It happens every year around this time, as people wallow and wail about their having fallen off the wagon of fitness, diet, and even health:
The infamous if not ridiculously self-abnegating New Year’s Resolution to do better this next year.
It does not have to be this way, of course, and we all know it. But the chronic guilt-tripping at gyms, in the media – especially TV – and among and by our friends, families and our own mirrors tells us otherwise. As a personal trainer now for 30 years, I have encountered this sense of inability, incompetence, incompleteness among my many clients and even my own kids. It is painful to watch and hear as people beat themselves up for not being able to live up to some standard – sometimes even to their own standards – and to hear them bemoan the desire to do better next week, or after some major event such as Christmas holidays or an overseas trip, or maybe just January 1 (or really, 2.)
I have adapted my professional demeanor to this chronicity of self-flagellation as clients and friends implore without asking how they can be better. Better at what?
Ultimately people of all ilk, of any socioeconomic cluster, of any genetic constitution, of any educational achievement, of any physical and mental excellences, of any category have their own barriers to perfection in any category.
Trying and failing is the essence of progress with no guarantees for success.
But we still don’t excuse ourselves our failings, and some take these so to heart they attach their very self-worth to their failures rather than to their successes. This is painful, not just to them but to the people who care about them.
I often try to talk folks through their process of making some kind of lifestyle change aiming toward minimalism vs some hard-core, kick-ass, no-holds-barred program of over-regulation and over-restriction. In many cases, if I can get folks to agree to a small change such as taking a 10 minute walk or ride on a stationary bike; to not order french fries with every lunch; to drink a glass of water between each glass of alcoholic beverage at a party; to stand up at least once per hour at work….if I can effect a commitment to do any such simple measure without it making a person feel like a failure if they can’t, I call it a success. Needless to say, my ‘successes’ have been few and far between but, when a client has followed my suggestions, they have succeeded.
So that begs the next question: what is success, in fitness, diet, exercise, health, etc?
I would define success in again a minimalist way: it is a habit or lifestyle change that does not totally create havoc in one’s life and may in fact improve not just one’s health and well-being in one small way but sets them on a trajectory toward greater accomplishments toward goals they perceive as valuable to them.
Thus it is with one middle aged female client with diabetes who is overweight and has struggled against a family history of psychological and maybe physical abuse. When she came to me years ago, on a limited budget that required visits once a month, she was professing readiness to make some changes. Her physician referred her to a dietician who got her going on a nice regimen; now it was up to me to help her add exercise to the program. Weight loss, I told her, is secondary to the healthier eating and exercise she would be doing. Ultimately, she got her blood sugar under better control and, after losing double-digit poundage, feels like she has gotten the bull by the horns once and for all. Hence she continues her evening recumbent cycling, doing wind sprints, even after long days at work. Now that’s success. Would she like more pounds off? Perhaps, but her trajectory is permanently altered in the direction of healthfulness, and that’s a success.
There are other stories, too, of people who complied with advice and did their homework diligently, and saw results. But that’s not the point here; it’s not about bragging. The point is, this New Year’s eve, among friends and family, or in the privacy of your bathroom, make a resolution to not make a major resolution.
Find that one thing – those 3-10 minutes of commitment to well-being, that trigger food item you won’t buy and hide in your cupboard as if you don’t know it’s there, that agreement with a loved one to meet on a weekend day for a hike in the woods, or to limit your consumption of some nutritionless calorie food/drink to X per day or Y per week – find that one thing that does not require a Herculean effort to accomplish, a Sisyphean route to failure, or a Navy SEAL body and mind to achieve, and do it.
In the long run, this year’s resolution, that’s ‘resolution’ in the singular, if successfully achieved, will lead to next year’s and the next until, at the end of the road, you can declare yourself a health success, even if it is only during your last breath on earth.
Until then, Happy New Year.