‘These holidays, try reflecting rather than repeating the usual habits’

Dec 21, 2020
Why not use this time off to decide which life habits aren’t working for you and find healthier new habits to replace them. Source: Getty.

The past year is probably one the vast majority of us would happily forget. This time last year, most of us had never heard the word coronavirus and were unfamiliar with concepts such as lockdown, social distancing and ‘doing the three’ (washing your hands, keeping your distance and having the CovidSafe app). It has been such a bizarre and frightening time for most of us, and although Australia has handled the pandemic better than most, it has still profoundly affected the way most of us have lived.

Regardless, it’s now that time of year when many people experience the very common feeling of burnout. The year we’ve all had can only make this burnout even more prominent in our minds and bodies, with most of our thoughts turning to the Christmas break. Although Christmas should always be a time for rest, reflection and rejuvenation, it often becomes a time for excessive partying, overeating and overindulging in other bad habits. Not to mention those awkward family interactions.

Interestingly, my daughter, Dr Ali Walker, who has a PhD in human consciousness, told me that there’s now a term for this overdose of relatives at Christmas. The term is hyper-co-presence. I would prefer to call this an unavoidable overdose!

Rather than heading towards the inevitable Christmas weight gain, the very common New Year’s Day hangover, the perennially failed New Year’s resolutions, along with the unresolved family conflicts, why not commit to making this Christmas break the beginning of a fresh start. Put the global traumas of 2020 behind you and follow what I call my ‘Five-Point Power Plan’: decision, correct your limiting patterns, create a new pattern, train the habit, and live the program.

  1. Decide which life habits aren’t working for you. Think about the relatives and/or friends you have had conflicts or troubles with. Make a commitment to resolve these issues. A very good start here is to create a journal or a diary where you write down your life goals for the coming year in decreasing order of importance, including the list of bad habits that aren’t serving you well and you therefore wish to change. Write in your journal the basis of your conflicts with the important people in your life, with a plan for the resolution of these issues.
  2. What is stopping you right now from not making these changes? If, for example, you wish to cease smoking but every Friday night you go down to the pub with your friends and have a few drinks and this weakens your resolve, then this Friday-night pattern may need to change. Many people, as another example, are comfort eaters, often sitting in front of the television consuming unnecessary food. Rather than doing so, now that the days are longer, why not go for a walk instead?
  3. Nature abhors a vacuum. When you change a bad habit that has occupied a significant amount of your time, whether it be excessive eating, drinking or smoking, it should be replaced with a better, healthier habit. One of the greatest examples I have witnessed in my medical practice was a patient of mine who was a serious alcoholic. He consumed about 20 schooners of beer a day, leading to a severe dilated cardiomyopathy (heart muscle disease). This gentleman made the decision to stop alcohol on my very strong advice and replaced this with an interest in Egyptology. All of the money he used to spend on alcohol was placed in a bank account. He had eventually saved up enough money to take him and his wife to Egypt, where he had the trip of a lifetime. His severe heart disease returned to normal and he’s still a faithful patient of mine 25 years later.
  4. Napoleon Hill wrote a book many decades ago named Think and Grow Rich. In this famous book, he stated that the two greatest success principles are discipline and perseverance. Any new habit requires discipline. You need to discipline yourself for a full month for this new habit to be trained and to become a normal part of your life. It’s very important, also, to associate rewards with this new habit. For example, once I had destroyed my knee through too much sport, I needed to replace my very enjoyable soccer and squash games with a less-rigorous form of exercise. I therefore started using an exercise bike 12 years ago and my reward was to watch an enjoyable television series while exercising. I did this to associate pleasure with the habit rather than the boredom of 45 minutes on the exercise bike. I am delighted to say that I have since broken three exercise bikes through excessive use!
  5. Here is where the perseverance comes in. A number of years ago I wrote a book titled Diets Don’t Work. The reason diets don’t work is that you go on a diet in the same way you go on a holiday. You always come back from the holiday. When you have created good, healthy new habits, these need to stay with you for the rest of your life. You need to have a commitment to maintaining these habits as part of your new way of thinking.

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