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Posted: January 6, 2012 12:00 a.m.

A New Year's mind scramble

Some things just never change. We shake off the stresses and excesses of the holiday season that began way back at Thanksgiving and then ring in the New Year with sometimes-forced merry-making and excesses of another kind. (Here's hoping you chose ABC's Ryan Seacrest and Dick Clark, bless his heart, as late night companions over CNN's Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin on CNN. Oh my aching head, and it wasn't the champagne!)

The next day we always wake up to a predictable barrage of "new year/new you" challenges blaring at us from newspaper features to magazine covers to on-line overtures. The stress begins again as we wade through all the advice that's offered to remake our "old" selves.

It's a daunting proposition to be confronted with all the ways we have fallen short and need to make amends.

Take your pick: "2012 is your year to lose weight." "How to be happy." "Mood-busting strategies." "Short cuts to self-confidence." "Planet-saving New Year's resolutions." "Save money." "Get the best deals now." "Eat smart." "Boost your metabolism." "Most effective workouts ever." "Super foods that melt away inches." "Clear out the clutter." "Learn to say no." "Cook smarter." "Reduce your debt now." "How to break your bad habits." "Get organized." "Strategies to improve your life for good." (For good? Really?)

Finally, from Dr. Oz: "Renew your body, mind and soul in only 28 days." I don't know about you, but I'm guessing that one would take me 365 days at a minimum. Before I could even start, I'd have to put the Christmas decorations back in the attic, discover the last hiding places of all the dead spruce needles, total my holiday spending and finish a ton of thank-you notes. And to tell the truth, I've still got one Christmas present to deliver.

But Dr. Oz is onto something. He usually is. If you want to change anything in your life - whether it's de-cluttering your home, office or relationships; losing weight; going green; or paying off debt - it's got to start with a renewed mind and soul, and the body is not disassociated from them despite what the French philosopher Rene Descartes opined. He believed body and mind existed separately from each other, but that's a philosophy widely debunked by modern thought and medicine.

Making positive changes starts, for me, as a head game. The trick is to visualize the goal, what I want to achieve, that's on the other side of any habit-changing strategies that I might have to adopt. I've got to want the result of any efforts far more than I resent, reject or fight what it takes to get there. That's all very logical on the face of it, but it's taken me many years to realize it internally and to make to make it part of my daily practice.

Thought patterns, clearly, have everything to do with how we see the world, what philosophies we adopt to work our way through it and what we ultimately can achieve in our lives. All to often - and maybe just because it's easy - we find ourselves relying on old, worn out thought processes, superficial judgments and stereotypical generalizations as a means of sorting out the world, trying to make sense of what can be understood and what can't be. Time spent this time of year cleaning out our closets, starting a new diet or setting up files might better be spent cleaning out our thought processes, tossing worn out judgments, ceasing to judge at all, and rejecting stereotypes while searching for a different view or deeper understanding of people or situations.

An article in January's "Real Simple" magazine gives examples of some unhealthy thinking patterns: Making conclusions on nothing but strong feelings instead of supportable facts. Viewing something unfortunate that happens as part of an endless series of negative events sure to continue. Discounting anything good as a fraud and not likely to be repeated. Looking at issues only in black and white, whereas life is basically shades of gray. Perhaps if we change what goes in our heads, we might change the world - and our lives - for the better.

Just don't go making this into a resolution because resolutions are made to be broken.

Barbara Morgan is a Covington resident with a background in newspaper journalism, state government and politics. She chairs the Newton Advisory Committee.

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