Oh, well. I may never get out from under sugar, caffeine, overwork and insufficient sleep but best not to add guilt and shame to the mix.
Humans are an extraordinary species and particularly good at forming habits. We are hard wired to automate processes after a series of repetitions, allowing us to drive to work thinking nothing of how we got there. Instead, we can focus on the misery of a broken resolution, or, better yet, work on cultivating new habits.
A wise professor with whom I studied acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine developed a program to help patients quit smoking. The protocol includes point combinations to reduce cravings, but the most important element is a complete change of habits. He stressed that the patient must remove from the home all accoutrements associated with smoking: ashtrays, lighters – even specific furniture – and substitute other behavior and objects in the space previously occupied by smoking.
Patients were taught to schedule and go for a nightly walk after dinner very deliberately, carrying a stick if so desired. They were to do this with the same regularity with which they would reach for a cigarette, light and smoke it – effectively adopting a new ritual.
The program was quite successful because it necessitated the forging of healthy new habits to replace destructive ones.
I used a variation of this program each time a patient came to me for help with weight loss. I always began with a heart-to-heart conversation about the realities of weight loss and the fact that acupuncture needles were not tiny magic wands.
Unfortunately, losing weight and keeping it off involves a commitment to healthy eating and regular exercise which amounts to substituting one set of habits for another.
So, with or without the help of acupuncture, how do we form new and better habits? It turns out that habits are just a combination of repetition and reward.
“Habits aren’t just there, but you get them by repetition and reinforcement,” says Dr. Nicole Calakos, associate professor of neurology and neurobiology at Duke University Medical Center. “The repetition part is obvious because a habit means regularly doing something, and the more you do it, the conditions are ripe that will make you prone to have a habit. The second is reinforcement. In other words, is the outcome good? Does it help you get about your business? Is it rewarding?”
Research indicates that it takes 18-25 days to begin and establish a new habit. That’s less than a full month.
To have the best chance of succeeding, experts recommend staying connected to the reason – and reward – anticipated and keeping goals simple, specific and realistic. It also helps to treat ourselves with patience and a lack of judgment.
Making change is never easy and often involves numerous setbacks and weakening of resolve. Deciding to do one’s best every day in full awareness that Monday may be magnificent while Wednesday a total wreck may make sticking to a resolution that much easier.
Let’s meet back here in mid-February with a few shiny new habits to admire.
Please send your comments and question to Nathalie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nathalie Raven Archangel-Montijo holds a rather interesting array of degrees and certifications, including master’s in nursing and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). She has post-master certification as an adult geriatric primary care nurse practitioner (AGPCNP) and a license to practice acupuncture in California (L.Ac). To round all that out, she is certified in infection prevention and control (CIC) and as an advanced certified Hospice and palliative care nurse (ACHPN).
She also performs in the outlaw country band, Nineteen Hand Horse.