It’s that time of year again, the time where so many of us reflect on the past year and promise to turn over new leaves in the coming year. Some of us call this making resolutions, and it is almost a cliché now to joke about how our resolutions don’t last a week before we are back to our old habits.
Maybe we should rethink our approach.
I, for one, don’t make resolutions per se. In general people’s resolutions involve some deprivation or promise to be "good." I refuse to resolve to give up Mallomars or cheeseburgers in 2007. Nor do I resolve to take on some gigantic new project or try to change every bad habit at once. We are doomed to failure if we try to quit smoking, eat better, exercise more, drink less, call our relatives more often, and clean the house more vigilantly all at the same time. We are creatures of habit who hate getting out of our comfort zones, and making drastic changes right after an emotional time like the holiday season simply doesn’t work. To make such an attempt would cause too many changes to our identity at once, after all, who would I be if not a cookie-eating couch potato with a dirty litter box? How do I incorporate my new "healthy" identity into the one I have had for years?
For the record, I am not a couch potato and my litter box is clean. I take the "Fifth" regarding the cookies. We all have room for improvement.
It can be discouraging to make resolutions or try to change bad habits and realize how difficult it is, but there are ways of making it easier to incorporate positive changes. As I said, I don’t make "resolutions", but I was born self-reflective and brooding, so I am constantly trying to step outside myself and reassess where I am and where I want to be. That does not mean I necessarily say to myself "I will or will not do (fill in the blank) this year," but it does mean that I try to fine-tune my daily habits so that I can eventually reach a goal. I know better than to promise myself complete overhauls, but I have faith that with small steps I can look back at the end of the following year and see how far I have come.
One of the ways to avoid the frustration of New Year’s resolutions is, as I said, to try not to change too many things at once. If you want to quit smoking, then quit smoking, but don’t expect to also eat fewer potato chips and be kinder to strangers within that same week. In fact, accept that without your cigarettes you will probably eat more potato chips and be far from kind to strangers. If you are a runner and want to set higher goals, don’t plan to go from one mile to 26.2 by the end of February, but promise to add one more lap to your workout per week until you reach your goal.
Alcoholics Anonymous recommends that new members attend 90 meetings in 90 days. This is because it is widely believed that it takes about three months to build a new habit, and to replace an old habit with something new. So don’t expect that going to the gym four times a week will be easy to do between now and January 15th. But do expect that if you start pushing yourself to go, by around the end of March you will realize that it has become routine.
Finally, don’t get discouraged if you have setbacks, if you sneak that cigarette or that Ring Ding, or if one week you don’t get to the gym at all. Just start fresh (another great lesson from AA is "one day at a time") and promise to do better tomorrow.
As for me, I am happy to say that I am at a much better place than I was a year ago, for many reasons. I am not sure what goals to set for 2007, but I am an ever-evolving ruminator and I’m sure I can find something.
Happy holidays to all the River Journal readers!
Dr. Barbara Kapetanakes owns the Sleepy Hollow Family Resource Center.