, Newburyport, MA


December 28, 2012

Understanding resolutions will help to keep them


Consider this: Last spring I switched the position of the two file cabinets to either side of my desk. One cabinet was for files, the other for supplies. It took me many weeks to open the right file cabinet, because I was conditioned to their prior position. The cigarette smoker has to deal with all the day’s “conditioned smoking moments” such as lighting up after he 1) wakes up, 2) has coffee, 3) drives his car, 4) has lunch, 5) gets home and so on. Not smoking at these times will be tough and stressful.

And stress is the single greatest factor for driving someone to light up again. Same goes for drugs, food and alcohol problems. The conflict between short- and long-term consequences cannot be won under stress. The smoker may want the long-term results of not smoking, including healthier lungs and heart and a longer life. But under stress, the short-term consequences of smoking now will be more attractive than not smoking to get healthier later. And so the battle will be lost.

Science research has discovered the laws of learning. These laws explain most of how we have learned to think, feel and act as we do. We tend to learn and repeat things that have favorable consequences. There are two kinds of favorable consequences: 1) we get what we want and, 2) we avoid what we don’t want. Under the pressure of stress, the deck gets stacked for short-term consequences.

If I am overweight, I want to lose weight to look better, feel better and avoid a serious health problems. But getting these benefits takes time and they come later. But if I open the freezer and eat the pint of ice cream staring at me, I will enjoy the rich, creamy taste right now.

Psychological coaching helps a person to understand the forces at play and to minimize stress. It trains a person to do what needs to be done to change. For example, I may want to stop judging people and to be more kind and generous to others. But if I lack the knowledge and tools I need to stop reactively judging others, then I won’t be able to do it.

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