New Year – New Habit – New Environment

Every day and in every way, I am becoming better and better.

In setting an intention for the New Year, whether you call it a resolution or not, one of the biggest mistakes we make in striving towards a new normal, a new habit, a goal we have not achieved before is that we make it a performance game.  Did I make it?  Am I doing it?  And how often?  If I make it to the gym 5 times out of the 10 times I planned to go, do I get a fail or a pass on my resolution to work out more? 

Creating this performance game is a poor use of attention and feeds right into the polarity struggle of will power over resistance.  (See my blog New Year New Normal? for a discussion on what is beyond will power).

You probably have read advice that comes around each year to set up your environment for success – so to get to the gym regularly, it is helpful to pack your gym bag so it is ready to go, buying the right equipment/clothing, a gym membership, getting your partner to agree to take the kids, whatever you need to reduce the excuses not to go.  This is helpful – but it isn’t quite what I want to focus on. 

Beyond setting up a supportive environment, in setting up a new activity, for that to become a new normal, you need to set up a learning environment.  What does that look like?

We so often interfere with the tender new beginnings of things when we orient to a fledgling practice from our concept of what we should look like as a mature practitioner.   First of all, keeping our attention on our performance alone is a difficult way to get started, because we surely will have a day, a week when we fail to perform.   Remember learning to ride a bicycle or any new skill – how many spills, wobbles, un-graceful stops did you experience before your balance,  skill and confidence aligned so you could just ride. 

We need to intentionally learn our way into a new habit.  It is good to make a plan for our new intended, activity.  Rather than beating myself up for choosing to go out with a friend at a time when I planned to workout, what can I learn about how I get de-railed when a friend calls? What options can I devise to honor my commitment to my goal so I am less likely to be de-railed again?   For the planners of the world, you may be tempted to try to account for every possibility up front to minimize the risk that you will slip up.   What is messier and ultimately more likely to build an integrated set of the skills and knowledge you need to succeed is to learn from your experience.  So rather than the ultimate plan that covers all bases, make a plan, work the plan, learn from what happens, make a new plan, work the new plan, learn from what happens…

Moshe Feldenkrais wrote, “Starting from things that are easy to do….from them we will learn…to be able to confront bigger and more important goals.”

In acquiring a new habit, a new way of being, how do you know that you have it, that you have reached it?  Esther Thelen, an expert in developmental psychology, wrote that the “hallmark of skill is reliability and adaptive flexibility.”  Setting up a learning environment supports you to attend to what helps you act in the new way more reliably and how to enact it within different situations, with different conditions.  Approaching new goals through a learning environment builds your ability to recover the golden chain linking your intention to your actions in service of this new goal when life happens and knocks you off of your center.   It is this process of learning that becomes an engine to improve your experience. 

What would need to happen to organize yourself so that your new activity for 2019 can develop easily and clearly?  Can you be curious about how you can start and what you might find by exploring your own experience of setting up a new habit? 

In service of my resolution this year to be more visible, especially in my business, I will share my own new activity challenge.  Over the holidays, a friend challenged me to participate in the MS Bike Ride this year – almost 200 kilometers over two days.  On the day he challenged me, I took stock – I am not a bicycle rider although I have a 10 year old mountain bike I ride occasionally, I have no established training routine at the gym (I train aikido at the dojo and movement at home), I have a long term issue with sciatica on one hip that has kept me from prolonged sitting on uncomfortable perches like bicycle seats.  I have a fear of failing to complete such an intense ride over two days and a dread of the discomfort of the experience.   I am in school so don’t have much disposable income to buy a road bike.  The obstacles feel real.  So my commitment in January – train on an indoor bike 2x a week and learn what my body can do, what I need to do to get a training routine going and how this fits with running a business, going to school and my existing training.  The truth is – I don’t know what is possible, so in the spirit of adventure I will find out what I can do and where I can find support to reach my goal.   

Here’s to learning your way forward.