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January 2005
Success Harmony Newsletter


Welcome to another January, welcome to another time of resolutions made and broken. What are yours this year? Better health, better wealth, more cute dates? Quitting something, starting something, making more of something, doing less or more of something? Or are you one of those people who have given up on resolutions altogether. "Yawn. They don't work. Next…"

It isn't that resolutions don't work. It is that WE don't work enough to make them work.

Resolutions are typically made to change one habit or another. We make resolutions to get more sleep, to quit smoking, to lose weight. Even when we make a resolution to get another job, we are effectively making a resolution to change the way we habitually go about our day. Instead of mindlessly going to our existing job, looking for a new job would require looking at ads, calling up people to ask about opportunities, networking, etc.

The dictionary defines the word "habit" as: a) A recurrent, often unconscious pattern of behavior that is acquired through frequent repetition, b) An established disposition of the mind or character. The unconscious, established part is what makes habits so tough to change, no matter how simple they may be.

There is an outhouse at the barn where my horse is boarded. A simple, old fashioned outdoors outhouse with no plumbing system. There is a large sign inside that says "no toilet paper down the hole. Use garbage container." There are at least ten exclamation marks after this statement. Simple enough. I consider myself a person of at least average intelligence, and certainly above average compassion for not wanting to make trouble, so I'd sit down, look at the sign, nod, do what I needed to do, and throw the toilet paper… Oh no. Down the hole. OK, I must have thought of something else. I would look at my hands with disbelief. How could they do the throwing quicker than my brain could tell them to do something else? I'll do better next time, I would think.

Next time, the same sequence of events. Next time after that, again the same thing. Next time, I would set myself up beforehand. I'd open the lid of the garbage container so that it would stare at me and so that I wouldn't forget. Still, the years of now unconsciously ingrained potty-training behavior from home would win over my conscious thoughts every time. I am not kidding. It took me about six weeks of visits to this darned outhouse before I could reliably place the toilet paper where I was so clearly asked to put it.

I recall hearing about a weight loss study that started with the researchers wanting to study how easily people could break their habits. So the researchers asked the participants for a simple change in their daily routines - if they got out of bed on the right side, please get out on the left side. And vice versa. After a few weeks, the researchers apparently decided to end this study, because none of the participants managed to do this consistently! You may say that, of course, it is harder to remember to change inconsequential habits such as outhouse routines and where to get out of bed in the morning. In fact, most of us are happy enough to simply make it out of bed in the morning, let alone be conscious of what else is happening at that time! But it is just as difficult, and therefore that much more frustrating, to change the important habits. Smokers, for example, often say that the hardest part of quitting is not just the nicotine withdrawal (they have various patches for that, after all), but it is finding ways to alter their habits. For example, if part of their routine was to light up when they sit down to drive, they need to find something else to occupy themselves with, otherwise their hands will go to light up a cigarette before their brain has the chance to stop it.

So… If you did make any resolutions this year (as I hope you did), should you find this column encouraging or discouraging? Well, it is a bit of both. If you thought that making your resolution was going to be easy, then maybe it's discouraging. However, my hope is that you read this article, have a laugh or two and say to yourself, "aah, I just have to stick with it for long enough, I need to forgive myself if I mess up, and I simply keep my new conscious behavior top of mind until it replaces the prior unconscious habit!" If you do that, you will have fun with your new resolutions and you are much more likely to be one of the fortunate ones who have conquered New Year's resolutions. And the great news is that, the better you get at changing one thing, the easier it becomes to change anything else that may be important to you. Watch out, world! Here ya come!

Happy resolution setting, sunshine and smiles,


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"Anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn't the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment."
Robert Benchley

"Habit rules the unreflecting herd."
William Wordsworth

"Millions long for immortality who do not know what to do
with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon."

Susan Ertz




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© 2002 Pavla Michaela Polcarova, CPR Coaching Services, Vancouver, BC, Canada