As the calendar year winds down, we acknowledge one of the most widely accepted and practiced ceremonies in cultures throughout the world: marking the passage of time by setting intentions for the coming year. New year’s resolutions are grounded in a belief that growth and maturation are not only possible, but within our grasp. We look to the past, recognize our human imperfections, and then turn to the future, prepared to shift our perspectives and make changes in our behaviors, our thoughts, and our relationships.
Interestingly, current neurobiological research highlights an important part of this process: that this is a uniquely human capability. As growing children, the emotion-creating parts of our brains (the limbic system, including the amygdala and hippocampus) are very active, to which any parent of a crying child can attest. Small children (as well as some older children and adults) are driven purely by their feelings. They want what they want right now, and are distraught when their desires are not immediately met. However, as they move into adolescence, the teenage brain’s development shifts in a new direction: the frontal lobe, capable of linear, linguistic, and abstract thought starts to develop in new, sophisticated ways, unique to human beings. More complicated skills such as organization, planning, emotional filtering, and other elements of executive functioning start to become more readily available. In essence, we develop the capacity to make decisions about what we ought to do, even if we don’t feel like doing it.
At True North, our students work with their therapists to create new goals in each phase of the program. With considerations for their daily, weekly, and programmatic needs, they set intentions constantly about methods for moving forward. They are constantly recognizing that old patterns of only doing things that they “feel like doing” have not been working, and that it’s time to try something new. Now, as the new year dawns, these young people will take a moment in quiet group ceremonies sitting around a warm fire in the snowy woods, looking forward in time and exploring their intentions for the next year of their lives.
One of the most important elements of this process is that it can be shared. We, as family, peers, and care-givers, can join these young people in this process! This is a moment for all of us to practice this ever-so-important element of the difficult work in which True North students are engaging daily. This is our opportunity to embrace this ceremony, recognize that our emotional brains aren’t always right, and that sometimes we have to set resolutions to do what we must for our own long-term benefit. We can exercise, practice a skill, take up a hobby, or reach out to support and connect with family members, even though we don’t always feel like doing these things. And most importantly, we can communicate with each other and work together to hold each other accountable to our intentions: we can share our appreciation, our love, and our hopes for growth to continue.