It’s the fourth week of the year.
If you are one of the brave masses who chose to commit to a New Year’s Resolution this year, you’re nearing your first true checkpoint. And it’s a legitimate achievement. Doing a month of anything, especially something that’s likely not very fun, is a deeply impressive feat, and you should feel proud.
But after almost a month gritting teeth and will-powering your way through your resolutions, it’s natural for it to start to feel like the wheels are falling off. It’s usually around the 19th or 20th where I start to feel really tempted to give in to whatever I’m battling against. But that moment of weakness does not mean you’re weak, or weakening. On the contrary, if you can feel yourself starting to wobble, and recognize those warning signs, that’s really already half the battle. You know what the problem is, and what you should do to fix it. Now you just need to refocus.
What we need in a moment like that is a re-commitment. Taking a deep breath, looking around, and plunging right back in. No interruption of service. Just a re-focusing on what we decided on late last year.
Because whatever aspirational energy we accessed then is what we need to remind ourselves still exists within us now. It might just take some mental gymnastics to find it. Here’s how to start that process.
Check in again
In some ways, the first month is the easiest. You have positive energy behind you, and wishful thinking of how great life could be after months of flossing everyday. And you haven’t yet felt the grind of actually having to live a life where you floss every day and eat leafy greens or whatever it is you’re working on. It’s all conceptual at first, and when it actually starts happening, it’s novel.
And, if you treat your Decembers like I do mine, you’re also likely burnt out on your bad habits in early January. You’ve gotten second and third portions of food at holiday gatherings, and spent untold amounts of time lounging on the couch. You’ve done whatever you want. Which, in my estimation, is what December Decadence is all about.
If you did it right, it’s almost like you feel tired of that kind of excess and unhealthiness. Your teeth might hurt from the extra sugar, or you might feel restless from all that laying around. Maybe a run and a piece of whole grain toast or whatever is just what the doctor ordered.
And, like the first day of a Squid Game-style elimination challenge, you have throngs of untold millions of January 1st wishful thinkers alongside you. You can feel their energy in the air, like a positive peer pressure. Part of a happy, aspirational crowd. I always enjoyed how Planet Fitness and other places like it were crawling with people during the first week of January. But, as seasoned year-round gym-goers will tell you, almost like clockwork around February 1st, those numbers dwindle back down to just the regulars again. And it’s not just the gym. Statistically, some insanely high percentage number of resolution-makers drop out of the game by mid-January. Making it to February really is a feat.
So, as we round the bend on the first month of twelve, and if you’re still standing, congratulate yourself. Then, check in with yourself. How did it go? Look at things in an aggressively practical way. Did it get any easier to wake up at 5:30am every day, even on day 25? Or would that work out serve you just as well if you slotted it in the evening after work? Could you trust yourself to commit to working out after work?
Even if you managed to maintain your resolution all this time, do you still truly think it’s manageable to keep it up for a year straight or for forever? If not, how might you adjust your expectations so that it is? If you somehow find that your life was inarguably changed for the worse during this time, and you feel as though you can make that judgement impartially, then there is no shame in abandoning the current course, in favor of an adjustment or a better path entirely.
Be honest with yourself, and think about whether you need to make a change. If you’re lucky, the only thing you’ll need to tell yourself is “keep going.”
Reconnect with your motivation
It’s easy to know what to do and why you’re doing it on January 1st.
On January 1st, all you need to know is “I want to make a change,” and all you need to do is the first step on that journey. It can be shoveling all the junk food in your house, theatrically and symbolically, into the garbage. Or it can be just tying on your shoelaces and going for a flailing, panting run that lasts until…you get tired I guess?
It’s once you make it far into the month, like the place we are now, that you have to start concerning yourself with routines and workout programs and discipline and things like that. You can’t just go for a formless run every day. You need to track your progress.
You’ve probably had to buy groceries a couple times during this period. The first time, when you were in the right headspace, was probably all kale and blueberries and bok choy. But the second and third time, maybe a box of Cheez-Its snuck in there. Or they were out of whole wheat bread, so you reached for your old sugary staple Wonder Bread. And that slippery slope might have begun.
I am always careful to not label those little half-slips as any variety of failure. But I do note them as I chart the course towards potential failure, as the first signs of trouble, if you will. By day 19 or 20 this year, I was really wavering. Urges and instincts get more powerful, and your once imposing willpower voice gets smaller, and his arguments aren’t as persuasive
This is exactly the time you need to note, and use it to remind yourself to start again.
Just start again. Like it’s January 1st again.
The beautiful thing is that it’s not truly a fresh start. You still get all the credit you earned from those last three weeks. Your flossing streak still stands at 23 or 24 days. But now you also get to imbue yourself with that magical mindset you had on January 1st that allowed you to get to this place in the first place.
So, if you’ve already stumbled on your New Year’s resolutions, fight that instinct to just throw the year away.
If you’ve managed to make it to this point without faltering too badly, you deserve a massive pat on the back. It’s almost been a month, after all. Things can fall apart in a matter of hours or days, and you’ve made it a month. That is no small feat.
But this is about the long haul. And no matter how you managed to get to this point, you might have to find a new gear to keep going for another month, or another forever.
We forget, because staying short-sighted is so much more satisfying and easy to understand, that real substantive change in our lives really is about permanent and long-lasting change.
And, more than really any other concept you could conceive of, it’s a marathon and not a sprint. There are pit stops, and rest periods. And times to stop and check in with yourself, make adjustments, and choose to continue on.
Sam Harris, in a guided meditation in his meditation app Waking Up, made a point of recommending, on minute eight out of a ten minute session, “take a moment to start again.” That was such a compelling concept to me the first time I heard it. Sure, this tiny little length of time was almost over, and you could treat it with the same energy as a high school senior in their last semester. Minimal effort. “Those first eight minutes were rough, so why wouldn’t the last two?” But if you followed Sam’s advice in those last two minutes, it was like you found another gear. It was like another shot at the whole thing.
Sp even if this month or this period of change is “almost over,” or if you’ve been disappointed with how it went, none of it has to matter. All that has to matter is you, right now, and your focus on this moment.
“No matter how well or poorly it was going before, just start again.”
Take that information about how well it was going forward with you if you like, but don’t feel like you have to. Just focus on the forward, and the future, and the now.
Take a breath, and just start again.