Friday, January 1, 2010

Resolutions and habits: how to make them or break them. Part 1

Trying to break a habit or make a change in your life is not a matter of willpower. Stop beating yourself up for giving in to temptation while on a diet, for saying yes when every fiber of your being is silently screaming "no." Would you ridicule a six month old for not knowing how to walk? Do you expect to be able to speak French just because you've decided to take a trip to France? Why do we then expect to be able to make major life changes just by deciding to make them?

The decision is the all-important first step, but it's not what makes change actually happen. Adults forget that we are still learners, and are our own harshest critics when faced with a skill we need to acquire. How many fledgling painters have given up when their first attempts aren't worthy of framing? It's uncomfortable to be a beginner, a novice, a newbie. We'd rather be in control, accomplished, and acclaimed, thank you very much. We should be able to "figure" this stuff out, right? All that life experience must be worth something..
If we honestly want to make a meaningful change in our lives, we have to be willing to swallow our pride, take baby steps, and fall on our asses with aplomb.

How do I know this? Because I am the queen of dilettantes. Jill of all trades, master of darn few. I hate feeling stupid, and learning new skills and habits makes me feel dumber than dirt. I made up my mind to do something...that should be enough, right? I can figure this out intellectually. If I understand it, how hard can it be to actually DO it? Astoundingly hard, actually. Habits and skills are not like multiplication tables--memorization is not necessarily mastery. Think about it. If logic were enough, the Just Say No campaign would have put drug dealers out of business. The first week the Surgeon General's warning appeared on cigarettes, Phillip Morris would have gone bankrupt. And yet we have such high expectations of ourselves, and punish ourselves with negative self-talk and poor self-esteem when we fail to meet our own expectations. If we're not a protégé, we don't want to play. I've always wished I played piano. There was an old upright player piano in my grandmother's house and at about age 4, I would pound away on it for hours, stretching to reach the foot pedals, trying to make my young hands stretch to hit the notes I wanted to hear. I never had lessons, and when they tested us for musical ability in grammar school, the only thing I showed aptitude for was the drums, and the band already had a drummer, so that was the beginning and end of my musical career.

About four years ago, I saw a portable electronic piano for a reasonable price and asked for it for Christmas. I signed up for lessons with a local woman and kept them up for a few weeks, but I couldn't handle the fact that I was making mistakes on pieces written for children. Somehow I thought that wanting to play should make me able to play. The piano was packed away in the attic by February.

Desire and intention are not enough. To learn something new, we have to know enough to:
  • make a sincere commitment, 
  • take some trial runs, 
  • practice the small steps toward the goal, incorporating as many of the senses as possible  (more on this as we go on) so the learning becomes deeply imprinted, and --
  • celebrate your successes, no matter how small. 

You'll need to learn how to become your own coach and cheerleader if you don't have others who'll support you toward your goal. And even if you do, these are good skills to have--no one else’s hidden agendas or jealousies to contend with.

Next: Be NICE!!!