When I first got my fancy schmancy (free-with-family-plan) smartphone, I was wary of its use.  I only attached one email address to it.  I refused to use the GPS unless I needed it to get from a particular point A to a particular point B.  I eschewed the WiFi altogether.  I would activate Bluetooth to transfer pictures to my computer, but then it went off again.  Facebook had a pre-installed, un-delete-able app, but I removed it from my main screens because I was sure I wouldn’t touch it.
Over time, things changed.  First, trips out of town necessitated mapping navigation and on went the GPS, more and more frequently for longer durations.  Then, wifi connectivity promised better call quality in our cell-reception-free home.  Fast forward almost two years.  GPS and WiFi are both permanently “on.”  The Facebook app, while still giving me heeby-jeebies,  turns out to be quite handy for quickly uploading videos of my two-year-old singing Happy Birthday to various family members on their special days.
Call it acclimation?  Desensitization?  Getting with the times?
I avoided the technologies at the beginning because I wasn’t sure they were safe.  With a brother in information security (read: a legal hacker) I know full well that technology can be breached.  Opening myself up to these bigger systems felt like making myself and my private information vulnerable.
What changed?  I still feel, rightly or not, that there is some risk involved in keeping my phone on a wifi connection or accessible to facebook.  What changed is that now I do it anyway.

What’s interesting is that I see this same pattern, from reasonable caution to willy nilly “it might not be good but I’ll do it anyway” happen again and again in regard to healthy habits.  It happens in my life, those of my patients, and probably in yours.  Today it’s a vow to eat no more cookies.  Tomorrow, it’s one cookie.  Next week, it’s the whole box.  Tonight, it’s bedtime at 9:30pm.  Tomorrow, it’s “okay, I’m in bed but I can read.”  Next month–it’s 1am and the lights are still on!  We know that there is something “dangerous,” something not good for us, about the cookie and the too-late bedtime.  We take steps to limit our exposure, our vulnerability.  When we indulge, we do so in moderation initially, so as to hedge our risks.  But in time, sometimes the course of an afternoon, sometimes a few weeks or months, we forget what it was we were trying to do.  We slip into our old patterns without even knowing it.  We acclimate.  We desensitize.  We lose our motivation.  We decide, sometimes unconsciously, that the risk is not so risky, that the immediate benefit outweighs the potential for harm.

I think this is the same pattern responsible for the failure of so many well-intentioned New Year’s Resolutions, too.  Whether it’s avoiding something or encouraging something, slowly the easy-ness of NOT avoiding or NOT doing wins out over our previous intentions as our initial reasons for the resolution fade.

And, ah!  There is the clincher.  Our initial reasons fade.  So how do we keep up the energy to stick with something until it becomes a habit until it becomes natural enough that the inertia is in its favor rather than in opposition?  Here are some ideas.

  1. Get clear on your motivation.  WHY are you doing what you are doing?  WHY do you want to be healthier?  Why do you want to shed pounds?  To go to bed earlier?  What are the short and long term results you desire?
  2. Put it on your fridge.  And your mirror.  And your dashboard.  Put down the REASON you are doing what you are doing rather than what you are doing.  Reading, “Stay fit to play baseball with the grandkids,” “Control blood sugar to prevent blindness” or “Sleep early to be awake and present for my day!” are far more motivating than “do pushups,” “no cookies” or “go to bed.”  (After all, who likes to be told what to do?)
  3. If you fall off the wagon, get back on it.  Today.  Right Now.  Recommit yourself as often as you have to, but do it as quickly as you can–this is probably the best antidote to the desensitization described above, because the longer you let the OLD habits creep back in, the harder they are to kick back out.