Lifelongnewyorker heard skepticism from some quarters about taking sixty weeks to anticipate her 60th birthday.
“That’s quite a length of time to wait,” said Middle Sister. “Does this mean you will simply speed past 59?”
No, not at all. But it’s hard to whistle through 59 when 60 is looming right around the corner. I’d rather face it with a plan. Sort of. Beginning this initiative, I announced some general goals — get in shape physically, maybe eat better, explore ways to balance life and work — but listed no definite resolutions or objectives. Readers offered some ideas I had not entertained — like adding more flaming food to my life — that I think worth exploring. I want to be open to new ideas. After one week, I’m committing to a few specifics:
Objective 1: Do at least one new thing every week.
I’m giving myself an A here. This week I realized that negativity is not a good mindset for change. On New Year’s Day I woke up disappointed in myself for having followed the path of least resistance until 3 am. I even blogged about it, thinking that witty writing (you be the judge) was just as good as doing something different. But telling stories of one’s utter failure to move toward the goal is probably not the best road map for getting there. Those stories are banished. I know — this breakthrough is at the 101 level of behavioral psychology. Like Johnny Mercer wrote, you’ve got to Accentuate the Positive.
Objective 2: Exercise. Regularly.
Clearly, if I want to be in better shape physically, I need to exercise. To be honest, I don’t like exercise and have never understood concepts like the “runner’s high.” Exercise is boring and hard on my body, especially my big toe. For the record, I am not making that part up. I don’t mind exercise as much if it is ancillary to something that’s actually interesting, like hiking in a national park, or biking to a new place, or taking a walk in a new city with lots of shops. But I have a low tolerance for repetition, and maybe for self-discipline. For years I gave myself the excuse that I didn’t live in the kind of place that allowed me to exercise as I liked. In New York, I liked to bike along the canal towpaths in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. It took two hours to get there, so sadly we did it rarely. “When I move to a place that has a lot of great outdoor spaces I’ll gladly exercise,” I lied to myself.
I made a good start this week and got myself to the gym three times. But that third time almost didn’t happen. It was yesterday, Saturday. I’d gotten my hair cut, returned home, had no other plans. “I should go to the fitness center,” I said to myself. And even as that thought went through my head, I became aware of a powerful feeling of resistance. As if another voice countered, “Oh yeah? Who’s going to make me?”
Normally, virtue loses those battles where the good angel and the demon sit on my opposite shoulders. But this time I was prepared, having read about a simple method to counter negativity. In it, you acknowledge the negative emotion, allow yourself to feel it, ask yourself if you’re ready to let it go and, if the answer is “no,” ask yourself when you’re you think you will be ready. I had no actual faith in this method, but holy self-help, Batman, what had I to lose?
So I paid attention to what I was feeling and identified the fact that I was feeling resistance — I was digging my heels in hard against my own best interests. I asked myself “Am I ready to let this resistance go?” Imagine my surprise when the answer bubbled up instantly: “No.”
No?! Where did that come from? It didn’t take long to figure it out. I adopted resistance early in life to assert my independence; the earliest manifestations were in battles with my mother over food. Begun early and nurtured lovingly, I got very good at resisting. It must have worked for me once, but it sure wasn’t anymore. And I realized I was ready to let it go. When? Now.
I went to the gym.
Is this going to work every time? I don’t know, but it’s as good a time as any to let go and unlearn old habits. Hence,
Objective 3: Confront the negative.
Finally, I cooked dinner last night. I actually love to cook, especially when we’re entertaining. The thrill of routine, maintenance cooking, however, vanished about 15 years ago. I’d been cooking family dinners since I was 12 — my mother worked at a bank and if they didn’t prove at the end of the day they stayed until they did. I got very used to the after-school phone call asking me to “Get dinner started.” After 30 years or so, I just got tired of the nightly chore, especially having to plan and shop. I discovered take-out. Finally, Mr. NYer picked up the slack. We essentially switched roles: He planned the menu and cooked, and I got used to coming home to a hot meal.
Nice, but not really fair. Which leads to …
Objective 4: Cook at least one meal each week.
As for the sixty weeks, something I read today suggests I’m on the right track. According to studies done on the subject of developing new habits, it takes, on average, 66 days to build the “automaticity” for even simple new routines, like eating fruit with your lunch.
So, I’m thinking 59 more weeks might just be enough time.