We are our habits, yes? I have lots of bad habits. Unfortunately, most of mine are psychological rather than physical, and not so easily broken. It was not so hard for me to quit smoking, even though I smoked for nearly two decades (that’s quite a bit more than half my life, people, ugh, I’m so ashamed). It was also not so hard to make a conscious decision to clean as you go, wake up earlier, or spend an hour every day doing whatever my three-year-old wants to do no matter how mind-numbing it is.
For me, it’s much harder to stop being so negative and hyper-critical or stop worrying so much.
Almost impossible to remember that sarcasm is not the same as humor.
(Getting easier, though: write every day, tread lightly on our earth, and find time to be happy.)
How lucky for me that M.J. Ryan wrote a book to aid me in my quests, with the admittedly awkward title This Year I Will…
First off, I feel that this title seems to imply that I have committed to a New Year’s resolution, which I have not and never will. But I was so intrigued by the notion that someone had written a whole book about how to change a habit or keep a resolution, that I had to give it a quick read. And it is a quick read, lots of short chapters, not terribly taxing, just perfect for before bed.
As it turns out, This Year I will… is not the piece of fluff that I suspected it would be, but full of good advice and practical information, inspirational quotes (my favorite!) and testimonials.
It is divided into into three major categories:
Section One: Preparing to Change. You have to be committed to the change or you will make wishy-washy excuses not to do it. This will happen in spite of the fact that you are perfectly aware that it will happen. These are the bits I found most pertinent to my situation:
“No Time is the Perfect Time to Begin”. I know that I am guilty of thinking, I’ll write when all the kids are in school full-time. We’ll really start saving money after we pay off this bill. I’ll start sewing things to sell in a shop on Etsy after I figure out all the functions on my sewing machine. But the truth is, I can procrastinate like nobody’s business. There is always going to be something I can find to fill my time or fritter away money on. So, from now on, it’s all about today. Leo on Zen Habits has a sign that reads “Don’t Talk. Type.” Maybe I should post something that screams, “What are you waiting for? Do it NOW!”
Ryan uses this quote to illustrate her point:
Every successful person I have heard of has done the best he could with the conditions as he found them, and not waited until next year to be better.
I think this is just as apt and much more elegant:
In American lives, there are no second acts.
-F. Scott Fitzgerald
This one is nice too:
Do not delay;
The golden moments fly!
-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
“You Can’t Get Fit By Watching Others Exercise.” Ryan says that we “confuse reading and thinking with doing”; also that “we’re all experts at reading and talking about change and beginners at putting change into action.” Ahem. Ok. Guilty as charged. Let’s move on.
Talk does not cook rice.
Section Two: Getting Into Action. Here we find the advice and motivational skills to get off our butts and get started. I found lots of useful info here; most importantly:
“It’s Going to Feel Awkward at First.” Ryan points out, “When you first begin to do something new or different, you are not very good at it.” Oh. Wait. That’s true for everybody? I can’t tell you how many things I’ve abandoned or not even started because I wasn’t very good at it or didn’t make measurable progress right away. This was the epiphany moment for me, and it’s so stupid and little, something you hear all the time. Practice makes perfect. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
“Yes, You Can Find the Time.” I’ve been working on this; I get up at 5:45 in the morning and I’ll shoot for 5:30 soon now, I’ll start getting up at 5:30. I liked the quote:
Time is a created thing. To say “I don’t have time” is to say, “I don’t want to.”
“When You Don’t Know What to Do, Channel Someone Who Does.” Ryan relates the story of her friend who grew up very shy, and learned to present herself as Katharine Hepburn to pull her through social situations. I was tickled by this because, having grown up painfully shy myself, I will channel Audrey Hepburn to suffer through social situations. However, while Ryan’s friend is channelling the traits she sees in Katharine- courageousness, honesty, and generosity- I will physically dress as Audrey and put on a show, so to speak. For me, it is easier to play a role and be remembered as the weirdo who came in costume, than to be myself and be judged on those grounds.
I was also struck by the irony that I have always seen myself as already being too much like Katherine Hepburn- tomboyish, horsey and brash, with perhaps a tendency to talk a bit too loudly. I’ve always seen it as a Hepburn vs. Hepburn scenario, with Audrey clearly winning out, for who wouldn’t want Audrey’s poise, simple elegance and delicate beauty? Reading this chapter made me realize that perhaps being compared to Katharine Hepburn- and make no mistake about it, this comparison is only in my own mind!- is maybe not the worst thing in the world.
Section Three: Keeping Going. Now that I’ve decided I need to change, and made the push to just do it, how do I keep the momentum rolling, day to day, for the rest of my life?
“Don’t Let “Them” Bring You Down.” Yes, I am continually being teased at home for being a booknerd and a hippie. Really all it took was a mental mindshift for this to stop getting in my way. I quit seeing it as a personal attack and chose to view it as affectionate teasing. Slowly, I realized that’s probably what it was from the beginning.
This also applies well to the day-to-day stresses of parenting. If my three year old is whining up a storm at Happy Harry’s, because she wants all the toys and coloring books and bubble blowers that are so helpfully lined up right next to the waiting area in the pharmacy, where we have to sit for ten minutes to get antibiotics that she has to have because she is sick, remember, and older women start exchanging pointed glances and muttering about how they would never let a child act like that in public, well, I’m giving myself permission to blithely ignore them. Because M.J. Ryan told me not to let “them” bring me down.
“You Can’t Change What You’ve Done, Only What You’re Going To Do.” Ha! I think I’ll print that out too, and hang it next to my “Do it NOW!” sign. Maybe with this quote for further inspiration:
The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.
“Ask for Help from Invisible Hands.” Around these parts, we (and by “we”, I mean “I”) call this “the universe provides” and “the karma effect”. Yes, I am vaguely embarassed to publicly admit to such a New Age-y concept, but I can’t dismiss it. When I am positive, good things happen. When I am negative, bad things snowball, until I hit bottom and look for help from any quarter. And then something coincidental and wildly unlikely will occur to bail me out.
This has happened to me so many times that even my husband, Mr. Skeptic Meany-Pants, has accepted it as some sort of weird personality defect. As Ryan points out, you don’t have to understand or believe. It just happens, and when it does, I like to step back and be grateful for a second. And whenever I can, I try to do something kind to send a little of that positive energy back into the universe.
This Year I Will…How to Finally Change a Habit, Keep a Resolution, or Make a Dream Come True. Odd title, full of solid advice and positive thinking, nice inspirational quotes, not preachy or touchy-feely, a fast before-bed read, highly enjoyable, now available at your local library. “What are you waiting for? Do it NOW!”
Your beliefs become your thoughts.
Your thoughts become your words.
Your words become your actions.
Your actions become your habits.
Your habits become your values.
Your values become your destiny.