Tuesday August 21, 2018

Making sense of New Year’s resolutions

WE’RE making lists again. This time, it’s not about the Christmas gifts anymore but the resolutions we believe can pave the way to the annual “New Year, New Me!” celebration.

We add to the bucket list of places to travel to, businesses to start, people to meet, and victories to achieve. We place quotas to both our personal and professional goals.

The practice is familiar. We somehow know that the excitement in listing down all the things we believe can make us happy this year are the ones that turn into frustrations and pressures we can’t handle in about three to six months. And yet we do it. Year after year, after year.

Because New Year’s resolution is all about hope. It’s all about believing in yourself despite all the disappointments and failures, despite targets not reached, and despite loss and tragic endings.

It’s all about recognizing the fact that we’re still here to see the world crossing over to another milestone. It’s all about having the tiniest grain of faith that the life in you pushes forward, and that you’ve learned from the past to do a little better this time.

But it’s not easy to create resolutions. Harder still to stick with them long-term.

Maybe, because we’re focusing too much on putting down ourselves and creating a fantasy one instead of building up from who and where we are.

Maybe we’re listing down too much things to do or acquire instead of examining our whys. Maybe we want too much and yet need so little.

Psychology Today’s Susan Weinschenk likened an effective New Year’s resolution to the practice of forming new and better habits which are based on B.J. Fogg and Charles Duhigg’s three steps method:

1. You MUST pick a small action.

"Get more exercise" is not small. "Eat healthier" is not small. This is a big reason why New Year's resolutions don't work. If it's a habit and you want a new one it MUST be something really small.

For example, instead of "get more exercise" choose "walk 1/3 more than I usually do" or "take the stairs each morning to get to my office, not the elevator," or "have a smoothie every morning with kale in it." These are relatively small actions.

2. You MUST attach the new action to a previous habit.

Figure out a habit you already have that is well established, for example, if you already go for a brisk walk three times a week, then adding on 10 more minutes to the existing walk connects the new habit to an existing one.

The existing habit "go for walk" now becomes the "cue" for the new habit: "walk 10 more minutes." Your new "stimulus-response" is “go for walk (stimulus) followed by "add 10 minutes."

Your existing habit of "walk through door at office" can now become the "cue" or stimulus for the new habit of "walk up a flight of stairs." Your existing habit of "walk into the kitchen in the morning" can now be the stimulus for the new habit of "make a kale smoothie."

3. You MUST make the new action EASY to do for at least the first week.

Because you are trying to establish a conditioned response, you need to practice the new habit from the existing stimulus from three to seven times before it will "stick" on its own.

To help you through this three to seven times phase make it as EASY as possible. Write a note and stick it in your walking shoe that says "total time today for walk is 30 minutes."

Write a note and put it where you put your keys that say: "today use the stairs." Put the kale in the blender and have all your smoothie ingredients ready to go in one spot in the refrigerator.

On a personal note, maybe it’s not a long list of resolutions we need at all but a theme for our year. A resolution so short, but can be the road map of our direction this year. A catch phrase or a one-sentence mission that would always define HOW we do things no matter what we do at present. For example, “be present,” “more being, less doing,” “breathe gratitude,” or “you are loved.”

Because, at the end of the year, it is the essence behind the items on our checklist that matters most.