Lowering Your Expectations Might Be the Trick to a More Mindful New Year

What is it that makes 2022 sound impossibly futuristic? Could it be the timeless fog of pandemic fatigue or our Omicron-induced fear that 2022 won’t be any different than 2021? Whatever the reason, I’m finding it hard to drum up much excitement for the New Year. You may be feeling the same. So…

As you start to review your year and set intentions for what’s next, I encourage you to moderate your expectations. We all recognize how hard it is to evoke change even in the best of times. Trying to enhance our self-care when we are stuck in a perpetual pandemic survival mode can be particularly daunting, and thus lead us to fail. My advice is to keep it simple.

Duhigg’s “The Power of Habit,” suggests starting with a keystone habit, one small change that has the potential to cascade into more substantial subsequent changes. For example, one of the most popular New Year’s Resolutions every year is to eat healthier. Conventional wisdom used to be that to lose weight you really had to shake up your whole life: changing what and when you ate, exercising daily, and attending support groups or counseling. Of course, given the resiliency of habits, it’s a Herculean feat to make such a huge overhaul all at once, thus most fail in the attempt.

However, taking a baby step in the right direction can initiate a cascade of more significant changes. For example, in one study participants were asked to write down what they ate just one day each week. No prescribed diets, no impossible exercise regimens, no calorie counting. However, over the course of the study, the researchers discovered that many of the participants started keeping a daily food log all on their own, not just the once-a-week log required for the study. In turn, their food logging established a positive baseline from which other salubrious habits emerged, like planning meals, buying healthier foods and reducing snacking. In the end, simply by committing to something small, their eating habits organically shifted to produce a more robust, long-lasting effect.

So, in the vein of starting small, I want to offer a keystone habit to launch your 2022. I invite you to take one intentional breath every day. What does that mean? Simply that you are consciously aware of one breath coming in and one breath going out…everyday…anytime that day. I suggest starting your day with a conscious breath when you first wake up. Then, if you forget it in the morning, you can do it later. Put a reminder near your bed, like a post-it note on your night table. If you haven’t taken your conscious breath by your bedtime check-in, it’s still not too late.

Research shows that consistency is critical in establishing new patterns of thought and behavior. By establishing a low bar, just one intentional breath every day, you are more likely to accomplish your goal. This accomplishment creates a feeling of success, which can fertilize your keystone habit to grow into other positive changes, like meditating daily for five minutes, eating more mindfully, being patient with your loved-ones, or establishing an appreciation practice. 

The poet John Dryden wrote, “We first make our habits, then our habits make us.” By moderating your expectations, you can build on small wins to flip the switch in your brain from “I can’t” to “I can.” This attitudinal shift may be exactly what you need to face this ongoing pandemic with more optimism and hope.

Good luck, and keep breathing.

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