It’s that time of year again. For some of us, we’ve looked back at the end of 2013 with more than a twinge of sarcasm, skepticism, and pessimism. This happens because we look back at the mistakes we made, the broken commitments, and the misguided decisions of the past 365 days. Too often this becomes a time to acknowledge our vulnerability, our frailties, our weaknesses. And we don’t like to face those.
And yet, if you’re like me, you continue to go through the motions of the New Year’s resolution ritual — we make a commitment to something we find to be valuable, something that we want to accomplish that takes effort and daily commitment. But we know. Deep down we know it’s likely that we will fail at maintaining our focus and drive for 365 days. It’s over the months, weeks, and repeated days where we lose our commitment. Things come up. I know.
I don’t know when something really becomes a habit — 21 days? 40 days? 366 days? — but I do know the less you have to think about whether you are going to actually do the act, the more likely it will become a habit.
So, here’s my New Years’ commitment: I’m going to do something physical every day for at least ten minutes. That’s it. Pretty simple. And pretty easy to manage because I am striking a balance.
By doing something physical, I mean that I’m going to push my heart rate above its resting rate for that ten-minute period. Or else I’m going to spend at least ten minutes calming myself down, lowering my resting heart rate which has just as much value as the times when I push to elevate it. Pretty clever, isn’t it?
This actually is a variation of what I did two years ago, where I committed to running at least a mile a day, every day. I got up to over 450 days before my body finally gave out on me. And in that I learned a valuable lesson.
What I discovered with the commitment to running at least one mile a day was that during the stretch of the 450+ days, I became obsessed with keeping “The Streak” going. I’d occasionally come home just before 12:00 midnight, put my running shoes on, head out the door in pitch darkness and trudge six blocks down the street before turning around, just to get my mile in.
“The Streak” did become something that I didn’t even think about, a real habit. But it was about as healthy as eating the entire orange tree, roots and all, to get the Vitamin C. In fact, my wife often would roll her eyes as I put the shoes on regardless of the weather, the time or location.
And she was justified.
The beauty of “The Streak” was how absolutely non-negotiable it was. And, truthfully, at least one mile a day wasn’t that much. But, I wasn’t responsive to my body. And there were days when my body screamed out. There were some days when I really shouldn’t have been out there running, when I was sick, or slightly injured, or on the razor’s edge of being seriously injured.
Now I know better. So, now this year it’s about striking a balance.
As we get older and our bodies have more needs, it’s critical that we listen and then take appropriate action. These days, I like the Dr. Phil approach to becoming physically active again. Ask often: “How’s that working for you?” If it’s not working, it’s time to adjust.
This is my attempt to listen and respond to my body. So, ten minutes of intentional stretching, ten minutes of resistance lifting, or even ten minutes of peaceful meditation can be just as beneficial as a ten-minute run. In fact, sometimes it can be significantly more beneficial.
As you get back into a physical routine, keep it manageable. But also, keep it challenging. A paradox? Yes. But we’re looking at bodies that aren’t in their twenties anymore. I like the ambiguity of having to figure out this manageable and challenging threshold. It holds great possibilities for us. Let’s embrace it. And let’s stay after it!
Note: I would love to hear what others are physically committing themselves to for 2014. This is an exciting time of year, where a little support group can really prompt people to stay committed. Feel free to email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or simply make it public in the comments below. There are some great resources out there and I would love to help people find the right resource.