We’ve all been there.  In the run-up to the New Year festivities, we feel very certain that turning the page on yet another year in our journey is a perfect time to reframe, restart, reshape and recommit to higher standards in our health, our practice and our aspirations to better ourselves.  The details of how we will do it seem very solid in our mind (even though in reality there is little sense of real details on how we will deliver the goal), and they usually come in two forms – things we’ll start doing – lose weight, train for a race, read more books, get up early…. Or things we’ll stop doing – like drinking too much alcohol (OK, maybe just a glass a day), or eating too much sugar (one dessert a week, then), or binging on Netflix (one chapter at a time; for sure!).

And usually, for the first few days and sometimes even weeks, or resolutions seem to work.  We feel empowered and content in our newly discovered superpower to say no, get up, lean in.  Then, often within January or shortly thereafter, an occasion shows up in which we reason to ourselves that, just this time (a toast for an old friend), we’ll allow ourselves a break – after all, we have done so well so far and we feel great.  And this, or maybe the next ‘just this time’ precipitates a crumbling of our practice.

What is mentally frustrating in this often repeated ritual is that in essence, we have all done stuff like this before and succeeded.  We already have hundreds of habits that we have developed over a lifetime.  So understanding how the mind – especially the patterns of desire – and the science of habit making, can be really helpful if we want indeed to crack open this predicament (rather than yet another bottle).

In a nutshell, the science gives us a pretty simple framework – whatever it is that we want to achieve, start small, make it simple and easy, and whenever possible, connect it with established existing patterns.  For example, you do have a habit of getting up (sooner or later), so if you want to stretch in the morning, leave your yoga mat next to your bed.  Or leave your car keys inside your running shoes.  Make a mental note to start with, say a 5 min walk or a 2 min stretch.  The main point here is to establish a new pattern – ‘neuroplasticised’ into your brain.  Once the pattern is established, it is easy to add time or reps or extras to it.

The other piece you have to work with is the conversation in your head about who are you and how you do things.  This is a crucial point because upon some deep reflection we discover that we live our life through the stories we tell ourselves in our head about what is going on.  Our perception, our experiences, and our interactions are all lived through the conversation we have in our heads.  And – driven by an evolutionary negative bias – these inner monologues are often critical, pessimistic and self-negating.  To narrate an alternative story about a habit we want to establish – and even more importantly – a habit we want to lose is a key stepstone to success.

One final point – There’s a popular Chinese proverb that says: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”  Similarly, a New Year resolution is a nice way to mark an opportunity to change, but regardless of the date, any day is the second-best time to start a healthier lifestyle.


Michael Bartura

Asian Leadership Institute Consultancy (ALIC)