Well, we are now two weeks into the new year. How are your new year’s resolutions coming along? You may find that you have already reneged on them. Personally, I’m not so much on resolutions, but I am big on change. As I wrote (here and here) at the turn of the year, this is naturally a time for self-evaluation and making changes in one’s life. I say, take advantage of the natural inclination to do so and move forward. Change is an integral part of life. Think about it, if change didn’t happen, there would be no growth and we would have a world full of babies lying around with no one to take care of the. Well, maybe not, but you get my drift. Growth is, by definition, change (”development from a simpler to a more complex stage” Dictionary.com). However, though healthy, change is hard. You know it because you are finding it hard to keep those resolutions or to do a myriad of other things differently than you did in 2010. But, anything worth doing is worth doing, even if it’s hard. Right?
It’s like the old days of horse and wagon travel. The roads would get into bad shape during the winter and rainy season. Deep ruts would form in the roadway and the wagons could traverse easily as long as they followed the ruts. It was when they needed to diverge from that path that the difficulty would begin. Consequently, it was best to try to stay out of the ruts if possible. Many times, however, the wagon would inevitably slip back into the ruts. It would take much work and careful management of the team and wagon to get back out and set the course for a new direction. That is a great picture of what it’s like to develop change in our lives.
As I thought about this, I considered all the changes of lifestyle I have incorporated over my lifetime. I remember when I first got serious about my fitness. I committed to running and to weight training. I started out with a reasonable commitment level, but I made sure my frequency was a challenge so that I could develop a routine. After a few months, I could honestly say that if I had to miss my regular run or workout, it felt like the day was not complete. It had become a habit. Now, after surgery, changes in schedules and other issues, I have to say I am beginning to try to re-establish that habit. Once again, it isn’t easy.
It Takes Time
I remember hearing or reading somewhere that it takes 45 days of continual behavior to establish a habit. As I began to do some research for this post, I found that is a myth. A “new habit” does take time…an average of 66 days. A study on creating “automaticity” in behavior has revealed that there is a range of time it takes to do so. The period ranges from 18 to 254 days, depending on the person and the task. The average is 66 days. Tasks like drinking 8 cups of water or eating a piece of fruit each day are habits that develop more quickly than, say, doing 50 sit-ups a day or running a mile. Some subgroups in the study actually took more than the average time to form a habit, suggesting there are people who may be “habit resistant.” Now before you take the easy route and say, “That’s me, I’m habit resistant, so I’m not going to try,” consider that they still formed the habit, it just took longer. Remember, anything worth doing is worth doing even if it’s hard. One interesting note of the study showed that missing a day in the activity did not decrease consistent progress toward “automoticity.” That’s good news since almost without exception there will be days we can’t do what we have intended to do (illness, travel, etc.).
So what can we take away from this information that will help us in developing new behavior that comes more naturally and gets us out of the ruts? Here are some ideas from both the study and my experience.
1. Be specific about your desire behavior (discipline).
Set goals and make them specific. Instead of “exercise more,” make the goal measurable by stating it this way: “I will exercise at least 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week.” That is easy to measure and know if you are achieving your intended goal.
2. Commitment…over the long haul
Realize it is going to take time to achieve your goal. Don’t give up too quickly. Tell yourself the truth about how long it may take to make this a “regular routine” in your life. If you have this mindset from the beginning, you will not be as tempted to give up quickly.
3. Miss a day? Don’t give up.
As the study showed, missing a day will not impact the progress you’re making, but don’t use that as an excuse to slack off if you “just don’t feel like it” on a specific day. However, if you’re ill, your work schedule gets in the way, or something unexpected comes up, don’t let missing get you off track. We are often tempted when we miss a day of a routine, “Oh well, I might as well give up.” Don’t believe it! If you miss your devotional time today, get up tomorrow and spend time with the Lord like you had never missed a day. It will pay off.
4. Get someone to join you
You knew I had to incorporate some aspect of community here, right? Well, it’s true, we are more likely to follow through with working toward our goals if we partner with others who have the same goal. We can keep one another accountable, we can encourage one another and we can compare notes on dealing with the struggles or hurdles we face. The journey is always easier when someone is walking with us.
So…if you’ve already broken all of your new year’s resolutions. Don’t be discouraged. Set new goals, follow the advice above and begin getting out of those “ruts.” I know I’m going to.
What are your goals for 2011? Who will you invite to partner with you?