Welcome to the first week of the new year. It’s 2022 and if you like me, it still feels like 2019 was last year. Talk about a cognitive dissonance.
This is that time of year where most people sit down and focus on their goals, their identity, and who they want to be in the new year. They set goals, create lists, start new lifes. (gym memberships, dieting, smiling to the spouse, kind towards coworkers, drink a bit less, over all changing. By February its all over and they go back to exactly what they did the year before.)
Running from your problems
When we went down to Lebanon for the first time, we were told that leaving with problems at home was not wise. Personal problems, family challenges, substance abuse problems, financial worries (although these actually got a little better for most of us, because as many was unemployed when they left, (that’s why they left in fact), and they obviously got paid well for the job in the army. But by and large all in all, it did not help to enter a war zone if you carried personal problems with you.
Escaping problems is something we humans are not good at and unfortunately it rarely helps.
To confront your problems.
When I was 12 years old I was overweight. With a job as a news delivering boy, I had enough money to eat cream buns on a daily basis. And I did. The reason for this overeating was probably due to various things, but the results were not long in coming. 12 years old I weighed 98 kilos and even though I was a relatively tall boy in terms of age, I was simply overweight.
Then two things happened: I became interested in girls (they were obviously not particularly interested in me) and I saw a picture of myself taken on a festive occasion.
So how does one do a lifestyle change «overnight»? I was not particularly disciplined (eating cream balls indicated that I was not tough, so to speak. It was not as if the kilos showed unexpectantly? It took some time (and cream buns)
I was aware that I became thicker and thicker as the cream buns disappeared down into my stomach. Everything became heavier. Doing sports, clothes became tighter, the possibility of contact with the opposite sex became difficult. (Actually, it was completely absent)
The motivation came with the picture I saw of myself and the girls who never looked at me. The pain of not being able to take part in an 12 year old boys normal social life, as well as a visualization of why I did not participate, was enough.
And with that, I began the mother of all diets. Long story short: six months later I had lost 26 kilos and since then I have never looked back.
When to start?
The short answer is: right away. The long answer is: over time.
Let me explain.
Unlike most personal growth rituals, New Year’s resolutions are ok. I do believe there is something psychologically significant about year changes. We divide our lives into years, conceptualize our identities into years, so it makes sense that a turning of the year will coincide with some introspection and realignment of one’s values.
But such lifestyle changes rarely last more than a couple of months. The reason is that all changes cause pain, humans are not created to change quickly without the body and head protesting. We are evolutionarily made so that the brain and body choose the easiest (and the cheapest for the body and mind) way. Just look at the fact that we are putting on weight on a regularly basis. The body is supremely selfish, it stores and saves for harder times even if those times never come. The intention is, of course, to put on weight so that when there is a shortage of food we can use the fat and thus we get through harsh winters in the caves or in the thatched huts we inhabited. That time is a long way behind us and today it is more a question of which Netflix series we will binge on and which food we will buy with us on the way home to eat, while we binge.
In short, all change is born in pain and if there is something we humans do not like, it is pain.
Routines and habits
Habits are behaviors we perform on a daily or otherwise regular basis. They’re not just any behaviors, though. A behavior is a habit if some component of it is at least somewhat “automatic.”
Some studies estimate that habits make up over 40% of our everyday behavior. Since we spend almost half our lives on autopilot, learning how to shape and leverage habits to our benefit can have a huge impact.
But on sheep and habit takes time. According to a 2009 study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, it takes 18 to 254 days for a person to form a new habit.
The study also concluded that, on average, it takes 66 days for a new behavior to become automatic.
And therein lies the reason why good intentions and wishes said on a New Year’s Eve (preferably with a small amount of alcohol intake) never last more than a couple of weeks.
It is painful to change a habit. Even more painful will it be to change a habit that includes changing body shape or attitudes one has maintained through a long life.
How to start
Planning is never stupid. But as Churchill said: plans are nothing – planning is everything.
Three things need to be in place.
- A desire for change (motivation),
- Sub-goals (including rewards) and, not least,
- Immediate start.
Ask yourself the following questions: Do I really want this? What should I give myself in reward in a week, in a month and six months if I do this (And no, it’s not a cream bun, if you want to lose weight or a small cigarette if you try to quit smoking. Not a beer either, if you are going to stop drinking)
The final question is: am I ready to start with this today?
Not tomorrow, not Monday, not over the weekend, and definitely not after the New Year.
Losing weight, quitting smoking, changing attitudes (becoming a better person, smiling more, etc.) are painful. Is this pain to endure? If the answer is yes, start today.
Did it work for me?
The very same day I decided as a 12-year-old to lose a few kilos, I started walking stairs. Up and down, up and down. (I later went on to more intensive training) I did not know then that changing body shape was not something that was completed at the moment a number of kilos was removed. The lifestyle change continues throughout life. The body fought a hard battle to keep the pounds. (by giving me a constant hunger for a year – even though I was full)
If it was worth it?
The answer to that is simple: Yes.