I am not good with resolutions. I don’t think that I have ever (ever!) made one that I have kept. So, for the last few years, I haven’t made any. There was really no point, I knew that I wouldn’t keep them. It always felt like too many rules, and, as an alcoholic, it turns out I’m not so great with rules. Plus, it always seemed to me that resolutions were borne out of negativity. They were often promises to stop doing things that were bad – stop drinking, stop smoking, stop eating like a big fat hog, stop being a couch potato. I don’t know about you, but as soon as I feel like I can’t do something that I like, the desire to do it increases to the point of obsession in no time flat. So clearly, the typical resolutions that people make don’t really work for me.
One thing that I have learned over the past couple of years in recovery is that most negative things (feelings about others, feelings about oneself, regrets, outlook on life) need only a change in perspective to become positive. I can’t even begin to tell you all of the horrible things that I did when I was drinking. It is so easy for me to go to a place of self-loathing and self-pity when I think about the regrets that I have. It can turn me into an isolating lump of self-hatred in a heartbeat. But I am learning to view those things differently. When I think about my drinking days, and the regrets start to surface, I tell myself the truth – I would not be where I am today, had I not done those things. I would never have met my husband, I would never have learned to live life free of alcohol, I would never have become the loving, self-aware woman who I am today, and I would never have found the unconditional love and grace of God. That switch in my way of thinking has been life changing. The past didn’t change, the things that I did were not undone, but my view of them is different. One of the 9th step promises says, “we will not regret the past, nor wish to shut the door on it.” A change in perspective makes that promise come true.
I had been thinking about all of this as 2013 came to a close. I wondered if my new perspectives could help me do the things that resolutions are meant to do – improve oneself physically, spiritually, and emotionally. Maybe it was time to set some goals and commit myself to stopping the unhealthy things that I still do (at least booze is out of the picture today!). But I needed a change in perspective. Deprivation and rule keeping are not things that work for me, so I had to come up with a different approach. It occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, if instead of trying to break negative habits, I started to incorporate new, healthy habits, it just might work.
I started off my new plan as any modern person would, I googled it. I found a lot of information about the nature of habits (good and bad), and even more about what has worked for other people when it comes to making healthy habits stick. Here are the highlights of what I learned:
1. Make a commitment. Contrary to a lot of what we have heard about habits taking a certain amount time to form (21 days is what I always heard), there really is no time frame for making a habit automatic. But there is research that shows that making a commitment to try something new for a specific amount of time, and really doing it, improves the outcome. This makes me think of Belle’s 100-day Sober Challenge. It’s an attainable goal, with a specific time frame; and from what I see on her blog, it often leads to another 100 days, and another…a beautiful, healthy new habit.
2. Do it daily. Consistency is the key. Doing something a few times a week instead of daily makes it harder to lock in as a new behavior.
3. Start simple. One article that I read talked about starting the healthy habit of running. As the future runner sought help for ways to move from sedentary to marathoner, a psychologist told her to start off by getting up each morning and putting on her running shoes. That’s it. No running whatsoever until just putting on the shoes became automatic. I’m not sure about that theory, although it did work for the person who wrote the article, but I do like the idea of keeping it simple. I tend to want to jump in with both feet, have instant results, and feel great about myself the first time I try something. When I don’t get what I want immediately, I quit. So starting simple and taking small, but specific steps, makes sense to me.
4. Form a trigger. All of us alcoholics understand the word trigger! Here again, I had to have a change in perspective – having a trigger doesn’t have to be a negative thing. If we take something that we already are in the habit of doing, and add our new healthy behavior immediately following it, we have created a trigger that will help us make our new behavior automatic. For example, I am not in the habit of taking my make-up off before I go to bed (I know, gross), but I am in the habit of brushing my teeth. So, presumably, if I use brushing my teeth as a trigger for taking off my make-up, it’s more likely that I will do it, stick to it, and make it a habit.
5. Journal your progress. This is important because there will be times that we just don’t feel like doing our healthy habit. I, for one, know just how easy it is to fall back into old, comfortable behaviors even when it’s not good for me. Having something concrete that you can look back on to recall your successes will help with motivation in the future. I sometimes look back at my journal to remember how far I have come in my recovery. It helps, it encourages, it works.
There are a bunch of other suggestions that I read about, but these are the ones that really hit home for me. These are the things that I am keeping in mind as I set out to build healthy habits.
I’ve decided to give this healthy habit thing a try. I am committing to add one new, healthy behavior each month for the year. I know that my results won’t be 100%, but even if one month’s habit sticks, I will see it as progress. I will also learn what works for me, how I can improve myself physically, spiritually and emotionally.
As it’s the 12th of the month, I have already been working on my first month’s new habit: daily prayer aloud with my husband. I’ve had some really great results from doing so already and I am excited to share them with you in my next post….