Thursday, January 1, 2009

Three Simple Words: No More Excuses

Today's New York Times carries yet another article confirming the obvious: most of us fail to keep our New Year's Resolutions. This stokes our love affair with self-improvement reality shows, which chronicle the struggles of ordinary people trying to turn their lives around. For me, resolutions have always involved weight loss and fitness. For the past 8 years, I have exercised vigorously for half the year, losing a good deal of weight (though never quite enough) and running several marathons (slower than I would like). After each marathon, my exercise and nutritional zeal waned and I regained all the weight by the time I began marathon training again the next summer, and then did not quite meet my loss/exercise goals for the next marathon. I blamed shortcomings on the extraordinary demands the rest of my life posed, and took comfort in knowing that my conditioning was gradually improving as my marathon times slowly got better. And again last July I began serious training, heavier and less fit than I should have been. But this time, I lost 31 lbs, twice the usual drop, and ran my best marathon by 35 minutes. After 5 weeks of rest (sloth), I am back at it today. What changed this time ? There were many factors; for one, I previously wrote of how adding early morning cardio boxing workouts helped. But another major factor was a simple gesture by my friend Bill Germanakos, who won Season 4 of NBC's Biggest Loser by losing 167 lbs, or half his body weight, and has kept almost all of it off. After his win, Bill hit the lecture circuit, and at each stop he listened to sad people explain the litany of reasons they had not hit their goals. Finally, he put his arm around a man and said, "listen: No More Excuses." The man was startled, and began to cry and admit that all his "reasons" were really "excuses." And so Bill adopted this mantra, and even created some black bracelets imprinted with it, and gave me one. And nearly every time I found myself thinking "I should run tonight, but it's raining," I glanced at the bracelet, realized that I was making excuses, and set off on a long, soggy jog. I also adopted most of Bill and Jim's Nine Tips for Keeping Your Resolutions. Each of these is spot on. For instance, #1, making the resolution an integral part of your life means you don't let the demands of the rest of life always take precedence, which was critical for me. Creating a detailed plan (#4) for achieving your goal makes you set a realistic goal to begin with, and helps you track your progress. And perhaps most important of all, having a resolution buddy (#7) keeps you on track; two colleagues ran the marathon with me; one is the person who introduced me to boxing class and made it fun, and the other ran with me on the crucial mid-week long runs that I never found time for before. FindingDulcinea offers a lot more advice on keeping resolutions, including advice specific to the most common ones. As for me, a tenth tip that I would add is "Contentment is thy enemy." Getting half way to your goal can cause you to smugly ease up. This year, each time I felt that way, I doubled my effort. And, recognizing that if I don't go forward, I will surely go backward, I have resolved to lose the final extra 22 lbs I am carrying and improve yet another 35 minutes, to 3:43, when I run the Boston Marathon in April. There will surely be days I'll try to fashion an excuse to make choices inconsistent with this goal, and I can only hope that each time, I will look down at my black bracelet and read its three simple words.