December 2, 2010
New Year’s eve is the time when most of us typically make resolutions to better our life. For the vast majority, resolutions last a couple days at best. There are no quick fixes. Looking over the year ahead we see the benefits of our resolutions. We see our health improved over the long term but by the time January 1 rolls around we have to deal with the short term pain of refusing another donut. I propose a more effective way of resolving the conundrum of short term pain versus long term gain. Give yourself a report card.
A report card is taking time to step back and look at the big picture of your life, your goals, habits and intentions. This takes objectivity and it might take some time to get good at it. Identify your goals first. Your goals should be general enough to deal with any changes in your life. For instance, rather than having the goal of keeping in touch with friends and family, broaden it to something like nurturing relationships. Make sure your list of goals is as comprehensive as possible.
Once you have your goals, write a list of all your habits under headings of good, bad and neutral. You can get a spouse or a friend to help you with this. If you are impartial you probably will begin to see clusters of habits. For instance many of my bad habits tend to cluster around isolating myself in colder weather. I tend to disengage and many of my bad habits revolve around doing things in seclusion. I spend more time on the Internet, I play too much Majong, I’m not as social as I would like, I don’t exercise as much, I tend to drink a little more, I tend to have less structure, I get less accomplished, I challenge myself less and generally mope around some days. This can lead to lower energy, feeling sad and empty. I see all these bad habits as connected, like a spider web. Losing one of these habits won’t effect the over all pattern, in fact changing just one habit would be extremely difficult.
I focus on my good habits as well. There is a lot I do well that I want to continue. Have a look at your list of bad habits. Are some of them are connected to each other? Now have a look at your goals. I have goals around maintaining my health, being social, challenging myself, nurturing relationships, supporting myself, learning and travel that my bad habits undermine. None of my bad habits support these goals. I gave these habits a poor grade because they reduce my quality of life. It’s not how I want to live. More importantly, these habits affect my mood and outlook. The result? There is a disconnect between my intentions and what I actually do. What we actually do is what determines our quality of life. It’s clear that way of living required a tune up.
After the shock wore off I came up with a plan of action. Looking at the web of habits from a holistic perspective I see that they circle around boredom and a lack of challenge. I realized if I could break the cycle I would free up time, feel better about myself, be more engaged, challenged and happier. So I wrote a new list of things I could fill my time up with that are in line with my goals. How many of us have a list of things we would love to do if we only had the time? I started writing them down and was surprised to see how long it was. Each item on the list engages one or several goals and gives me the opportunity to break my cycle of bad habits.
Since bad habits are usually well entrenched, how do we break the cycle? One thing I did was to create a new intention—to break out of isolation. To do that I had to plan my time better so I didn’t have so much time to drift into laziness and malaise. I circled some of the items on my to do list and began to fit them into my spare time. I looked into volunteering, downloaded the schedule for the local pool, called up some old friends, signed up for some workshops, and since one of my goals is to write more, I’m writing this post.
My report card was a wake up call for me. It’s not so much about using my time wisely or keeping myself busy, it’s about living the life I want to live. It’s about living with intention. The report card and what you do about it is where the rubber hits the road. I still need solitary time when I can read, write, reflect and even waste a bit of time browsing the Internet. I just do it with a little more intention and choice.
If I notice I am sliding into seclusion again, which may well happen from time to time, I will self correct. I’m hoping that I get momentum going that makes those bad habits difficult to practice. I already feel my mood shifting, I feel more engaged and even happier. Go easy on yourself. Habits take a long time to shift. If you notice yourself engaged in one, do a quick check in to see if there is something your would rather be doing. There is no point in waiting until December 31.