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New year resolution: Untangle the old habits

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Photo: Crawford Jolly / Unsplash

The traditional view of making resolutions is that it involves willpower. It's a pretty grim process: Grit your teeth. Put your nose to the grindstone. And, if it doesn't work, it means you have failed. Worse: You are a failure.

It might work some of the time. But, most of the time, it doesn't. Why is that?

The human mind is complicated. Think of it as a web of neural relationships. Think of these neural networks as the roots of a tree. As the tree grows, the roots become more and more intertwined with the soil.

Habits are like that. We have a high capacity to learn, which means it is not easy to unlearn something. Because learning something means that this something is now part of our neural networks. It is no longer a newly planted little sapling that you can pull out easily; it is now firmly rooted.

Imagine you're holding a cord that is tangled up (for instance, a headset). If you get impatient and pull indiscriminately, all you do is get it to be more tangled up. To effectively disentangle it, you need to pay attention to the knots and patiently undo them one by one.

Changing habits is a similar process. You start with the intention of what you want to accomplish. As you proceed, you pay attention to what happens, expecting that you will inevitably encounter "knots": the habit is rooted in your eco-system.

As you understand your eco-system more, it becomes easier to disentangle the knots. Plus, you give your new habits a chance to be firmly rooted in your eco-system, i.e., to be lasting.

See also: Three mindful steps to make successful new year resolutions

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