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You Can Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

The six days in-between Christmas and New Year’s I consider “the jam in the sandwich”. It’s a week when you can reflect on what you would like for yourself in the new year! It’s a week you can start to effect change.

I have found it easier to initiate change once I learned “you can teach an old dog new tricks”. Science has developed scans now that allow us to understand the brain better and this new technology means we now know that the brain can be trained and retrained until the day we die! Which if I am honest is a wonderful thought when change and new habits are your desire.

The key is how often you do something rather than how long. For example, it is not a 30-minute meditation you should start your new practice with, it’s a couple minutes every day that are going to develop your new practice. From the other perspective, it’s not how long you were in active addiction for, it’s your daily, one day at a time, choice of sobriety that is going to develop the life you desire for yourself.

Picture a meadow with tall grass gentle swaying in a glorious warm breeze, you feel the sun on your skin. On the other side of this meadow is a cool stream with the most perfect rock pools for an afternoon swim. You begin to walk through the meadow, but it is not easy, the tall brush slows you down and makes each step slow and difficult. You almost give up and turn back, but then you are reminded of your desire to swim in the cool waters of the stream, so you keep going. Each day of the summer you return for a swim, each day you take the same path, each day the path gets a little easier and it becomes the path of least resistance through the tall grass… It becomes a well walked path towards your new habit of taking a swim in the cool stream.

The brain and our habits are much the same! If we, daily take an action, it will become easier and the path of least resistance towards our goal.

Remember this: what moulds our brains is experience and we can indeed teach an old dog new tricks. The more you do something, the easier it will become. Your old (unhealthy) habits can be replaced with new (healthy) habits. A very comforting thought for making changes in recovery. Obviously, there is resistance in the beginning, it’s hard to walk a new path, but just as your old survival methods were easy to default to, you can indeed create new healthier defaults if you remember it’s not how long, but rather how often you do something that creates a new habit.

No matter how long you were in active addiction for, no matter how easy it seemed to (place your coping mechanism here), you can teach an old dog new tricks. Sobriety and all the experiences you are having in this new chapter of your life, all the “work” you are doing, keep going, daily, and these habits shall become your new normal, neuroscience has proved it!

Practically What Does This Mean?

The more often you connect through sobriety and easier it will become, the more often you reach out to your breathing buddy the easier it will become, the more often you breathe through a trigger and calm your central nervous system the easier it will become and the more often you integrate your new skills into your daily life the easier it will become!

So, What’s the Jam then?

These final days of 2023 and first few days of 2024, have a think about what you would like for yourself in the coming year, hold that vision in your mind’s eyes, this is the sweetness, the jam in the sandwich. Daily walk that path towards your goals because you can teach an old dog new tricks, you can be different in this new year from the last and you can live a life of connection in sobriety. Allez-y courage!

Blog post written for the sobriety community within Best Life - Sobriety through connection and featured in the Mindfulness and Meditation Group within the App. Download the app here: 

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