By Melinda Rice
Every New Year, millions of people vow to lose weight, spend more time with their families, or quit smoking. And, every year millions of people don't make it through the month of January with their vows intact. But, why? Are we a nation full of slackers, procrastinators, and liars? Do we simply lack the ambition to reach a simple goal?
I believe it's something else entirely. Let's face it, we are creatures of habit. It therefore logically follows that habits are hard to break, even the bad ones. (Ahem. especially the bad ones.) So, we shouldn't assume that we will be able to change deeply engrained vices with the simple utterance of a few words spoken in honor of tradition.
Instead, we need to put some resolve in our resolutions. Resolving to break bad habits or create new ones can be done with a little planning and self-reflection.
Our first task in reaching our New Year's goals is to find the underlying need behind the bad habit we want to break. Whether it's overeating, smoking, or nail biting, there's a reason for it. We need to ask ourselves some questions: What needs do our habits fulfill?
Is the habit simply a misguided attempt to fulfill a healthy need, such as the need to be comforted, the need to reduce stress, or the need to belong? Or, is the habit a result of faulty programming or internalized criticisms, such as a need to validate feelings of inferiority, to feel guilty, or to play the role of victim?
Most of the time, we are not consciously aware of these unmet needs because we have either swept them underneath the carpet of denial, or because they have not been brought to the forefront of our conscious minds due to an internal protective mechanism called repression.
Simply taking some time to reflect upon the origins of any habit can help us uncover the underlying need associated with it. For some, this is a relatively easy task. For others, it may be more difficult, time consuming and emotional. Those who experience difficulty with these feelings may want to seek the help of a qualified Christian counselor.
Once we have uncovered the underlying needs behind the behavior, we can get to work on breaking the habit. Old, unhealthy habits are more easily broken if they are replaced with new, healthful ones. This is what the psychology world refers to as "replacement behaviors."
We have already established that we are creatures of habit. We can overcome this by working with the fact rather than working against it. The new habits should address the needs that were (sort of) being met through the old habits.
Let's say the old habit of over eating was an attempt to address the need to feel fulfilled emotionally. What other activities, or habits, will lead to the same goal of emotional fulfillment? The answer will most likely be different for each person. However, some general ideas could be playing with your kids, talking on the phone with a good friend, writing a letter to a loved one, reading the Bible, listening to uplifting music, exercising, counting your blessings, or creating a personal five year plan.
Another obstacle we face in recognizing success with our resolutions is that they are too vague. "I resolve to lose weight this year" is very different from "I resolve to reduce my body fat by five percent by June 1st." Without the clarity, we have nothing definite towards which to aim. Elusive ideals are not effective for realizing change; concrete objectives are. Set specific, well-defined goals with exact numbers, dates, and details. Remember to keep it real. Don't expect to qualify for the Olympic trials in three months if you haven't exercised in 12 years!
Finally, we must develop a plan for success. If you were going to take a road trip, you would bring a map. The same is true for reaching your goals. Map out the starting point (where you are now), the desired destination (your specific goal), and all the landmarks along the way (the baby steps you will take on your way to your destination).
Your map can be an outline of long and short term goals, a paragraph, a chart, a picture, or a collage. Whatever method you chose, make sure it reflects your style and your true desires. Keep your map in a visible, or at least easily accessible, location so that you may refer to it frequently. The map will keep you on the right track and prevent you from getting lost.
Let 2006 be the Year of Success! Old habits can be broken and victory can be found. All it takes is willingness, a plan and some good old-fashioned effort. Stick to it and revel in your small triumphs- they will eventually add up to big success.
Suggested Replacement Behaviors
Play a game with your children
Read a book
Read a book to your children
Go for a walk
Call a friend
Check your email
Close your eyes and count to 10
Plan your next vacation
Do 20 jumping jacks
Look at the family photo album
Make a family photo album
Plan a tasty and healthy menu
Make a grocery list
Make your Christmas shopping list
Paint your toenails
Brush your teeth
Try a new hairstyle
Let your kids style your hair
Go to bed
Focus on deep breathing
Go somewhere remote and yell
Turn up the radio and sing along- loudly
Dance with the broom
Play dress up with your kids
Skip around the block (and entertain the neighbors!)
Bake homemade bread or muffins using oatmeal instead of flour
Recite a poem, Scripture or favorite saying
Uncovering Those Hidden Unmet Needs
When you find yourself turning to old habits you really want to break, stop for a moment and ask yourself the following questions:
Why am I doing this?
What need am I trying to fulfill?
When did I first have this need?
Is this habit or behavior congruent with my personal values?
What feelings am I experiencing and why?
Who or what does this remind me of?
Is this something that I should doubt, question or reevaluate?
Is this need/are these feelings congruent with my good health and wellbeing?
Am I willing to allow myself to hold onto this belief, habit or feeling?
What action can I take right now to change this?
Rom. 8: 1-2
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