FORM­ING NEW HABITS

Activated - - NEWS - 1. See http://www.theage.com.au/news/Gen­eral/Ready for-mid­night/2004/12/30/1104344926295.html. By Cur­tis Peter Van Gorder Cur­tis Peter van Gorder is a scriptwriter and mime fa­cil­i­ta­tor (http://elixir­mime.com/) in Mum­bai, In­dia, and a mem­ber of the Famil

The month of Jan­uary, when the new year is cel­e­brated in most of the world, is named af­ter the Ro­man god Janus. Be­cause he had two faces, he could look back on the past year and for­ward into the next. He was the god of be­gin­nings and the guardian of doors.

Mak­ing res­o­lu­tions at the start of a new year is an an­cient and es­tab­lished tra­di­tion. Ap­par­ently, the early Baby­lo­ni­ans’ most pop­u­lar res­o­lu­tion was to re­turn bor­rowed farm equip­ment. We make res­o­lu­tions, but we don’t seem well equipped to keep them. One rea­son we have a hard time chang­ing old bad habits or form­ing good new ones is that some­times our ex­pec­ta­tions are too ex­treme. In­stead of mak­ing some grad­ual per­ma­nent life­style changes, we want in­stant suc­cess.

Fit­ness guru Jack LaLanne (1914–2011), who con­tin­ued with his daily ex­er­cise reg­i­men well into his 90s, ob­served, “The av­er­age per­son means well, but they set their goals too high. They [try] it two or three times and say, ‘This is too tough.’ And they quit.”

When I used to do pri­vate English tu­tor­ing in In­done­sia and Ja­pan, I was con­fronted with this type of un­re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions. Many of my stu­dents thought that if they hired a na­tive English speaker to give them lessons, they would learn through some sort of mag­i­cal os­mo­sis, with­out do­ing the home­work and study needed to make progress. It just doesn’t work that way. We’re con­di­tioned to want quick re­sults, whereas in re­al­ity, it of­ten takes work over an ex­tended pe­riod of time to achieve any­thing worth­while.

Mes­sages are sent along the path­ways of our brain through neu­rons that are con­nected to one another. Th­ese like to travel on known path­ways, the “com­fort­able” way, and it takes time and ef­fort to cre­ate new ones.

Carlo DiCle­mente, chair­man of the psy­chol­ogy depart­ment at the Univer­sity of Mary­land, sug­gests set­ting re­al­is­tic goals and mak­ing daily progress to re­al­ize them: “We all wish some things. We might say, ‘I wish I were a bet­ter par­ent.’ But that’s pretty vague. Maybe you say, ‘I’m go­ing to count to five be­fore I start yelling at my kids.’ That’s good, but then you dis­cover you need a plan to re­mind you to count to five.”

Armed with the right goals, the de­sire, and the per­sis­tence, you can form a new habit this year. You can be­come the mas­ter—rather than the vic­tim—of cir­cum­stances.

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