Monday, January 6, 2014

How To Break That Habit? Start Just Today.

Endurance (noun) 1. the ability or strength to continue or last, especially despite fatigue, stress, or other adverse conditions; stamina; lasting quality       --Random House Dictionary

So—how many resolutions did you make in the flush of a brand new year, just a week ago yesterday, January 1st, 2014?  According to a study published in the University of Scranton’s  Journal of Clinical Psychology, 45 percent of Americans resolved to change some thing or behavior or habit in the next 51 weeks.  The most common resolution is to lose weight, followed by (in no particular order), to quit drinking or smoking, to save more and spend less, to be organized, to help others, to learn a new skill, to fall in love and to spend more time with family.

All noble. All good. All well meaning and all…well, often pretty much doomed to fail.  The same study reports that the long term success rate for major life changes like these is about eight percent—oops!  The good news is that people who do explicitly make resolutions are ten times more likely to achieve success than those who make no resolutions. But that high failure rate? In the book “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg, he writes that routines and habits are reflected in up to 45 percent of all the choices we make daily, hence the difficulty in changing them. 

For we do have so many habits: the morning coffee, the first cigarette, the glass of scotch after work, the section we always turn to in the newspaper, the webpage we visit first thing on the computer, the food we munch on as we watch TV, the time we get up, the time we go to sleep. All habits. All hard wired behaviors which for better and worse give structure and dependability and “normalcy” to life. In a way we humans are our habits, habitual in how we live and move through each day.

Do a Google search and you can find plenty of strategies and advice on how to break habits and to begin new, healthier habits.  This is the time of year when so many are well along on this task, so well intentioned. The gyms are full. Alcoholics Anonymous rooms are packed.  Weight Watchers chapters are filled to overflowing.  Sales of journals to track all these hoped for habit breakers and makers are through the roof and all begin with this simple phrase: Day 1….

But then our humanity kicks in and we stumble. We want to run but it is really, really cold out, yes?  We want to quit smoking but how about just one more butt with my a.m. java?  Stir fry for dinner? Tomorrow.  I’d love to organize the closet but Downton Abbey’s new season starts and who can miss that?  And so we start and stop or we don’t start at all and then fall back into our habits.

Or not.  Because some among us, the rare few, will succeed.  Will run that first marathon next spring, will stop smoking after 20 years of puffing away, will drop 20 pounds, will tame and defeat one habit and create a new, better habit.  If there’s a secret to that success it may just go back to the first day we start anew.  Just one day. Today. 

The Psalmist writes in the Bible that “This is the day that the Lord has made: let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  The spiritual message here is simple and clear.  This day is all that matters. This day is the only day we can make a change. In A.A. the truism is that folks stay clean and sober not forever, but just one day at a time.  The cliché quote reminds us that the longest journey always begins with the first step.

What makes habits so hard to break?  Perhaps just feeling like we have to do it all at once.  We have to get to the finish almost before we even begin. 

But ask a long distance runner how they can do it and they’ll tell you they run just one race at a time, one jog, one journey, one early morning commitment and that’s it.  They get to 26.2 miles second by second, minute by minute and day by day.  They endure. Endurance.  Being in it for the long run, but just for today, drilling down into right now and not worrying about tomorrow.

Ask a person of faith why their belief is so strong and they’ll tell you it all starts with a prayer every single morning, and not just in an emergency or at Christmas or Easter.  As a long distance bicyclist I can tell you the worst thing for me to think before I set out on a long ride is how far I have to go.  The best thing is to just get my backside on the bike and pedal: one circle, one revolution, at a time. 

Endurance isn’t flashy. Endurance offers no short cuts. Endurance depends not on some wacky new diet or cutting corners. Endurance instead recognizes that most humans can achieve almost anything that they set their hearts and minds upon if they just start. If they begin with just one step, one action, one movement away from an addiction or habit and towards a new way of life and living.

Resolved: to change.  But just today. Just by doing one thing.  Endurance: that’s what I’m working for in 2014.  Nine days down.  356 to go and all, just 24 hours at a time.

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