Forget About New Year’s Resolutions

Forget About New Year’s Resolutions

The beginning of every New Year is always the best time to give another chance to your neglected talents!

— Turkish playwright Mehmet Murat Ildan

WITH the entry of the New Year—amidst a global pandemic—I hear a lot of people professing things like, “I can’t wait for this year to be over!” It’s as if suddenly when the clock strikes midnight on December 31st, the world will suddenly right itself and the coronavirus pandemic that has caused such massive suffering across the globe will be over and we will emerge anew, twenty pounds lighter and free from anxiety.

But I don’t believe in instant resolutions. What I believe in is the (sometimes painfully) slow but always steady hand of evolution that gradually allows the development of things into something that is better.

Studies in human evolution outline how it takes a long, long time for homo sapiens to evolve from earlier forms of mammals—Neanderthals, Homo erectus and every iteration up until that point when we become what we are today. Life on this planet has been evolving for billions of years. My life and your life have been evolving since the day we were born—for a couple or several decades a least?

At times, people always ask me how I manage to organize my life each day without missing a beat. They ask how I find time to map out every step I take and then share my thoughts in my column and posts on social media. My response to them is simple: How do we actually manage to brush our teeth each morning? How do we remember to put clothes on each morning before we leave the house? Why do we prepare our meals and perform our duties each day?

The bottom-line answer is simple: It’s a habit.

And what is more important than our habits? Nothing. The truth is that habits—positive or negative—help us evolve into who we become, incrementally, one day at a time.

And in a study by experts at Duke University, we know that habits—good or bad—form about 45 percent of our total behaviors. These habits are behaviors that we frequently repeat, compounding their significance in the makeup of our lives. They are our foundation and when one’s foundation is weak, things start to fall apart.

And like that sensible teacher of mine during my high school days in San Beda who taught me the lessons in life I need to survive the chaos and confusion in this world we live in, I can attest that people who fail at making changing changes in their lives are those who fail to instill new habits. And those who are unsuccessful at instilling new habits often find themselves failing because they try to do take on too much, too quickly, or all at once.

Simply put: If a new habit requires more willpower than we have at the moment we commit to it, we will fail and the inverse is true as well.

My grandmother, Lola Epang, used to use a phrase that I always thought was strange when I was a child but later understood when I grew older and wiser. “You can’t eat an elephant whole,” she would pronounce, “but, you can eat it one bite at a time.” Of course, as a child, I would literally think about the horror of eating an elephant! But later I learned, that proverbially, this elephant is the one that sits on our chest most of our lives and holds us back from living the best, freest version of ourselves. This elephant is any obstacle we face in our lives. Very rarely can we overcome the obstacle with one swift change; instead, changes require steady, incremental changes in the form of habits, one small bite at a time.

This incremental, evolutionary journey allows us to build, one day at a time, the habits we need to cultivate in order to live our best lives. Evolving our habits helps us build a strong foundation that all else can be built soundly upon. Easily? Unlikely so. Without inconsistencies? Absolutely not. Slowly and steadily instead, understanding that those of us who are inconsistent or quit the journey is often not lazy people. Instead, they are more often than not people who tried their best too quickly and ambitiously.

The development of habits and the making of resolutions fail because we focus on pushing towards glory.

But the development of habits that stick doesn’t just require that short burst of motivation and willpower. Motivation naturally drops after we get started with the quest, and just living our daily life can deplete willpower. The habitual or unconscious part of our brain does not respond well to the glory-seeking hero’s journey because those big sudden changes turn on our fight-or-flight response and therefore, it is unsustainable.

And, while we may think that just five minutes of practice a day is unimpressive for our executive brain (the part that loves big, lofty changes!), it actually does wonders for our unconscious brain and avoids waking up the visceral brain so to speak. It creates incremental changes that lead us to the long-term goal of mental health and stability, tools that we can rely on, again and again, when the going gets tough; tools that evolved from necessity, while we faced challenges and obstacles, that over time help us not just survive—but thrive.


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