HOW'S IT GOING?
Dear Students, Friends, and Colleagues,
Maybe you made a New Year’s resolution. Maybe you tried changing some “bad” habits in the past year. If so, how’s it going?
I’ve read that most resolutions fail. Period. Which is why the fitness industry loves January—any January, any and every year! Because they know that all of us who resolved to hit the gym last year either didn’t, or didn’t stick with it—and will be ready to sign up again this year. It’s a foolproof business model.
I do have one student who took the “Dry January” challenge, and added in no desserts. While she’s stuck with it, she’s also counting the days until February 1, when she can once again drink wine and indulge in sweets. I’ve tried many, many times to stick with a meditation practice, only to drop off within weeks (though it finally “took” this December—more on that later).
Why is sticking with a resolution so hard? Because we’re trying to change a habit, and our body-minds like what they know—even when it’s making us suffer. Plus, every habit has a payout. We only do things because they give us something we think we want or need:
- pleasure, especially instantaneous, immediate gratification (dessert);
- or a need (cigarettes feed a nicotine addiction);
- or just filler for the empty stretches of time (Netflix binging, social media scrolling).
Wise woman Caroline Myss suggests making one small, physical change by 5:00 pm today. Alas, when I tried this, I noticed that while my chosen change was small, my attachment to the behavior was huge. I vowed to start dressing better (less like a homeless person), even went through my closets to survey the wonderful apparel I own. But then . . . I reverted back to the motley layers of workout clothes that provide just the right amount of warm and comfort. I chose what I knew worked. What I knew.
Habit aside, I believe we stick with bad habits because we don’t think we’re worth changing. It comes down to self-esteem. I feel better when I dress up, and I love the compliments I get when I do so, but I’m not worth taking the time, energy, and creativity to do so. I’d like to spend less time cooking, eating, and cleaning up, but don’t think my time is that valuable or that I “deserve” to eat out more often.
That said, there’s no time like the present to start the change! This time of year is free of holiday disruptions, enabling us establish new routines. You’re clear at least until Mardi Gras and Valentine’s Day. And if you weave in Lent, you get a two-for-one: a spiritual reason to drop a bad habit!
To help you stick with your plan:
- Replace the bad habit with a good—or at least harmless—one. In grad school, I used to stall about settling down to study. So I allowed myself the first 20 minutes at the library to read Vogue before I hit the books. Trade in your shoe allowance for vacation funds, something that really lifts your spirits?
- The Yoga Sutras says that the three requirements for successful practice are:
- That it be done with regularity: habit is pavlovian. Anything you do repeatedly, you will continue to do.
- That it be done over a long time. The yogic wisdom says 12 years. Modern science estimates three months to break (or establish) a habit.
- That it be done with “devotion.” I’m going to broaden that term to mean “purpose”—some compelling reason. When I realized that meditation was making other positive changes possible in my life, I was motivated to keep going.
- A good friend reminds me, “The spirit won’t move you. Action precedes belief. Just do it.” When I complained about my struggles to meditate, she replied, “There’s nothing scary about meditation. You won’t get hurt. You won’t die!” The idea of change is scary; the doing, not so much! Turns out, I actually enjoy sitting still.
So, what little change can you make by 5:00pm today?