This New Year - Start by Changing One Thing

“We first make our habits, then our habits make us.” -Poet John Dryden

I heard a story about a man named Eugene Pauly – E.P. Because of permanent brain damage, E.P. has no short-term memory. None. He lives at home, but doesn’t know where his own kitchen is. When you ask him, he just shrugs. Nothing. But twenty minutes later, he gets off his couch, goes to the kitchen, and gets a drink from the refrigerator. He can’t explain it. E.P. takes a daily walk around the neighborhood – and when asked which house is his, he doesn’t know. However, when he gets to his driveway, he always goes inside the right house.

Why?

According to research from Duke University, more than 40% of our actions are unconscious habits. (The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg) E.P. finds his house because there are pathways in our brain telling him what to do, based on engrained routine. We all have these pathways and routines and habits. We all do things – without even thinking about it:

The first thing we do when we wake.
What we eat for lunch.
How we dress.
Exercise.
Relate.
Pray.

Habits drive a ton of my decisions too.

It’s normal for me to slip into routine. Wake up. Make coffee. Run out the door for work. Go through the calendar, check emails. Get home. Play with my girls. Kiss my wife. Go to sleep. Lather, rinse, repeat. It’s easy for me to go through life without thoughtful intention.

We are in the waning hours of 2015 and it is an opportunity for reflection. For change. As I think of the past year and look to the next, I wonder: “What needs to change?”

New Years is less about resolutions and more about - "who am I becoming?" 

But when I see everything that needs to change – I’m overwhelmed. I set too many goals – I run in ten directions at once and change nothing. In the end, I grow discouraged and quit. Sound familiar? For the past ten years, my New Years Resolutions have looked something like this:

1. Make an AWESOME plan.
2. Be awesome for 1 day.
3. Stop being awesome.
4. Get depressed. Quit.

For some reason, I believe when the big glass ball falls in Manhattan – everything will change. This is the myth. But the good news is this:

I don’t have to change all of my habits at once.

According to Duhigg, research shows we all have few trigger habits, keystone habits. Singular habits – when we do them, transform other areas of our lives. Keystone habits set off a chain of internal events, giving us willpower and momentum to do other things. Over time, these keystone habits form other habits, and we become completely different people. These habits can be positive or negative, like the Road-Side Ditch Guy.

My keystone habit is waking up early at a set time. A writer friend of mine walks every morning at 5:30 am. Another friend of mine reads a chapter of the bible and spends 30 minutes in silence. 

When I wake up early at a set time, I start the day with discipline, and with intention. I pray. I write. I workout. I gain ground. At the risk of sounding like Dr. Leo Marvin, the small decision is a baby step. It creates movement. Velocity. We can’t magically order ourselves to change. But if we find our keystone habit – we can find momentum, setting off a slow avalanche of change.

One small win makes a huge difference. The one win also feels more attainable, setting out to do one thing. One small thing. It doesn’t feel anymore like I’m looking up at the Kilimanjaro. I’m just putting on the shoes. For 2016, I want to:

Read the bible every morning. Work out every day. Write another book. 

Remember: "It's never too late to be who you want to be. There is no time limit. Start whenever you want. You can change or stay the same. Make the best or worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. I hope you live a life you are proud of. And if you're not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again." (Eric Roth)

Let's do this - Happy New Year!