It’s mid January. How are you doing with your New Year’s Resolutions? I’m not doing so well. After just a single weekend off-Island, I completely forgot about mine. It came to me Monday night once again as a brand new idea. What happened?
This New Year, I was so determined to change, I went to the library to find a book out about how to do it and there was one: This year’s “I Will — How to Finally Change a Habit, Keep a Resolution or Make a Dream Come True” by M.J. Ryan. After several brain-numbing evenings of reading about nine steps to do such and such and various acronyms to motivate me like SMART (Specific/ Measurable/ Achievable/ Relevant/ and Time-bound), I fell asleep overwhelmed and discouraged.
Not many things stuck from the book, but one statistic galled: Of the 45 percent of us who make resolutions only eight percent succeed. Most of us start with a bang and a few weeks later, or days, in my case, we trudge about our lives in the old well-worn way. It was not encouraging to discover that for a new behavior to create a real pathway, i.e. a change, it takes six to nine months of sustained practice.
My dogs Derby and Pal have trained me to take them for a daily walk whatever the weather. They’ve worked on me daily for more than 10 years. I’ve always known walking is healthy, but I can be lazy, make excuses, and take short cuts. No matter, the dogs persisted. They barked and wagged and picked up a ball, and after a while I would always knuckle under and off we’d go.
Old now, Derby and Pal would be content with a short stroll, but now I want to keep going and they plod on for me. Originally the walk was to make them happy. Now, through repetition and practice, I’ve come to embrace walking for my own pleasure and exercise.
A problem with my New Year’s resolution — the one I forgot so quickly — is no one is going to nudge me to do it. For example, instead of simply spending the 20 minutes it would take to do the resolution, I went back and reread the dreaded book. By mistake, I hadn’t returned it to the library yet. This time I vowed to skim, hoping to distill the whole shebang into a few motivational ideas. Opening to a quote from J. R. Tolkien, “It’s the job that’s never started that takes longest to finish,” I gritted my teeth and read on.
The first lesson is that change is super hard. No kidding. Ryan suggests choosing one thing to work on at a time and to make it very specific. So instead of becoming a better person, changing the world, and organizing my whole life, I needed to pick something concrete. I had.
Okay, I’ll come clean. Here’s my resolution: I made a commitment to meditate for 20 minutes, three times a week. I know meditation calms me and centers me, but even so I haven’t been able to make it a regular part of my life. Doesn’t it sound simple and concrete? It isn’t. I actually need to do it and, to train the brain, apparently it is better to do it daily.
Yesterday, I actually followed through. I set aside the time and meditated for 20 minutes, or tried to. My mind was all over the place. Ryan suggests you make your resolution accountable and measurable, so I put a check on the calendar to show I’d done it. This is my sole check for January.
After berating myself, I remembered Ryan said, “Treat yourself kindly,” so now I’m trying to think one is better than none. Am I accepting what Ryan calls the awkward phase, when slip-ups should be expected?
Ryan suggests we go toward something not away from something. Instead of making excuses and beating up on ourselves when we fail, she urges us to accept some failure as inevitable and to protect against it by establishing a support network and developing a backup plan.
I haven’t figured out the support I need yet or the backup plan. Support is so delicate. The dogs do it just right, but human cajoling can feel like nagging, and then there’s that whole resistance to combat. This change thing is not only tough, it’s complicated.
Someday maybe I’ll meditate as naturally as I put my coat on to head out the door with the dogs, rain or shine or snowstorm. I’m competitive. I want to be in that eight percent, but it’s doubtful I’ll make it.
After all, instead of making time for meditation today, I’m using writing about it as an excuse not to. Still if I stop right now I can meditate. I still have at least 20 minutes before anyone comes home. It will feel good to put one more check on the calendar. Hey, it’s only mid-January. The New Year has just begun.
But the dogs want to go for a walk.
Laura Wainwright, a freelance writer, lives in West Tisbury.