Well, it’s almost April….and most of us have long abandoned, if not forgotten, our New Year’s resolutions. Again. Even thinking about them now is discouraging, except for the usual annual consolation: Wait Till Next Year!

But maybe there’s a better way to approach this whole Resolutions business. I found one in an old book, written in 1908. Arnold Bennett, a popular novelist of the last century, also wrote an early classic in the self-help field called “The Human Machine” (modern edition, Mental Master Publications).

In his book, Bennett describes a daily method of self-improvement based on two things: (1) mental discipline, and (2) selective and focused habit formation. He teaches you how to bring your mind under your control and focus its power on yourself, so that you can gradually make yourself the kind of person you want to be.

The method isn’t easy, at least not at first. But it IS simple in concept. You start by choosing a topic to focus your mind on, and then concentrating on that topic for a set period of time. Most of us aren’t used to doing this, and it shows the first few times you try it. The mind is like an untrained puppy, and skips away from us in no time. During that concentration time, you need to grab it “by the scruff of the neck,” as Arnold puts it, and bring it back to the topic YOU selected. You may have to do this twenty or thirty times at first.

But if you keep it up for a brief period, from five to thirty minutes, your mind will learn to heel, to stay on whatever topic you choose for it. Your mind becomes your servant, not your wild child.

THEN you can put it to use to improve yourself along the “New Year’s Resolutions” lines. Suppose you want to break a bad habit. It could be grumbling, nail-biting, worrying about a particular thing, eating too many pastries. Whatever. You first mentally associate that habit with a bad consequence of some kind, like feeling awful or looking idiotic. Then you FOCUS on that habit/consequence association for a set period of time every day.

This drives that negative association into your mind, so that eventually you can’t think of the habit without remembering the bad consequences. Since the mind can only focus on one thing at a time, the negative association also drives out the pleasant associations you might have linked to the habit. This makes the habit much less appealing to you. When the temptation to indulge in the habit next arises, then, the mind will remember the bad association and make it that much easier to turn away.

On a more positive note, you can form good habits, both mental and physical, by linking the desired habit with a positive consequence. You can picture yourself with the happy results of the new habit: more money, a happier relationship, a fitter figure, whatever. Your mind will eventually remember the desired habit when the occasion for it arises, and the associated consequences will motivate you to act that way until the new habit is established.

Here’s a tip: take it in SMALL steps. Don’t try to make yourself over all at once. “I will not agree,” says Bennett, “that a glorious failure is better than a petty success. I am all for the petty success. A glorious failure leads to nothing; a petty success may lead to a success that is not petty.”

Over time, and not even that long a time, the results can add up amazingly. Since our character is essentially our habits of thought, learning to rationally choose our own habits of thought, and the actions that result from them, can bring far-reaching changes to our lives.

Try it! It’s just a few minutes a day. It’s certainly been a big help to me in forming good work and study habits, and is now helping me get into better physical shape.

In any case, it’s a LOT more effective than just making another set of doomed New Year’s Resolutions. As Bennett puts it, “at length, the brain, disciplined, turns to the correct act before the old, silly instinct can capture it; and ultimately a new sagacious instinct will supplant the old one.

“This is the rationale (he continues). It applies to all habits. Any person can tests its efficiency in any habit. I care not whether he be of strong or weak will – he can test it. He will soon see the tremendous difference between merely ‘making a good resolution’ – (he has been doing that all his life without any very brilliant consequences) – and concentrating the brain for a given time exclusively upon a good resolution. Concentration, the efficient mastery of the brain – all is there!”

Good luck!

Stan Smith

Author's Bio: 

Stan Smith is the publisher of Mental Master Publications. He is also a copywriter and the author of three books of solve-it-yourself mini-mysteries that have been published in nine languages and sold over 120,000 copies. He has degrees from Dartmouth and Cornell, and lives with his family in eastern Massachusetts.