Research tells us you will not fulfill your New Year's resolution. Instead, the New Year's resolution will create stress and overwhelming pressure in your mind and body, leading to failure and poor health. In fact, today is only January 5th, 2018, and most of you reading this have given up on your New Year's resolution. Even if you put your nose to the grindstone and fulfill your goal, the stress induced by achieving it will be detrimental if not catastrophic to your health. You may achieve one goal, and in the process pick up many other self-destructive, unhealthy habits. The secret to understanding why humans are doomed to experience pain and suffering for New Year's resolutions is understanding how our brain is hardwired. By doing so, we can set healthy intentions and healthy goals. First, I would like to share a story that illustrates the pathway to a happy, healthy, and successful 2018.

A musician who played the sitar (resembles a three stringed guitar), came to the Buddha for meditation instruction.

The musician asked the Buddha, “Should I maintain tight control over my mind in meditation or should I let it flow?”

The Buddha asked, “What happens when you tune your instrument too tightly?”

The strings break,” the musician replied.

“And what happens when you string it too loosely?”

“When it is too loose, no sound comes out,” the musician answered. “The string that produces a harmonious sound is not too tight and not too loose.”

“That,” said the Buddha, “is how to practice: not too tight and not too loose.”

This ancient parable is a metaphor for leading a healthy life. We produce harmonious music in our lives when we live a life in balance and moderation. Let us shed light on this topic by exploring neurobiology of our three brain centers. Broadly speaking, our brain has a stress center, a pleasure center, and a compassion center. Let us make an analogy between the three strings on a sitar and the three brain centers.

When one sets a New Year's resolution, it creates pressure and tension in our mind and body, like a sitar that is tuned too tightly and the string breaks. Similarly, with the chronic activation of the stress response, the human body breaks. The stress center in your brain is designed to save your life under dangerous situations. However, left unchecked, chronic uncontrolled stress wreaks havoc on the body and leads to 80% of doctor’s visits. This stress response, also known as the fight, flight, freeze response, which releases adrenaline and cortisol is also known as the rage reaction. It originates in the amygdala and signals the adrenal gland to release adrenaline to save your life from imminent danger. This process happens without thought. Unfortunately, in today's world we can experience this rage reaction with a 30 year mortgage, email inbox, traffic jams, or rude comment from a coworker. This stress response protected us from dangers in the jungle and not from petty, artificial constructs of our mind.

When we set rigid unrealistic goals for the New Year, we end up creating stress and pressure in our lives that eventually needs release. When we over stimulate the brain’s stress center, it leads to chronic activation of our sympathetic nervous system and the release of excessive amounts of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. Many of the common New Year goals such as balancing a budget, saving for college and retirement, paying off a 30 year mortgage, eating less junk food, building more muscle and decreasing body fat, getting a pay raise, and climbing the corporate ladder, did not exist during the millions of years of human evolution. These modern day goals we set are foreign concepts to our evolutionary biology, and create an enormous amount of daily stress in our lives. Chronic stress leads to most modern diseases in industrialized societies.

To ease the pressure and stress we have created from artificial constructs of the mind with New Year's Resolutions, we end up self-sabotaging ourselves with unhealthy habits. From these self imposed stressors we end up easing the pressure by becoming too loose with our disciple. Like a sitar string tuned too loose, it does not produce music. When we are loose with our disciple, we fall trap to unhealthy habits and addictions by overstimulation of the brain’s pleasure center.

The pleasure center in our brain rewards us in a powerful way. In fact, we learned

through the classic rat experiments in 1953, that the dopamine pleasure trap is so powerful, rats would ignore food and water in pursuit of pleasure. The rats in this experiment would press the lever to receive electrical stimulation of their brain and dopamine was released from the nucleus accumbens. The rats continued to press this lever for dopamine and ignored food and water to the point of death from exhaustion and starvation. This dopamine pleasure trap is a pathway for addictions. Addictions can be from anything that triggers the dopamine surge and includes gambling, eating, sex, drugs, internet, etc. However, this dopamine pleasure trap can manifest in other subtle ways.

In our materialistic society, many people associate happiness with acquisition of material objects. Indeed, the concept of the hedonic treadmill is when a person needs increasingly more consumption of material things to keep a low level of well being. This concept applies not only to our three dimensional lives and consumption of material objects. The hedonic treadmill can also apply to our digital lives. We need more electronic stimulation to feel the same level of happiness. One way to combat this pleasure trap is through the art of moderation. Moderation is found by tuning the sitar string not too tight and not too loose. In doing so, we produce harmonious music. We can nurture ourselves through self compassion and moment to moment mindfulness. When we are mindful and grateful for the present moment, we develop serenity and contentment.

The brain also has a compassion center. The hormone associated with the compassion center is the molecule of bliss or oxytocin, released from the posterior pituitary gland. This is also known as the hug, bliss or love hormone. The major question that arises is toward whom should we express the most compassion? The most overlooked concept is compassion should first start with oneself. Compassion toward yourself is key for a healthy mind and body and then one can express compassion to others. Once we express self-compassion and take care of our minds and bodies, we heal. When we nurture ourselves through self-care, we engender peace and promote serenity. Serenity is the quality of living at ease, at peace and being fulfilled. Through self-compassion and self-care, we also engender contentment. Contentment is the quality of knowing true happiness comes from within. Contentment is when the mind, body and emotions are completely satisfied with the current moment and is at ease. There is no external situation that could create true fulfillment. The practice of contentment is experiencing happiness, ease, and peace from within and not allowing any external circumstance to take this feeling away from you. In Vedanta, this is also known as self-referral versus object-referral. If you seek happiness from material objects, then you are at the whim of the external world with all its ups and downs that come with chasing objects. You are on the hedonic treadmill. It is a rollercoaster ride, a yo-yo effect, like the unpredictability of the stock market. It is not conducive to inner peace and contentment. However, with self-referral, you are at peace, happy and fulfilled since this state and feeling is generated from within.

When we set New Year's resolutions, we are negating the perfection of the present moment. When we do not accept the present moment, our minds create bondage and suffering. If we accepted the present moment as perfect, which it is, then we would not have to change anything. By not desiring to change the future, we discover our true nature and inner freedom! By not desiring to change the future, we are living in the present moment and discovering what small children and our companion animals live everyday. Small children and dogs find joy in every waking moment. Take a small child or a dog on a walk and notice how they experience the world. They may have been on this walk countless times but everything is viewed as new and exciting as if being experienced for the first time. This is freedom and true happiness. From this place, there is no need or desire to change the perfection of the present moment. Think of the absurdity of a 4-year-old saying they have a  New Year's resolution. The solution, is looking deeply at the illusion of New Year’s resolutions.

In conclusion, the illusion of a New Year’s Resolution, is thinking you need to make a change in your life, and keep it everyday during 2018. Grasping for a resolution to change the future is an illusion. This moment, is all we have. This moment, is all there is. In this precious moment, you are perfect. When we think about our past mistakes or our future goals for self-improvement, we are not accepting the present moment. Research has discovered that true happiness abides in only one place, the present moment. The present moment is where perfection abides. Why? Because the present moment is unchangeable. It is unchangeable because as the present moment arises and is upon us, it is what it is. The present moment is where life happens. To be fully present, completely mindful, is to go with the flow of life and experience true existence and happiness. To be fully present is freedom. In 2018, let us resolve to set an intention to be fully present and awake. An intention allows for a new beginning in every moment. In every mindful moment, we find freedom and happiness. To be fully present is to have the sitar of your life, not too tight and not too loose, but tuned just right to produce harmonious music.

There are Five Ancient Universal Principles that children live every day and allow every day to be filled with peace, joy, and contentment. I have created a mnemonic device that will help you remember the 5 Principles for inner and outer transformation: L.O.V.E.S. The Answer. These principles have been around for thousands of years and can be practiced with any religion.

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