A Force of Habit
It’s been about a week and a half since I’ve returned to the run after taking a break for Christmas and New Years, and I’m finally starting to get back into the swing of things. Though the vacation was nice, I was surprised how quickly I fell back into my old habits, even after being away from home for nearly three months. Watching too much TV, playing too many video games, eating unhealthy, indulging in all of those mindless actions I had tried to free myself from over the course of the journey. It made readjusting to the run a difficult process–after all, the cross-country journey requires patience, diligence, discipline, and hard work, but if the holiday break was any indication, those efforts weren’t bearing any fruit. I was beginning to question why I was even continuing this quest.
I’m not sure why falling back into my old behavior patterns surprised me, seeing as we humans are creatures of habit. Often when we think of a habit we have a bad connotation, like biting fingernails or smoking. (At Christmas, my grandpa told my sister that smoking is a $3,500 a year habit. Overhearing this, my grandma said, “If I had known that I would have married someone richer!”) But in fact, we develop habits mostly as a survival mechanism. The human brain is designed to recognize patterns, and once it learns responses to these patterns, it starts to ingrain automatic responses into our subconscious so that we don’t have to waste time thinking about a response for every situation. Even our own personalities are a collection of habits containing preferred actions and responses for when we interact others.
It’s the subconscious nature of habits that makes it difficult to change our diets or change the way we treat people. To change a habit, we have to pull the decision making process back into our conscious awareness. Not just once, but every time a pattern arises that would generate the behavior we are trying to correct. New Years has always been one of my favorite holidays because it gives me a reason or excuse to redouble my efforts toward this process of self improvement.
This year, my resolutions are to finish walking across the country, quit drinking soda, and become more positive in the way I talk to myself and others. The first is obviously in progress, as is the second. I’ve been pop-free for over two weeks now, and I’m proud to say so has my brother (we even went through the worst of the caffeine withdrawal headaches at the same time.) The third will take a lot of time and work, but there are proven benefits to having a positive mindset and attitude, especially when working to change habits. I’ll save the talk about those benefits another time, probably when I myself need to be reminded of them. For now, I’d like to wish everybody a happy and healthy 2010, and good luck on any resolutions you may have for the New Year! And feel free to share any of your own personal resolutions here, I’m interested to see what habits others are striving to change!