The Proper Way To Begin The New Year

That’s what I’m talkin’ about Kerry Elson. Elson wrote this before reading yesterday’s post, but major props to her for the perfect follow up.

“Totally legitimate reasons that I can’t go for a run.”

My fav:

“I’m supposed to meet a friend in six hours. If I go for a run, I might enjoy it so much that I end up running for the full six hours. I’m a good friend and I don’t want to be late, so even though I would love to go for a run I will not.”

On New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions are a weird example of social contagion because the refreshing of the calendar is an odd catalyst for self-improvement. If anyone’s serious about self-improvement, why wait until such an arbitrary starting point? You shoulda got started yesterday.

Despite that cynicism, I’m all-in on alternative types of resolutions—ones grounded in greater self-acceptance. Maybe people should resolve the following types of things:

  • To accept that I will not eat as healthily as I probably should.
  • To be okay with the fact that I will not exercise as much as I probably should.
  • To not beat myself up for not saving as much money as I probably should.

The Slate staff has taken this one step further by advising that you mark the New Year by embracing vices instead of resolutions—whether sleeping in on weekends, driving when you can walk, or having a cigarette.

Count me in on Slate’s contrarian, probably tongue-in-check thinking, as another viable alternative to most people’s constant striving for some sort of idealized perfection.

Wouldn’t our mental health be better if this year we dedicated ourselves to trying to accept our limits, our insecurities, our imperfections?

I’ll lead the way with this overarching resolution—I resolve to expect less from myself this year. “Friends” will wonder how that’s possible, but they no doubt mean well.

If you think I’ve finally totally lost it, knock yourself out trying this.

Postscript: Via email, a PressingPause loyalist replied thusly:

“I agree the goal of embracing ones imperfections is one of the most valuable, but how does having a goal in general mean someone is striving for idealized perfection?  Also, I like having society wide markers like holidays. I think it makes us feel more like a community.  And some people may stress over breaking their resolutions, but not everyone.  I just think it’s just the idea of new beginnings. Like baptism or new growth in Spring.”



Monday Assorted Links

1. The Only Way to Keep Your Resolutions.

“From 1985 to 2004, the percentage of people who reported having at least one friend on whom they could rely and with whom they could discuss important matters dropped to 57 percent from 80 percent. Today, more than half of all Americans report feeling lonely, especially in their professional lives. But study after study has shown that those who are seen as grateful, warm and justifiably confident draw others to them. Because these emotions automatically make us less selfish, they help ensure we can form relationships with people who will be there to support us when we need it.”

2. Why Self-Compassion Beats Self-Confidence.

“Admitting we have flaws just like anyone else keeps us connected to others.”

Brings to mind my favorite sentence of recent days, compliments of Jason Zweig, “If you think you’re the smartest person in the room, you must not have talked to everybody in the room yet.”

3. “Even as a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, I have a red line.”

“Saving the lives of law enforcement and the abused is a nonpartisan issue. . . We can take reasonable steps to prevent deadly acts by people who already have a violent record with firearms.”

4. How Rural Students Define the American Dream.

“I don’t feel like I’m living the American Dream, especially not here, in Southeast Arkansas, being a black female with a big mouth. You’re looked at funny when you want to be something more than just a wife one day and you live in Dumas. . . . If you have dreams beyond what other people feel like you should, you can’t live the American Dream in a place like this.”

What if we all adopt the same resolution for 2018, to support and cheer young, ambitious people.

Fitness Flameout

Weekend edition.

If you’re like most people, by now your fitness-related New Year’s resolutions have fizzled out. Why? Because they were too ambitious.

There’s two types of fitness—general fitness for the masses and specialized fitness for the competitive athlete. Everything that follows pertains to the former. This post is for the lethargic person who is fed up with health problems, lower back pain, a compromised quality of life.

Ask someone how they got so out of shape and they’ll probably say, “It started years ago.” Despite that reality, most people want to get in shape in a few weeks or months. And so they set overly ambitious goals. Sedentary in December, they set themselves up for failure by resolving to “run five days a week” starting on January 1st. Or swim three days a week. Or ride a stationary bike four times a week.

They go from zero to sixty and back all before the month is over because they don’t see any benefits from their first few workouts. Even worse, they’re mentally turned off to exercise as a result of overexerting themselves on the track, in the pool, or in the weightroom. They go too hard, too often, too quickly. It’s counterintuitive, but the answer is to go slower, less often.

Here’s a personal example of how less is often more when it comes to developing positive fitness routines. Despite swimming, cycling, and running weekly, I sometimes suffer from lower back pain because I lack core strength. To improve my core strength, I’ve been doing pushups and planking. My baseline was 60 pushups interspersed with three sets of planking, each set consisting of  30 seconds in three separate positions, for a grand total of four and a half minutes of planking. Ten pushups, stretch lower back, ten more, plank, repeat two more times. I could do it quickly and easily after a run or bike workout. As a result, I’d typically do it five times a week for a grand total 300 pushups and 22.5 minutes of planking. A solid start to improved core strength and lower back health.

Eventually, that routine got fairly easy so I upped it to 90+ push ups interspersed with 35 seconds and then 40 of planking (times three positions and three sets). But an interesting thing happened on the way to core strength nirvana. The greater time commitment and degree of difficulty weighed on me just enough for me to skip the whole work out a few times to the point where I only got in two core sessions in a week. So that meant 180 pushups and 10:30-12:00 minutes of planking. More, in the end, resulted in less.

If this paradox resonates with you, have a Stuart Smalley-like talk with yourself, and start over. But this time think about how long it took to fall out of shape and give yourself all of 2011 to get in better shape. Create positive momentum by setting achievable goals that you can repeat week after week. After exercising easily and consistently for a month, you can turn the knob up ever so slightly if you so choose.

Here are related suggestions from a fitness post from an earlier incarnation of the blog.