Millions, perhaps billions, of people all over the world are all attempting to begin new habits today.  Some have vague resolutions, some have concrete goals.  Most will give up by the end of next week.

Why is that?  Why do people make resolutions and goals, begin with varying levels of enthusiasm on the first day of the new year, or the new week, but give them up without making lasting change?

We are creatures of habit, and most of our habits form without our conscious direction.  Our parents may have guided us into long-term habits, perhaps washing our hands before eating and brushing our teeth before bed, with encouragement and consistency. Our schools, and definitely working life encourages the formation of habits - habits to simplify hygiene, fuel, and commute to minimize stress during the day's transitions.

That is purpose of habit - minimizing stress, simplifying behavior patterns so less conscious decisions need to be made, saving conscious brainpower for more important choices and activities.  Repeating thoughts and behaviors over and over actually, physically, changes our brain.  Much as our feet can wear paths through the grass when we cut through a yard to reach the sidewalk, our neurons wear pathways in our brains when they fire frequently and consistently over a long period of time.

Cutting new neural pathways takes consistent conscious direction sustained over a long enough time.  How long depends on a variety of factors.  How different is the new pattern from the old one?  What motivates the change?  How much conscious energy do you have to spare?  How stressed are you during the time you want the new habit to form?  How much fun is this habit?  How much do you enjoy the challenge?

Perhaps most importantly, are your goals personal desires, or are they "shoulds?"

Are you going to the gym or starting a diet because you think you "should" lose some weight? Are you starting a meditative or yoga practice because you "should?"  Are these goals based in shame or fear?  Shame and fear are terrible fuel for change.  Fear-based and shame-based goals increase stress, and our subconscious will reach for old comfortable, familiar habits to combat that stress the second our conscious mind gets offtrack.

The key to making lasting changes is to make the new habits both enjoyable and rewarding enough that you want to keep choosing them despite the inherent stress involved in changing.

Can you make the gym that enjoyable?  If not, can you think of something you loved as a child or something you always wanted to try that could also lead to a healthier, happier body?  Maybe you loved riding your bike as a kid, so you get a bike and ride it in the evenings after dinner - for the pleasure of it!  Maybe you always wanted to try dance lessons, so you sign up for a class.  Maybe you miss indoor rock climbing, so you get a membership at the local rock climbing center instead of the gym.

Maybe you always wanted to learn to cook, so you sign up for a class teaching you to cook your favorite cuisine, or join a group of meal planners that can teach you how to prepare home-cooked food for all meals during the week in just half an hour on Sundays!

Are your New Year's resolutions more nebulous, like "be more spiritual?"  Being more spiritual sounds great, and is also going to mean something different to every person who makes the goal.  Can you make your resolution more concrete, more measurable?  Perhaps, "meditate five minutes a day," or "maintain an altar," or "celebrate the Sabbats."  And make sure these goals are based in a desire to bring more joy into your life, rather than from a place of feeling like you are not spiritual enough.  "Not enough" is a shame and fear-based concept.

You are enough.  You are SO enough.

Make your goals about making your experience of life better. Make 2019 the year you invite joy, and the rewards of fun challenges, into your life.

And don't beat yourself up whenever you find yourself walking an old, familiar path.  Just remind yourself why you like the new path better, and hop back on!