Regular athletic club members are well acquainted with the annual phenomenon of having new members and no parking places between January first and mid- March of each year. After that time, the parking spots are available again and the wait for a machine is rare. Why is this occurrence so sadly predictable and how can we truly keep our New Year resolution until our goals are met?
The loss of incentive to stick to a diet, exercise program, less drinking, more reading, better habits of any kind, is caused by the required hard work and slow results. We all prefer easy steps and quick outcomes. Delayed gratifications are hard for people of all ages. Particularly at the age of technology, we have become accustomed to quick electronic responses and urgently upgrade any gadget for greater speed and instantaneous reactions.
Our instant gratification culture leads us to forgo our deepest commitments to ourselves when progress is slow. Yet, the goals of health, fitness, knowledge, or mastery of any task is always time consuming. The acceptance of the notion that achieving these goals is a process- not an event, fades from our awareness as our muscles ache and our shape has not yet been markedly improved.
As aware as most people are of the long term benefits of eating well, exercising, drinking in moderation, not smoking, being calm, patient and loving towards others, indulging in what feels good right now overtakes us. With all the government’s programs and good intentions of helping Americans live healthier, “The Healthy People” project reported that the last ten year goal of reducing adult obesity from 25% to 15% failed and obesity actually increased to 34%. (See Mike Stobbe’s article in Santa Cruz Sentinel 1/1/10).
Deciding before the holidays to start a healthy regiment after the New Year gives some of us a license to excessively indulge beforehand, creating a greater challenge once the deadline arrives.
Todd Heatherton and Joel Weinberger, in their book “Can Personality Change?” use Heatherton and Nichols research findings to identify the first crucial step necessary for life change. They term it ”the crystallization of discontent”, becoming clear about all the factors that contribute to one’s unhappiness about his/her situation. Sometime this accrued misery is lodged toward change when “focal incidents may call attention to problems that have already existed and may facilitate the crystallization process.”
For example, knowing that being overweight is unhealthy, feels uncomfortable, may be a source of ridicule, social withdrawal and self-reprimand is painful enough. When it culminated for one woman being asked when her baby was due, it crystallized her discontent into motivation for change.
The researchers recommend a second process they call “reshuffling of values to support change”, as a wise technique in working towards goal attainment. They advise concentrating on the “positive nature of the involvement itself, but the negative, undesirable occurrences are seen as deviations that have no bearing on the permanent, essential nature of the involvement. This way, even if there are many unpleasant or undesirable things, they do not form a serious threat to the commitment, because they are seen as exceptions.”
An example would be visualizing yourself as a healthy and fit person can help you muster patience with the process of evolving into your future image. The setbacks should be minimized and viewed as the “exceptions”, not a failure of the process toward your goal.
• Accept that change, unlike technology, is a gradual process, with small incremental rewards, measured by months, not moments.
• Delight in the smallest achievements. This in itself is worth the sweat.
• Consider habit change similar to use of money. Spend now and lack later or lack now and be richly rewarded later.
• Make habit change your reward by reducing your suffering and creating the improved you. See you at the club throughout the coming year and beyond.