Father Time, often synonymous with the Grim Reaper in appearance and philosophy, is off the hook until next year, having just transitioned us into 2018. The guy never fails…I’m not convinced the tradition of handing the New Year over to an infant is such a good idea. Would we give a baby the car keys? But the old wise guy is no fool – he’s gettin’ out while the gettin’s good. Throw enough fireworks, liquor and party hats in the mix and we get to start the year with a clean slate, while he’s pawned it off on a naïve kid, burdened with neither success nor failure, who has no idea what he’s signed on for.
Jan. 1 brings with it the inevitability of New Year Resolutions. Forty-one percent of Americans make resolutions, but 42 percent refuse and only 9 percent achieve some degree of success. Forty-two percent fail each year (obviously the same 42 percent who refuse to play the self-defeating game again). Thirty-seven percent of Twentysomethings succeed, while only 16 percent of over 50s do so. Big surprise there, the oldsters have 30-plus years under their belts – and their waistlines show it!
When it comes to changing behaviors, we need to differentiate between addictions like smoking, alcoholism and drug abuse and general bad habits. Addictions generally require some sort of medical expertise to resolve. If you determine you can live without it, without affecting your physical health, it’s probably a bad habit. Often habits are helpful and good, like brushing your teeth after eating and making your bed daily, routines often learned in childhood. But when we habitually graze on junk food when bored or stressed, constantly “lose it” over inconsequential things, procrastinate or overspend, we put our health and well being at risk.
To change a bad habit, we need to replace it with another activity, and it will require about 66 days, according to the scientists who have studied this. Take one day at a time, just like the AA credo. Most of us can commit to do something for just one day. Success breeds success, days pass into weeks, and goals are achieved. Write down your goal and post it where you’ll see it. I know someone who puts up pictures of what they want to achieve and meditates on them each night. People who mindfully intend to accomplish a task are 10 times more likely to achieve a goal than those who don’t. If you want to lose weight, for instance, plan ahead and rehearse how you will respond when you feel bored and put your hand on the fridge door handle. First, temptation calls – you walk away, minutes pass, then you begin to walk in circles and reason seems to suddenly evaporate, before you know it, you start twitching and any resolve you might have had, makes a beeline for the back door as fast as you’re sprinting to the refrigerator.
Tell yourself, when the urge to snack from boredom or stress strikes, you will take a walk instead. Just getting outside is good for you. Not fond of walking for walking’s sake, and wanting to more time to read, I got earphones and borrowed audio book Playaways from the library. I listened only when walking, which motivated me to walk, just to discover what was happening in the novel. If you don’t want to walk for yourself, walk for the environment. Bring a bag with you and pick up trash along the way. You will feel good and your community will love you. Before the demons of temptation strike, make a list of little chores or projects you really want to complete, but always forget about or don’t make time for. When the bad habit looms, pick something off the list like scrapbooking, writing thank you notes or letters to friends or cleaning a drawer or closet. It’s amazing how a planned distraction will get your mind off what you thought you wanted. It’s a double success, since you fended off the monster and accomplished a task that needed attention. I wanted to drink green tea (or whatever color they now say is good for me,) but I’m not a tea drinker, and I also wanted to use the two dozen china cups and saucers I inherited from relatives. I resolved to take out a different cup each time and have a cuppa two or three times a day.
Everybody can make resolutions, after all, 10 million a year is spent on self-help books, but few seem able to keep them. With a bit of intentional planning, you can resolve to keep calm when you find yourself in a long grocery line, the car in front of you is traveling at 30 mph in a 45 zone or you find yourself wanting to snap at your spouse or child. If texting and driving is your issue, put the phone in the back seat before you drive. If overspending on your credit card is a problem, put it on ice, literally. Put it in a dish of water in the freezer. It will make you think before you buy. Think ahead and avoid triggers. If you don’t want to eat junk food, keep it out of the house. If you smoke when you drink, don’t go to a bar. Be mindful, creative and don’t beat yourself up…remember there’s always next year.
Neither Rome nor the pyramids were built in a day, but days passed into weeks, weeks into years and the end, results were extraordinary. Resolve, plan and achieve!