repeat an action, the pathways in your brain involved in that action send new sprouts to other neurons, and those pathways literally get bigger.  You can do an MRI and see enlargement in those brain regions- that’s what we call “neuroplasticity.” As a result of this repeated action, you are then walking around in a brain that has larger regions devoted to the act of stopping eating when you are full, which makes that behavior more and more automatic.

Better yet- it turns out that your brain is actually not that good at figuring out if you are physically doing an action, or if you are just thinking about it. So, if you want to speed up the process of building new brain pathways that make you stop eating when you are full, you can imagine doing that, and it will work. Repetition is the key, whether you are physically doing the act or thinking about it. So get thinking…good luck with those resolutions!


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