I heard a commentary on why our New Year’s resolutions are so hard to keep, or, to put it another way, why old habits are so difficult to break. The psychologist, of course, suggested making these vows more specific, not only saying, “I’ll lose five pounds,” but also resolving, “I won’t eat between meals; I’ll give up dessert; I’ll hit the tread mill.”
He spoke of the importance of habits. Good ones, like locking a seat belt in place, which are not only critical, but automatic. When we have so much on our minds, we benefit from the habits we make that serve us positively. They free our minds for other concerns and provide a calm, born out of the familiar. Good habits and, I suppose, bad ones, too, give us pleasure.
When we try to reform a bad habit, we are battling the familiar, the automatic response, and the comfort of the familiar. This psychologist claimed that habits took anywhere from 21-28 days to form, so if we committed to a new action for a month, it could become routine for us. Most of us, however, can’t continue the new for that long.
Recently, I blogged about my intention to do something new every day as an antidote to time getting away from me. Doing the new, I maintained, gave a vivid experience, similar to that which we had in childhood when so much was a first time experience.
This resolve lasted several days, but then life and its demands took over. Plus, there was something exhausting about scheduling something new each day.
The psychologist explained that breaking with our routine is tiring. He had arrived in the United States yesterday for the first time to promote his book. Although exciting and invigorating, the new is also demanding. He had to find a new place for breakfast, for a cup of tea, for how to use public transportation or for driving around this new city. So one reason we resist the “new” is that it is challenging, unsettling, tiring.
And truthfully, even with the old habits that are good for us, that we love, like swimming, for instance, in my case, it can grow stale and not as pleasurable with the routine. So we often want to think of little additions to the habit to bring out the new in it.
So I’m hoping that those writers I teach and mentor will examine their writing habits, as I will, and think about alterations, additions, subtractions. Alter your schedule for a solid month and see if it increases productivity. And though we say this routinely at this time of year, so that it truly has little effect, Happy New Year. May we all see what we can do to improve our own lives and that of others around us?