Growing up in my house, December 26th looked a little like a circus troupe
the morning after the Big Show; my mother started packing up and moving
decorations out at dawn. The boxes that littered the living room were
not beautifully wrapped and nestled under a well-adorned tree anymore;
instead, I awoke to a cornucopia of Tupperware bins and half-dented cardboard
boxes haphazardly labeled, “GARLAND,” “NATIVITY,”
and “ORNAMENTS.” My wife has the same mentality – after
an indulgent, lazy Christmas day, the time to get moving starts early,
and her sense of urgency to get going is strong. She makes my mother proud.
All that is usually left to mark the celebration is a trail of Fraser
fir needles down the driveway and a looming credit card bill.
The benefit of the “clean up and move on” mentality is that
the physical mess doesn’t linger, of course, but it’s also
a hallmark of the next phase, which is the New Year’s Resolution.
Eager to get a jump on the cleanse that comes with a new year, many people
begin putting their resolutions into practice before January 1st. Most
people’s resolutions are centered around improving their health.
Last year, the top ten resolutions made by Americans were:
- Lose weight
- Get organized
- Spend less and save more
- Enjoy life to the fullest
- Stay fit and healthy
- Learn something exciting
- Quit smoking
- Help others accomplish their dreams
- Fall in love
- Spend more time with family
Looking at this list, I can hearken back to resolutions past and see my
own goals reflected, except for numbers 1 and 7. I inherited my Granddaddy
O’Quinn’s lanky physique and luckily, I never fell prey to
cigarette companies’ phony marketing. But all the rest of those
ambitions have been on my radar before. I’m not the kind of doctor
who can help folks fall in love or accomplish their dreams—I’m
not sure such a doctor exists—but most of the rest of the list falls
into the category of healthy living and forming good habits, so I feel
confident addressing those here.
Form habits through repetition
Good habits and bad habits are formed the same way: through repetition.
The only way to start a new good habit or break a bad one is through repetition.
But even before that, one must have motivation and persistence, both of
which seem to flow more freely around the turn of the year. There is a
common misperception that a habit can be formed in 21 days, but this is
somewhat of a myth formed around Dr. Maxwell Maltz’s work on self-image.
In actuality, studies have shown that it generally takes anywhere from
two to eight months to incorporate a new behavior into your life. This
is why persistence is vital to good habits. It’s very hard to stick
with a plan for that long, but taking a new habit day by day establishes
the building block that will lead to success. Start with small goals and
they become bigger ones.
Start small and aim large
After our first son was born, my wife decided to shed the baby weight by
jogging. This was a new activity in her life, so she began by running
on a treadmill for two minutes at a time. When she felt comfortable with
that, she upped her time to three minutes and within four months she had
run her first half marathon. Sixteen years later, she runs five times
a week and has completed two marathons and countless half marathons. Her
accomplishment spawned from her desire to be healthier, and she has maintained
the habit for nearly two decades as a result. Small successes turned into
bigger ones, and now she runs with our son (or, more accurately, behind
him) who was the impetus for it all.
Brick by brick
The choice to stick with your resolutions is yours alone. That new elliptical
trainer or treadmill can become the instrument towards a better you or
a huge clothes hanger. Start with a reasonable goal, and if you are able
to accomplish that, then up the ante. Build your wall slowly but surely.
Hopefully I will see you out there. I need to find my bike helmet –
I think it’s somewhere on my treadmill, under the winter coats.