I stopped making resolutions a couple of years ago when it became apparent that the only thing a resolution was good for was ensuring that I would fail to do whatever it was I hoped to accomplish. This holds true even with smaller attempts to make myself into a better version of me, like thirty day challenges. Without fail I make it two or three days in, and then my focus falls apart, I skip a day or four, and then after a while I’m like “fuck it” and I am no better off than I was before I started.
I don’t think I’m alone in this regard, as now it seems like there is almost as much media coverage about the reasons why New Year’s resolutions fail as there is about the resolutions themselves. There’s just something about committing to making a lifestyle change on Jan. 1 that seems doomed to failure. Which is why I don’t even bother any more. I still set goals for myself and I make attempts to cultivate habits that are more in line with what I expect out of myself, but I don’t wait until Jan. 1 of any given year to do it. I just do it. I still fail pretty often – just ask anyone who has tried to maintain a written correspondence with me – but I don’t wait a full 365 days before trying.
But even though New Year’s resolutions seem to be pretty ineffective when it comes to instigating lifestyle changes, it doesn’t seem to stop people from trying. I thought about this yesterday, when I went to the gym on my lunch break for the first time in 2013. A full two-thirds of the cardio machines were occupied. Both squat racks were full. Every weight bench was taken up. Every square foot of space in the stretching area was occupied by a body. If you are a regular gym-goer, you know this sight well. It happens every January for the first couple of weeks. And then just as assuredly the gym will slowly empty out, returning to its normal status by the time the grocery stores start putting out their Valentine’s Day displays.
Once I found this amusing, but now I just find it sad. It makes me sad to look at people and wonder if I will see them in a few months. I think about their desire to get fitter and healthier – because that’s what most of the New Year’s resolutions are about – and I feel a little bit heartbroken to know that most of them will not make it. And when I see corporations try to exploit this natural desire to start anew – like, say, Special K’s “Gain Day” – I get frustrated.
So maybe instead of making resolutions, we can set goals for ourselves instead. And not just goals like “spend 30 minutes on the elliptical five times a week” because seriously? Zzzzzzz. (No wonder people find the gym so dreary.) I’m thinking more about setting goals that excite us, that give us tingles of anticipation when we think about them. Most of us have so much drudgery in our lives as it is that I just don’t see the point in spending our precious free time doing things that bore us. Maybe it’s just because I’m secretly ten years old at heart, but I think most of us need way more fun in our lives, not less.
This is how I’ve been able to make what I have come to realize are pretty considerable lifestyle changes. I didn’t go to sleep as a smoker who ate fast food five times a week on Dec. 31 and wake up on Jan. 1 a marathoner who loves vegetables. 1. Instead, I set goals for myself and began the slow process of trying to achieve them. And along the way, I found myself ready to discard the bad habits and take up the new healthier ones, not because I felt like I should but because I wanted to. It wasn’t enough for me to say, “I want to be healthier.” I’d done that a million times and it never worked. But when I said, “I want to run a marathon” or “I want to run a sub-25 minute 5K,” well, that was a different story. Suddenly things weren’t so open-ended and nebulous. There were actual steps for me to take, with measurable markers of progress. And when I hit some of those markers of progress, I felt so proud of myself that I wanted to keep going.
I talk about running in this post, but that’s just because that’s what I love to do. There are so many ways to be healthy and active – we don’t have to limit ourselves to the handful of commonly-accepted “fitness” activities in order to get there. So if the treadmill makes you want to smash every TV in the gym, don’t get on it. Take a class instead. If you can’t afford a gym, rent a DVD. Join a local sports league. Take up yoga. Go for long walks on local trails. Hike. It’s a huge world full of all kinds of fascinating things, and pursuing a life of health and fitness can fit right in with that. This shit doesn’t have to be boring. It doesn’t have to be the physical equivalent of eating broccoli – and by the way, how did broccoli get such a bad rap? That stuff is delicious.
So, in keeping with the spirit of this post, I am sharing with you, not my resolutions, but my goals for 2013:
- To run a marathon in less than four hours. This is my next step in my long-term plan to qualify for the Boston Marathon, which requires that I run a marathon in less than 3:30.
- To break the following benchmarks in road-racing: 20 minutes in the 5K, 44 minutes in the 10K, 1:40 in the half-marathon.
- To compete in St. Anthony’s Triathlon, which will be my first Olympic distance triathlon.
- To be able to make my way from one end of the grown-up monkey bars at the local park to the other end.
- To do one, single, perfect pull-up.
- To do 50 push-ups without stopping.
- To join the local master’s swim team.
- To be able to deadlift two times my body weight.
- To try more vegetarian cooking and eat meatless meals at least twice a week.
- To be more consistent with this blog. To be more consistent with writing in general.
What are your goals for the upcoming year?