Sunday, January 3, 2010

Habits for the New Year

New Year’s Reality Check

Another year, another chance
To start our lives anew;
This time we’ll leap old barriers
To have a real breakthrough.

We’ll take one little step
And then we’ll take one more,
Our unlimited potential
We’ll totally explore.

We’ll show off all our talents
Everyone will be inspired;
(Whew! While I’m writing this,
I’m getting very tired.)

We’ll give up all bad habits;

We’ll read and learn a lot,
All our goals will be accomplished,
Sigh...or maybe not.

Oh well, Happy New Year anyway!

By Joanna Fuchs

There really is no sense in making New Year's resolutions. In a good year, resolutions last about two weeks. My birthday is in mid-January, so most years I use the time between New Year's Day and my birthday to consider my resolutions, so I might get an extra push and they last until the end of January—mostly because they didn't start right away. The problem with most resolutions is that they are unconnected to our lives in a real way. To say that I want to lose twenty pounds doesn't guide me into the mindful practices and habits that are going to make a difference in my health and weight.

One of the best fund raising solicitations that I have ever received came late this summer from Andover Newton Theological School after I had graduated in May. The note asked for my news and enclosed a dollar either as a way to help me in time of transition and job search or to get me started in the habit of philanthropy when the time came for the annual appeal. When I got the year-end report with a brief request to give, that letter assured me that they would receive any gift with joy, and would be keeping me in prayer as I waited for news to share of ordination, calls, or other life events. Frankly, it is a brilliant idea to have people understand that you have to get in the habit of sharing your money, and to provide you with the starter kit to do so. Just to say that I need to develop the habit is worthy, but to provide the dollar as a token to do so was inspired. I will say that their dollar came back to them multiplied.

So, as I consider what changes I might like to see in my life in the coming year, I know that the changes I want to make need to be sustained by habits. Habits in turn, as so aptly illustrated above, need both emotional and psychological support and a physical reminder in their starter kit, as well as a time or reminder about when they can be accomplished. Now, this is not a plug for you or me to go out and buy something, but rather an observation that we are tactile creatures, and need a physical reminder, as well as strong enough motivations.

Let me describe the starter kit for two of my current practices. Each morning I stretch. The physical piece of this is that my living room rug has to be cleared of all obstacles and debris, so that I actually have room to stretch. Assuring that this is the case has the helpful side benefit of my regularly cleaning a large portion of my living room. The emotional impetus for this habit comes from knowing how much better I feel and how much more easily I move after I stretch.

Then each morning during my stretches, I also keep a time of prayer. The physical reminders for this are the praying hands next to the mantle clock. The emotional support for this comes in the connections I make as I open the world for God's presence for those I name in need of healing or attention or comfort, and then as I pray for myself in own centering to do the work that I am called to do. Both of these practices are prompted by the morning and both are short enough so that I can do them every morning and always have time to fit them in. I finish my morning practices with my gratitude list: five things written in my little notebook.

I describe these elements here as a way of figuring out how to start some new habits. Writing this blog nearly every week was a matter at first of having made a commitment to do so as a part of a project, and then setting aside some time on a weekend morning to write. The reminder is the blog folder on my computer desktop, and emotional support comes from the satisfaction of writing as well as from the responses from some of you who read it.

So, what if I do want to lose twenty pounds? For me that must come with two components: eat more mindfully and exercise more regularly. You note that I'm phrasing those not as deprivations, as I know I don't respond well emotionally to that, and I'm not saying I don't eat mindfully or exercise at all, because I do. Just yesterday I worked up a sweat shoveling snow and I suspect I'll have the opportunity to do that again today. But time for more regular exercise also means not depending on the randomness of weather—good weather for walking outside or snowstorms for shoveling exercise, although it might incorporate consideration for what can be done depending on the weather. Time for exercise also needs to fit into my schedule where no two days are the same. Therein lies the challenge, but perhaps exercises could fit days of the week, and not be the same each day, but have a pattern for the week—but of course! Now, the task is to develop that pattern—a simpler and more manageable idea, while keeping in mind what might be the emotional and physical links for reinforcing habit maintenance success.

Mindfulness in eating will have to come with some new practices and realizations about my emotional associations to food. I need to find something else besides turning to food as a way of dealing with stress or ennui. Perhaps mindfulness is eating is a doorway to thinking about better ways of managing stress, defined by my Oxford University Press dictionary widget as "a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances" and ennui, defined as "a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement." These states and feelings most often occur in the evening, when perhaps not coincidentally I also do not have any practices of prayer or reflection. Another ah-ha?! Perhaps that is what is required—maybe a prayer before any time I want to snack? A prayer instead of a snack?

I'll keep you posted as to decisions about the new habits and their success. In the meantime, my prayer for you and for me is that we are able to give thanks for the love and support of friends and family and for health and sufficient economic resources, and that we are able to create and sustain in this world a place and time of joy and grace and peace that passes all understanding, and to forgive ourselves and others when we cannot. In the name of the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, Amen.

1 comment:

  1. Good writing as usual, and almost inspiring. My resolutions are to increase my time on the couch, and to increase my time on the couch, and to increase my time on the couch, and to not be swayed from my resolution. I bet it lasts more than two weeks, but as you are aware, life is difficult.