Be It Resolved

Eighty-percent in five months. That’s the attrition rate for gym memberships beginning on January 1. Eighty-percent in five months. Also, half of the people who sign up for gym membership never actually go. And less than half of the people who do go work out as often as twice a week.

I get my gym membership paid for by my health insurance. I have to go twelve times a month in order for my insurance to pay. Twelve times. For those of you counting, that’s not even half of the month. That’s not even half of February.

No. This isn’t a critique of gym memberships. Those with affluence and insurance and the energy to workout should. Doctor’s orders. I’m merely reflecting on how determined we human beings tend to be to live up to our resolutions.

It’s the time of the year people talk about making resolutions. Lots of talk. Very little resolve. I, for one, resolve to lose the extra twenty pounds I’m carrying around. I want to be fit and trim. Twenty pounds. That’s all. The weight of a chair. The weight of a car tire without the rim. It’s not much. I can do it!

Nope. For me, that extra twenty pounds is insurmountable. I’ve hovered around twenty pounds too heavy for most of my adult life. When I was 35 I could drop that twenty pounds with a solid diet and some jogging.

Now . . . not so much. Nowadays, it’s takes that . . . you know . . . that resolution thing.

“Resolution” is one of those words that doesn’t mean what we think it means. The way we use “resolve,” it appears to be about a stiff upper lip and a steel backbone, right? Wrong. Resolution came into the English language from the Latin word resolutio, meaning “to reduce to simpler forms.”

We find a solution when we soften a hard problem by breaking it down to smaller parts — that “how to eat an elephant” thing.

So, if I want to lose weight, I need to get some resolve — I need to break the problem down into parts. The acronym SMART is a great tool: break the problem into parts that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.

“Measurable.” You know — lose two pounds a week.

“Achievable.” Yeah! Two pounds a week! I can do that without starving!

Relevant — uh, as in I might be able to live longer? No! I will feel better right now.

Time bound — two pounds a week. For five weeks. SMART.

And you know what? That’s how I know I’m not going to live up to my resolution: I’m not willing to live up to those baby steps. I’m just not going to go for that two pounds a week. Or one pound. I’m not going to resolve.

The inventor and visionary Buckminster Fuller once said, “You never change things by fighting against the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the old model obsolete.”

Perhaps the main reason that New Year’s resolutions don’t work for most of us is that they come by an artificial means, the calendar, rather than a natural rhythm, such as being fed up and done with whatever behavior needs to stop. January isn’t going to give me the backbone to lose weight. Having to buy a new wardrobe if I don’t stop expanding will . . .

Change the model. See the problem from another angle. Break it down into manageable pieces. Sounds like the advice the Stoics of long ago gave. It sounds like the advice of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

It can work, if you work it. And you’ll work it when you’re ready to work it. Oh, and, I’ll see you at the gym . . . . I’m the overweight old guy using the treadmill time to read a book.

Some suggestions for resolution: