Resolutions, Habits, and a New Golden Rule

Did you make a resolution for the new year?

I have mixed feelings about New Year’s Resolutions. (Naturally. Because I have mixed feelings about pretty much everything.) On the one hand, if you can identify something about yourself that you feel like you can change or should change, what are you waiting for? Why on earth would you wait until January 1st – an arbitrary date on the calendar – to change it? You should start ASAP. Every day is the best day to become a better person, fulfill your goals, live your best life.

On the other hand, there really is something about the new year that makes us want to start fresh. Like the odometer rolling over to 000000; it feels like a brand new car. There’s a new calendar, a blank page, the next chapter of our story is waiting to be written; why not begin it with fresh goals and aspirations. The new year is an opportunity to create a new and improved version of you.  So if you’ve got something in mind, then it seems like 01/01 is a pretty good time to start being a better you.

Or maybe you’ve tried and failed so many times that you don’t make New Year’s resolutions any more and have just given up on the idea of trying to make any improvements. Don’t do that. No one should give up on trying to improve themselves. There are few things that give life meaning more than the pursuit of trying to become the best person that you can be. Not a perfect person; just a better person than the one you were yesterday. Every day is a chance to start fresh. Every year is another opportunity to do it better.

Improvement of any sort isn’t an easy task for anyone. Sure, anything seems possible during the holiday weeks when everything has that sparkly shiny feeling, and we’ve got some time off or work or school, and the normal deadlines are relaxed or things are quiet at the office. Even though our lives can be hectic with family, friends, shopping and cooking, the difference in schedules and expectations make us forget about the day-to-day frustrations of life. But once those holidays are over and we’re back to work and school, it all gets much more real. We’ve got all of the exact same pressures, responsibilities, obligations, and  deadlines that we had before. We fall back into the same habits and the same patterns of thinking. All the same obstacles start up again and all those old reasons (or are they excuses?) are alive and well.

It’s helpful to share our resolutions and aspirations with one or two close friends. It helps us to be more accountable. And also because when we fall off the wagon we have someone to help encourage us to get up and try again. And if you have a friend who’s trying to make changes, remember to give them some positive encouragement. Don’t be critical. Don’t be judgey. Just remind them that they have it in themselves to make positive changes and that they’re worth it.

Part of what makes change so hard is that we’re such creatures of routine. Here are two things I’ve learned over the years that make change a little easier: First, don’t try to break a habit. Instead, think in terms of replacing one behavior with a different one. For example, if you want to stop eating ice cream every night while you watch Netflix, don’t try to sit through your show without anything at all to eat. Instead, find an alternative that you think is appropriate (applesauce, maybe) and eat that instead. It’s almost impossible to completely eliminate the pattern of going to the kitchen, spooning something into a bowl and eating it while you watch TV. It’s much easier to keep the same patterns, but replace the elements that are troubling.

The second thing I’ve learned is that it takes about six week for something to become a habit. It sounds like a long time, but if you can change your routine every day for six weeks, it becomes an ingrained part of your life. I think that’s because it takes about that long to get all the kinks worked out of your new routine and to make it a smooth, integrated part of your day.

But it’s never easy, and when we forget or fall back into old patters, we can be so damned critical of ourselves. Why do we beat ourselves up when we make mistakes? I don’t know about you, but I am so much harder on myself than I am on the people around me. We don’t expect others to be perfect all of the time. Why do we expect it of ourselves?

Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a cheerleader to follow us around and tell us just what we need to hear to pick ourselves up? What if we could be our own cheerleader? When we fall, we could tell ourselves the exact same thing that we would say to a friend who’s struggling: Change is hard, but you can do it! You’re worth it! You’re awesome!

We must learn to treat ourselves with the same kindness and warmth and concern that we treat other people that we love. We should look out for ourselves give our inner self that same degree of patience, nurturing, and positive energy.

Maybe a good new years resolution should be this: Do unto ourselves as we would do unto others.

That sounds like a resolution for a positive and healthy new year. Hope yours is all that and more.

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