In one of those ironies that tend to crop up in the Church’s history, the best contemporary research in habit formation has caught up to Catholic teaching. We fail because we try to change our behaviour without changing the mindset, beliefs and assumptions that underpin it.
This was all well-known to the Church Fathers. For instance, St John Chrysostom, the 4th Century Archbishop of Constantinople, wrote that “God does not inspect a person’s apparent worth, but their mindset.”
It’s the “weakness or passivity of the mindset … lying content in its sinful disposition” that, for St John, means we don’t change our bad habits and come closer to God. So here’s a few tips for making some common New Year’s Resolutions stick.
Forming an exercise habit is the most common New Year’s Resolution, but starting from scratch can seem so expensive and intimidating. Gym memberships, equipment, ridiculous outfits, and feeling self-conscious and out of shape can make it tough to get going and stick with it.
But did you know that for people who are looking to build an exercise habit the best thing to do is simply start walking? The physical and mental health benefits from taking at least a 30-minute walk each day are much higher than you’d imagine.
There’s really no reason to worry over more complicated exercise plans if you’re not already walking.
So don’t fork out for memberships and gear just yet. Build an exercise habit on your own two feet first.
For everything else, YouTube is a brilliant resource for free instructional videos and motivation on everything from swimming (look up Total Immersion Swimming coach Shinji Takeuchi) to skipping ropes (the Jump Rope Dudes).
Learn your Bible, Catechism and Philosophy
To quote another Church Father, St Jerome famously said that “ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ”.
But Scripture, theology and philosophy can be so complicated that it’s hard to know where to start. For Scripture, you can’t go wrong with the most popular Catholic Podcast in the world: The Bible in a Year with Fr Mike Schmitz. At its high point it had 450,000 daily listeners.
You will “read all the way from Genesis to Revelation, discovering how the story of salvation unfolds and how we fit into that story today”. Why not find it on your Podcast app, and put it on during your morning or evening commute? And for the Bible experts, on 1 January this year he launched a new project: The Catechism in a Year. Fr Schmitz will give the Catechism of the Catholic Church the same treatment as the Bible.
And if you’re interested in learning about philosophy, you could do a lot worse than another podcast: The History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps.
In light, easy-to-understand 25-minute episodes the host, Peter Adamson, will take you from Thales, the first Greek philosopher, through until the current day.
Cut down on Alcohol
After a few stressful years locked up indoors it’s not a surprise that many Australians want to rethink their relationship with alcohol.
But as anyone who’s made the pledge never to drink again knows, it’s easier said than done.
One hugely successful tool is a free 30-day mindset reset exercise called The Alcohol Experiment – find it on Google. You’ll walk through your drinking habits but instead of cutting down or quitting by discipline, you’ll reconsider the way you think and feel about alcohol.
The program was developed by Annie Grace, a recovering alcoholic, whose book, podcast series and videos under the title This Naked Mind are also excellent free, non-judgemental resources.
Put away the cigarettes and vape for good
The gold standard in quit-smoking literature remains Alan Carr’s Easyway, which has helped millions of smokers see that each cigarette (and today, puff on a vape) is just postponing the effects of nicotine withdrawals. His books and methodology are widely available and effective.
But even with these tools, people trying to quit cigarettes or vapes tend to vastly underestimate just how punishing nicotine withdrawal can be.
Be realistic: post-acute withdrawals last for longer than the mythological “three-day hump”.
So, when quitting, make time in advance for a fortnight of self-care, and treat yourself with understanding.
If you’re interested in learning about philosophy you could do a lot worse than The History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps … in 25 minute episodes with the host, Peter Adamson …”
Read more books
Everyone wants to read more. Why not keep a list of books you’d like to read, including recommendations from friends, relatives or colleagues and books you’ve loved ages ago and would like to revisit?
Local libraries are still a great resource for parents and kids, but you can also make your phone an ally rather than enemy in your reading habit by downloading the Kindle app and taking your library with you.
Free eBooks are available on Project Gutenberg, and you can get free audiobooks on LibriVox – although some are better than others. And if you’re looking to pick up books on the cheap, Lifeline runs a few big book fairs across Sydney each year – check their website for dates and pop it in the calendar.
Make a retreat
There’s no lasting change without grace. So why not build on your own efforts with prayer?
There’s a long tradition of making a retreat, time to step away from the normal duties, distractions, as well as many of the blessings in our daily life, and have the opportunity to spend some focussed time with Christ and see our life in the light of God’s grace.
Search online or call up for the retreats calendar for 2023 at the places nearest to you:
Benedictine Abbey Retreat, Jamberoo, 02 42360533
Benedict XVI Retreat Centre, Grose Vale 02 4572 2899
Mt Carmel Retreat Centre, Varroville, 02 8795 3400
Peter Canisius House, Pymble, 02 9488 4524
St Mary’s Towers Retreat Centre, Douglas Park, 02 4630 0233
Mt Schoenstatt Spirituality Centre, Mulgoa 02 4773 8338
Hartzer Park Centre, Burradoo 02 4861 3223
St Joseph’s Centre for Reflective Living, Baulkham Hills 02 9634 2317
Eat a healthy diet and lose weight
Of all the habits people want to build, diet and weight loss are the next most common after exercise. Fad diets, cleanses, meal prepping, keto, paleo, vegan – many people have tried method after method and have been left wanting.
But many people who wish to lose weight would do better to start simpler and learn what food is actually made from. What are carbs, fats and proteins for, let alone micronutrients, vitamins, fibre? How does the body use them? How many calories do you need to eat every day, based on your age, size, gender and level of activity?
Apps like CalorieKing and MyFitnessPal can make learning about nutrition easy, and free you from fad diets, bad tips and tricks. The nutritional information on the back of your groceries becomes useful information when you know what you’re looking for.