How to do what we want to do, but can’t
By Bernie Schmitt
Typical New Year resolutions include vows to lose weight, to get in shape, to save money, eat better (or at least eat less), clean sheds, garages, and basements, read more, sleep more, smile more.
We want to do better in all things, and a new year gives us the chance to try again.
Trouble is, despite our declarations, most of us fail to live up to our resolutions, succumbing to whatever bad habits we wanted to break, and ignoring the lofty goals we set for ourselves in the midst of our heady holiday enthusiasm and giddy anticipation of a new year.
There is plenty of advice.
Justin Conklin of Forbes says New Year’s resolutions are for losers and we should avoid them. Instead of a resolution, the writer suggests choosing a word to guide your year.
Pick a word, he says, something specific like “wealth” or “fitness,” and build your year — 365 days — around that one word. This, he claims, may help in making choices and changing habits that relate to that word. But you have to stick to it.
Another Forbes writer, Shiv Gaglani, says to ditch New Year’s resolutions and instead plant a seed habit. Since 80 percent of people who make resolutions forget them, or ignore them, by February, planting a seed habit will allow for future growth.
“The general idea is to focus on implementing one, and only one, habit to start and then once that foundation is set, build additional habits on top of that,” Gaglani writes. “I believe this term is more accurate as it captures not only the importance of the first habit but also the sequencing.”
Gaglani got the idea from Charles Duhigg’s 2012 book The Power of Habit. Since a seed is a source of development or growth, a seed habit is the first habit one should focus on adopting, one that will lead to personal growth. It’s the foundation, the “keystone” or “anchor,” and from there one can branch out to accomplish other goals.
For instance, Gaglani said he decided to make his seed habit strength training. He focused on that habit, lifting weights consistently. To get better benefit from the training, he had to change his diet. He now enjoys a “much healthier, protein-rich diet with more lean meats and vegetarian options.”
All of this led to higher energy levels, allowing him to start his morning earlier, but it also forced him to get at least seven hours of sleep so that his body could recovers from his strength training workouts, and so that he’d have enough energy to do it again the next day.
Somehow the strength training workouts led to a new habit of reading two to three books a week, as his slower-paced training sessions included rest periods during which he switched from listening to music to listening to audio books (which is different than reading from a page, but this is what he says).
Business Insider suggests a few New Year’s resolutions one should make based on science. Changing one’s sleep habits and getting enough sleep for the body to function properly can help knock down two or three other important improvements people typically want to make in a new year.
Proper sleep can help one avoid cravings for unhealthy foods, it helps keep off excess weight, and it’s key for psychological health. Sleep helps the body heal itself. And, Business Insider says that in the summer of 2017, researchers found that when sleep is disrupted, individuals studied had “higher levels of proteins associated with Alzheimer’s and dementia in the brain.”
I always knew sleep was good.
In addition to sleep, exercise could be the best medicine one can get. It is the “closest thing we have to a wonder drug,” the magazine says, and getting a good cardio workout — especially in the mornings — can do wonders to improve and maintain one’s overall health.
Pick an exercise routine that you like. Walk. Swim. Run, if you must. Go outside. Go to the gym. Walk on a treadmill or pedal a bike. Exercise is vital. Get up and get going.
Many of us want to be more productive at work. This tends to translate into working longer, not necessarily smarter. Psychologist K. Anders Ericsson says people are best when engaged in mental work for only four or five hours at a time, not eight or 10. Take more breaks. Getting tired or feeling burned out at work? Take a short break, take a walk, stretch. It will help one think more clearly.
Reading, too, can help one’s mental acumen, but too many claim they don’t have the time. We’re talking real reading (not listening) of books. My own advice to students is to find a book on a subject one likes, something one might enjoy, and spend 15 minutes a day on it. Or 30 minutes, or more. But be consistent.
Reading is a way to break away from our screens, and engage the mind in different ways and allows one the opportunity to discuss with friends more things than the latest social media trends.
Are you committed?
Suggestions for sticking to New Year’s resolutions, or simply to do better in completing our tasks, remembering things, or to stop procrastinating are plentiful. Ultimately, how successful one is in making changes they wish to make depends on how serious and committed they are in making it happen. It’s much easier to indulge in food that may not be so good for us, to sit around in our La-Z-Boy chairs, and to binge watch TV sitcoms.
We can try other things, too. Maybe we can try to smile more at our neighbors, invoke a sense of cheerfulness in our daily interactions, and try to develop a bit more empathy towards others. We should, as the ancient Greeks wrote, try to “tame the savageness of man, and make gentle the life of this world.”