I‘m not going to make new resolutions for 2013. There are enough old ones still relevant to dust off and try again. In fact, if anyone is looking for a resolution, I have enough lying around that I could give you a few. Lose weight? Got that one. Get a better job? Several options to chose from. Be Better Organized? I can set you up. These are just a few of my many past resolutions available to be recycled.
It’s not that I fail to see the value in resolutions. In fact, setting goals (aka resolutions) is a critical part of the change process. They provide a picture of success, set the boundaries for choices, and allow us to measure success. Resolutions are so important that I’ll change my focus from making them to keeping them. This year, I’ll keep the same resolutions but change my habits
The Invisible Force
“There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way. The older fish nods at them and says, ‘Morning boys. How’s the water?’ And the two young fish swim on for a bit. Eventually, one of them looks over at the other and asks ‘What the hell is water?’ ”
David Foster Wallace as quoted in The Power of Habit
The passage above is one of the best descriptions of the power of habits I’ve read. Our habits, the automatic, subconscious decisions we make routinely, are our water. Frequently unexamined and often invisible to us, habits set the agenda for our behavior and ultimately our results. So, if we want change, start with habits.
How Habits Happen
The first step in changing habits is to understand how we create them in the first place. Charles Duhigg (2012) in The Power of Habit provides an excellent description in a book that makes very interesting reading.
Habits are created because our brain looks for ways to save effort. When we do things routinely, our brain stores the steps into “chunks.” Try to remember learning something for the first time, like your commute to work. The first few times, you paid great attention to the directions, the traffic patterns or the train schedule. It required attention and energy you didn’t have later for other things. Reflect on how quickly your commute became routine. The next time you go to work, you won’t even think about it. You’ll know the time to leave, the route to take, or where you sit on the train with little conscious thought. Your commute has become your water.
Your brain has turned your commute routine into a habit, without you making a conscious decision about whether you wanted this habit or not. This is a good thing. Mental energy every day is finite. Once it’s depleted, it’s gone until restored. Do you want to use it figuring out what roads you take to work or on new challenges once you get there? Probably the latter. So, our brains are wired to help us out by being efficient. This efficiency becomes a habit.
The paradox about habits is that they are easy to create but hard to change. Old habits won’t get me, or you, to new places, no matter how staunch the resolutions. My 2013 resolution is to start new habits to help me reach old goals. Intrigued? Follow me to see how I do.
Duhigg, Charles (2012). The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. New York: Random House.
- How To Keep That New Year’s Eve Resolution! (delaney.typepad.com)