The holidays have come and gone, the election has passed, vaccines have been approved, but so much remains the same. The pandemic rages on. The anxiety and isolation persist. Masks are still de rigueur, and for many of us, the cancer lingers.
So how do we get unstuck?
While it may take a while for the world around us to feel like it is moving forward again, on a personal level, there are some things we can do to try to change up old patterns and feel like we are making progress. Making resolutions is common at this time of year, but rather than grand pronouncements that are difficult to maintain, how about some baby steps towards a new day?
New Habits, New You
One way to get unstuck is to try to see things from a different perspective. Travel is a great way to do that, but with the pandemic keeping us close to home, try rearranging the furniture and literally sitting in a different place, looking out a different window. If that is not an option, try keeping a journal of your random thoughts so you become more aware of your ideas and creativity. Or learn something new, whether it is knitting or baking or a foreign language.
Experts talk about the benefits of exercise, diet and meditation to reduce stress, strengthen the immune system and help fight cancer. Is there one small tweak you can make that will help you head in that direction? Maybe its cutting back on French fries to no more than once a month. Maybe it’s working up to walking three miles a day. Or maybe, it’s building a deep breathing practice into your morning routine. Choose something you can stick with. After three to four weeks, it will feel so normal to you that the habit will be harder to break than to maintain. And you can continue to build on it from there.
New habits are hard to establish and can take weeks or months, or even years, to feel firmly fixed in place. The bigger the change, the longer it takes to stick, which is why baby steps can help. But there are a couple of other tricks to try as well. The first is to increase or decrease the natural resistance or “friction” involved. If you are trying to create a new habit, reducing the friction can help. And if you are trying to break one that no longer serves you well, increasing the friction can help draw your attention to it. At least, that was the theory when my mother painted bitter ointment on my fingernails in order to get me to stop biting them!
If you are trying to build more exercise into your day, maybe you reduce friction by taking your exercise clothes out the night before so you put them on without thinking first thing in the morning. Better yet, make a commitment to a friend to meet—virtually or safely in person—to exercise together. You are less likely to let down a friend than yourself. Or if you are trying to cut back on your French fry habit, you might find it easier to avoid your favorite fried potato dining spots, rather than thinking you can withstand the temptation once you smell them.
Experts also talk about stacking—adding a new habit on top of a well established one—as a way of remembering to do the new. Like putting the floss right next to the toothpaste so you can’t help but notice. Maybe you already walk the dog so can add an extra half mile onto the usual route to get you closer to your total step-count goal. Or maybe when you sit down to watch Netflix at night, you spend a minute deep breathing before you turn on your favorite show.
Each of these things requires a little energy and discipline, which can be in short supply when we are feeling stuck. But, by taking baby steps over the course of the year, we will end up in a very different place than when we started.
Here’s to learning how to walk again! Happy New You.