Starting the New Year
by Wade Paschal
It’s an old and hallowed tradition to make resolutions for change as we start a New Year.
It’s equally the tradition that few, if any, of these new resolutions actually last past the end of January.
Most of us can name things we’d like to change about ourselves. We would like to eat less or work out more—spend less and save more.
But moving from thinking these things would be good for us to doing them is hard—and to keep on doing them is harder yet.
Why is this so?
Evidence from research suggests that our habits are more or less hard-wired into our brain. Something triggers a reaction in us; we do a particular act in response and then receive some sort of reward for our action. We smell the sweet aroma of a cinnamon roll; we buy the roll and eat it and, boom, we have that wonderful sugar rush.
Of course, the rush lasts just a few seconds and then we may feel awful.
But the next time we smell that aroma, it’s the sweet satisfaction of the sugar that sticks in our mind.
The memory of that great feeling of eating the sweet stuff is in our brain—the smell triggers the memory and the impulse to eat is hard to resist.
To change that takes a number of things. First, we have to believe that we truly need to change. Alcoholics talk about hitting “rock bottom.” Other people will focus on some deep realization of a truth in their lives.
For our purposes we have to decide: what really needs to change, and why do we think that?
The problem with a lot of “resolution” lists is that we are only vaguely convinced that we ought to do these things. And we have too many ideas to do at once.
If we want the New Year to be new, think: what is the most important change you can make in your life? And why are you sure it is important?
If we can find something we know deeply matters, then we may have enough motivation to change. But focus on just one key change.
We often find that making one change leads to many other changes—but the key is to focus on just one.
The key to changing is putting a new routine in the place of the old. If our old routine is to eat when we feel stressed, then we have to find a new routine to replace the eating. When we feel stress and want to eat, we can see that “want” as a trigger. And now, instead of eating, go walking or exercising.
If we want to change our lives, we have to find a new action to replace the old.
I know that if I really want to exercise, I need to do it as soon as I roll out of bed. If I delay, I probably cut my chances of actually exercising that day by half or more.
So when I get up, I put on my exercise clothes and go.
We may also find that we change better in groups. If we have some people to exercise with, we are more likely to exercise. If we have someone checking up on us, we are more likely to give up smoking.
If we want a change in our lives, who can we do the new routine with? Or at least, who is going to ask us if we are really changing?
If you want to read more on the science and the logic of change in our lives, I suggest the book, The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg. It’s an easy read and has some great insight into the process of changing your life.
Dr. R. Wade Paschal, Jr. is the Senior Pastor of First United Methodist Church. Educated at Princeton University, Asbury Theological Seminary, and Cambridge University, Dr. Paschal has written two books and a number of articles on the Bible and on ministry. He is married to Sandi and they have three children and two grandchildren.
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