fitness · habits

New beginnings: many benefits, but some burdens too

I turned in my spring semester grades on Friday.

“And there was much rejoicing.” Those Python boys never fail to crack me up.

For me (and academic friends and many others), the end of the school year, whenever it comes, means an end to one routine and the beginning of a new one. I’ve been dreaming of a new routine that includes:

  • open windows, blue skies, warm temps, gentle breezes
  • no more Zoom class meetings (at least for a while)
  • gathering with friends and family, in actual person, face-to-actual-face
  • venturing outside more to walk, bike, swim, paddle, do yoga, etc.

Oh, how lucky to have a life with discrete periods of prescribed activity, along with shifts to and from less structured, flexible time! The way I figure it, I get 4 new beginnings each year as I shift from fall term to winter break to spring term to summer. Whoopee!

Whoopee! letters in yellow and red gaphic text against a blue background.

Full disclosure: I’d also like a break from some of the patterns I’ve been living with in the past 14 months. Those changes include:

  • feeling less anxious, isolated, depressed, inert, stuck, indecisive
  • sleeping better and longer and on a more consistent schedule
  • cooking and eating in ways that feel like I’m taking good care of myself
  • resuming outside activity in ways that feel doable, joyful, safe, and sustainable

New beginnings are touted as prime opportunities to reset, start afresh, and take on new habits for a better you. In this week’s New York Times promo article for the latest “10 Day Fresh Start Challenge” (if you’re interested, text hi to (917) 809-4995 to sign up), the experts are lined up to cheer us on.

“I think this fresh start is really a big opportunity,” said Katy Milkman, a professor at the Wharton School… “I don’t know when we’ll have another one like it. We have this blank slate to work on. Everything is on the table to start fresh.”

“Covid-19 was an awful time for many of us,” said Laurie Santos, a psychology professor at Yale… “There’s lots of evidence for what’s called post-traumatic growth — that we can come out stronger and with a bit more meaning in our lives after going through negative events. I think we can all harness this awful pandemic time as a time to get some post-traumatic growth in our own lives.”

The notion of the reset, the fresh start, seems almost magical. Turn the calendar, click your heels three times, and before you know, you’re transformed into a more ideal form of yourself. But, like all magic tricks, it’s an illusion.

An illusion of a person (in gold lame outfit and hood) levitating over the floor, holding a metal pole.

Yes, there are studies (cited in that NYT article) showing how the use of fresh start language or milestones or turning points (e.g. beginning of the year, month, summer, etc.) increase motivations and initial actions for behavior change. But it’s also true that these efforts peter out fairly quickly (again, there are lots of studies, but also witness any gym in mid-February).

Behavior change is hard and it doesn’t come quickly. And, it’s a long process to set up, reinforce and ground any new behavior. I want to be different, to live differently, to eat and move differently than I have in the past 14 months. And it feels like there’s an opening:

  • my semester is over and summer is coming;
  • I’m fully vaccinated, as are my family and most of my friends (some are still in the process);
  • We’re getting messages from the CDC (in the US) about easing up of mask wearing (teaser: more about this on Wednesday’s blog post);
  • I really really want that opening to be there, with me walking through it.

The benefits of new beginnings are that they’re new, and they’re beginnings. This means they’re bright and shiny and promising.

The burdens of new beginnings are our susceptibility to believe that Shazam!– we can transform ourselves just by signing up for motivational texts; and our disappointment and self-recrimination when that change it doesn’t happen or look like we thought it would.

So what’s a naive, ever-optimistic lover of new beginning to do? Turn into a crabby cynic?

No to cynicism! the word cynicism inside a red circle with a line through it.
No to cynicism!

Nope. I went ahead and signed up for the 10-Day Fresh Start Challenge. I admit it. It was free, I was curious, okay? But I’m going into this shift in routine with more modest goals, namely to notice what gives me satisfaction, and look for openings to do those things when I can. I’ll report back after the 10-day challenge.

Any of you want to try this with me? Let me know if you do. Are you making any changes as we shift into the next stage of routines? I’d love to hear from you.

One thought on “New beginnings: many benefits, but some burdens too

  1. I signed up. Curious to see what they send. But yes, I could use a reset, fresh start etc. It’s harder now that I’m Dean and not teaching to mark the end of term. Meetings just go on and on! There isn’t the same feeling of difference between semester and summer.

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