1) Our brains are wired to seek pleasure. God created us that way. Of course, His intent was that we would fulfill all our pleasure needs through Him. But then sin entered in. Science reveals that when we find pleasure and enjoyment in something, our brain releases a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine is what causes addictions and habits and plays a huge role on how we feel and the decisions we make. Not enough dopamine will make us feel nervous, depressed, anxious and even suicidal. Too much dopamine will create a façade where everything becomes about fun and games and as soon as we start to come down from that high, we find ourselves “jonesing” for another joy fix. The truth is we are all addicted and looking for that next dopamine rush. As justified joy junkies we pump our veins with every type of sensual pleasure under the sun. This is idolatrous and the leading cause of sin. If not checked, our resolutions are nothing more than a list of pleasure pleasing principles coming from our idolatrous addictions. Basically, we will always choose what brings us the most pleasure. If seeking God is not pleasurable, He will be pushed aside to allow other activities in. These things become our idols. God should always have first place in our pleasure-seeking process. If not, that would be a great resolution to begin the year with. Make that your prayer. Ask Him to help you find pleasure in Him rather than the things of the world.
2) But it’s not that easy. As idolatrous sinners we are plagued by what psychologists call “Cognitive Dissonance” (CD). CD is basically the disunity between your thoughts and behavior. Like Jesus said, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mt 26:41). In other words, I know I shouldn’t eat so much sweets, but I keep doing it. My mind is telling me one thing while my body (flesh) is telling me another. Like Paul’s dilemma in Romans 7, where he finds himself doing the very things he despises. These are all cases of CD (the disunity or battle between your convictions and behavior). The psychological effect of CD is uncomfortable, which is the very opposite of the dopamine rush we are addicted to. To relieve this discomfort and pump more dopamine through our veins we simply compromise on our beliefs and convictions to match our behavior. What was once taboo we justify so we can still find joy and unity between our behavior and convictions. That’s why resolutions fail, and bad habits are hard to break. It all leads to discomfort, which your body and mind reject.
3) But wait! There’s still another factor working against our resolutions. Science calls this brain activity “Neuroplasticity”. Our brains are always learning, always adapting and changing. This is a good thing, depending how we use it. Our brains are made up of millions of neurons that work together to develop our thought process. As we keep seeing, doing or thinking the same things, certain neurons will begin to fire together developing a solid pathway, one to another. An Illustration of a short cut is a great example. At first you have to make your own trail but if you keep using the short cut it eventually leaves a path and becomes the main trail. That’s what neuroplasticity is all about. In order for a resolution to have any lasting affect you must work at developing a new pathway for your thought process. But remember, the pathways that are currently working have been developed by the two previous factors talked about, our fleshly weakness and pleasure pursuits. That’s why a resolution is still only a thought and often fails. You must work at developing new pathways for these thoughts to take root and begin to establish a new habit. That’s why they say it takes 21 days to break a habit. As you continue to do things differently your neurons develop a new pathway and reject the old. As they say in science, “Neurons that fire together wire together.” And, “If you don’t use it you lose it.” One of my favorites you’ve heard me say before, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”
May the Lord bless each of you abundantly in 2022. And may we always seek to glorify Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.