New Year, New Habits!
Happy New Year! How are your resolutions going? The practice of making a new year’s resolution dates back to ancient Rome. Julius Caesar established January 1st as the first day of the new year and named the month January for Janus, a two-faced god who symbolically looked backwards into the previous year and ahead to the future year. Romans made promises of good conduct to the deity for the coming year. Yet, the fact that we have been making resolutions since 45 BC has not improved our ability to keep them! About 83% of resolutions are broken before we even get to Easter. Why is that?
One reason is habits. A habit is something we do without even thinking. They are triggered by cues in our environment. Research suggests that over 40% of what we do each day is determined by habit, not by decision. So, in order to change a habit, such as eating junk food, the old habit must be replaced by a new one. Performing the new behavior forms new neural pathways that can be used instead of the old ones. Of course, this takes time, and it takes consistency and determination.
We are continually talking with your children about their goals at school and encouraging their resolve to meet those academic goals. This is a good time of year to check in with your student and determine if they could change an old habit at home that may be less than productive. Does your child procrastinate when it comes to starting homework? Does he/she often forget to complete assignments at home? Does your child spend too much time on digital devices or social media? The start of a new year can be an opportunity to discuss replacing old habits with new ones.
Help your child set their goal by using positive terms that convey choice, such as want or could rather than terms that convey compulsion, such as should or must (i.e. “I can complete my homework before I watch tv”, rather than “I should complete my homework before I watch tv”). We are much more likely to follow through and achieve goals when they are seen as our own choice. Then, determine the cue that leads to the behavior. If your child takes out their phone as soon as he/she gets in the car at carpool, replace that response with something different, such as getting in the car and immediately opening a snack and telling you about their day. Work on replacing the old behavior with the same new one each day.
New year resolutions are indeed difficult to keep, but maybe if we just think of resolving to replace one bad habit with a new one, one day at a time, it may seem a little more attainable… I will check back in with you around Easter!