I both love and hate New Year’s resolutions. The opportunity to begin anew as a better, happier, healthier version of myself is seductive, yet my inner cynic chants to itself “you’ve done it before it never works you’ll fail again” over and over in a harpy’s chorus of defeat. I’m not alone. It’s the time of year when diet programs and gyms shill their services for resolvers. A popular promotion at one of my studios ensures that I’ll see new faces in my classes—and sometimes the students will stay. But more often than not, I’ll run into someone in the lobby after a few months, after the promotion has run its course, and will hear “I’m so sorry….I meant to come…..I should be coming….but.”
Change is hard. Learning something new is hard. And it’s so easy to fall back into what we’re used to . My resolution last year was “do it anyway,” which was intended to kick my fearful butt from its usual seat of paralysis and into action. I spend a lot of time thinking and wondering what I might do if I wasn’t so afraid or didn’t care so much about what other people thought. By recognizing this fear, and accompanying fear of judgment, I could invoke my mantra and “do it anyway.”
It worked to a certain extent. I faced some hard truths about myself and the way I live my life and I tentatively explored what it might be like to do things that frightened me. You know what? It kind of sucks. It might have gotten me to a better place, but “do it anyway” inherently contains the reverse corollary “what if” in every invocation. With each decision I made, I faced a strong pull in various directions and had to make a conscious choice that involved a lot of mental energy and, sadly, even more second guessing.
So it makes me very happy that the media’s resolution du jour (or d’annee, in this case) for 2018 is “habit.” A large reason New Year’s resolutions fail is because they are exhausting. They call on us to make conscious, cognitive choices and deeply embedded habits and practices on the turn of a dime. When we’re inspired and energized, it’s easy—like writing a blog post after the first coffee of the morning kicks in. But when we lose that little spark of inspiration and energy, our brain starts to pull us back to our default habit, whether it’s Candy Crush, eating potato chips, or thinking old bad thoughts about ourselves. The more prolonged the effort for the resolution must be, the more exhausted we become, and the more likely the resolution is to fail.
Finally, mainstream publications have picked up on this, and I’m seeing more articles about habit formation than detoxes on my news feed. Habits aren’t quite as sexy and definitely don’t offer quick results. But what they DO offer is relative painlessness and ease that can steer you away from the path of least resistance and onto a different road toward the post-resolution version of yourself that waits down the road.
It’s not a new concept. The Power of Habit was published five years ago, and Oliver Sacks was writing about using lower brain circuitry to compensate for cortical (decision-making) impediments decades before that. Hanna Somatics is based on our ability to habituate learned movement patterns to the extent that we ultimately forget that we are even doing what we’re doing. Although Tom Hanna’s work was based on the shadow side of habit—where we become so unaware of what we’re doing that we develop pathologies in our movement patterns (what he called “sensory motor amnesia”)—it nevertheless sets the stage for our ability to superimpose newer, more self-serving habits and patterns over the old ones.
There’s a lot in my life that I’d like to change. But instead of jumping into that change headfirst, with all cylinders firing, I’m going to initiate change in a way that sets me up for success and isn’t exhausting. Therefore, I hereby dub 2018 “The Year of the Habit.” By taking baby steps and structuring my days so writing seems as natural as brushing my teeth and meal prep is the logical precursor to “Sixty Minutes,” I’ll can become more productive and healthier without grappling with trying to juggle with huge challenges (plan a workshop! cut out sugar! hack my sleep! manage stress better!) all at once. There are so many areas in our lives where we can begin to create lasting change simply by tweaking our routines and making things that are good for us second nature. Why not give it a try? I’ll be writing updates letting you know how it’s going for me—and let me know how it’s going for you!