A Thousand Miles
by Sarah Fry
by Sarah Fry
I have a confession to make. I love New Year's Resolutions. I know they have a bad rap. And they make people angry and depressed or amused and irritated. But for me, when the Christmas gatherings start winding to a close and Auld Lang Syne starts playing, I love the chance to get out my computer or a big chunky journal and start scheming and planning.
You know what I think? I think resolutions have a bad reputation because we don't use them right. I think we use them to set ourselves for a big fat failure, then beat ourselves over the head from about March on. It's sort of the nature of resolutions. We RESOLVE to do some things that we have had a hard time doing in the past. Sometimes (often!) those things are really very hard things to accomplish. So we resolve to lose weight. Or to be kinder to our husband. Or to have better devotions. Or to declutter our world and live a more simple and minimalistic and peaceful life. And it's hard stuff. Change comes slow. And life happens and keeps on happening. And so we get discouraged and angry and we just sort-of shrug our shoulders and move on down the road the same as we always have.
But I have been doing a lot of studying on the power of habit. Habit is what makes up pretty much everything about us, really. Our attitudes and work practices and family functions and the way we dress and the thoughts we think and the food we eat....it is all driven by thousands of little bitty habits. They all add up to who we are and how we function.
So for me, sitting down with a journal in the New Year is less about conquering the world and more abut analyzing the many ongoing habits of my life. The nature of my work as a mom and homekeeper seems to be naturally filled with millions of little things. Little, huge things like laundry and unmatched socks and daily lunches. But really, if I were a surgeon or a bestselling author, it would be the same. My daily habits would make or break me.
One of my favorite quotes is "The Journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. ~ Lao Tzu"
And we think, yeah, that first step is hard! Starting a diet or training for a marathon or managing a household or getting a degree....it's hard to get started! But what I have learned is that it isn't really the first step on the first day that's hardest. It's the first step every day. One step on day one doesn't do much for me, really. It's taking a step again. Every. single. day. that makes real progress. The day that really only matters - is today.
If I view every resolution as a mountain that must be conquered quickly and completely, I will fail. Period. But if I resolve to just take the next step today. And then again tomorrow. And then Thursday. And then again Monday after I miss some days...and then again in March if February is pathetic. Then I will see real habit change.
I think what kills us is we view the whole resolution as one big huge thing that is either conquered or failed. Instead, my New Year's resolutions are almost always much the same....a continuation of the same habits I worked on last year. Because my habit-goals are based on my priorities. And my priorities stay pretty constant over the years. So naturally, the habits I am developing are going to stay the same. That's not failure...it's success! Progress is slow and constant and sometimes invisible.
But drinking that glass of water or getting up those extra minutes or shutting that mouth that wants to speak too quickly or plugging away at a project or a degree one day at a time...these are the habits that become building blocks to the life we want. And so in most cases, they aren't going to completely go away! Ever! It's actually very liberating to realize that it isn't a pass/fail situation. It is a lifetime commitment to keep taking steps.
One thing we need to realize is that we have a limited capacity for the amount of change we can make. Studies show that self discipline is a muscle that gets tired - but that can also get stronger with continued use! There are two ways this can work. We can zone in on one goal that we attack with focused intensity, even if it means giving some other important things less attention. Or we can take a look at a wide range of habits in our lives and be content to chip away - slowly and daily - at all of them. Both of those methods work. They just work at different speeds. It just depends on where you are in life.
Here's the good news: Whether it's lacing up running shoes and stepping out the door, or filling up a hot soapy bucket for cleaning, or turning on the computer to write the next paragraph...once you take the first step that day, it usually gives you a happy feeling for the rest of the day every time you think about the satisfaction of having that small step completed. And habits build on one another. It's a powerful thing.
So...now that I've given myself this lovely little pep talk. I'm ready to accept (again) that I'm not going to fix all the things this year. But that doesn't mean I give up. At the end of next year I will still be me. But I will have taken lots of single steps. And that adds up. Guaranteed. That' s a happy situation.