So here we are, another year in the life. Are we going to make any huge resolutions, again this year? Are we finally going to become the people we were really meant to be? Or are we going to crawl under the bed until the whole damn thing blows over?
Good questions, and fair, I think. Because there is some wear and tear to pulling up the ragged socks of hope one more time… thinking through who we were meant to be… and (necessarily) despairing at the dopes we’ve been for the last, oh… sixty years. Do we really want to go through all that again when we know that all resolutions fail? Would it be better to make peace with the poor creatures we turned out to be, and the hell with it?
My answer is a cautious Yes To New Resolve and No to crawling under the bed. No surprise: That’s my basic cast-of-mind(pro-optimism and pro-change) but I also think that the process alone is worth a lot, if you do it right. And I would make the process a little more elaborate than what you may be used to.
Look at the Past and Who You Are Now
I urge that the first aspect of looking forward is looking backward. You have to know where and who you’ve been to have a shot at changing, in the future. And I think that process alone is worth a lot. Some smart guy (Thoreau?) said that the un-examined life is not worth living. A bit stern but not crazy. A well run life – just like a well run business – has to be examined and measured constantly. The examination, by itself, will make you a more interesting person… especially to yourself. That’s worth a ton.
Here’s what you do
Sit down with a pencil and paper (or your computer) and write down who you are today (or this year, if that’s easier), in all the major categories you care about. Maybe start with the three big categories from YNY; they’re not bad.
- How have you been on EXERCISE?
- How have you done in the endless effort to QUIT EATING CRAP?
- How are you doing on the sacred and indispensable business of CONNECTION, CARING AND COMMITMENT?
Not a bad start. An amazing start, in fact. But toy with the idea of going beyond that, into subcategories or altogether different categories. How are you doing, say, as a mother or father? Or a grandparent? A lover? (Being a good lover – and I am not talking technique here – is a serious responsibility, for a decent person; not a test I ever ran on myself, alas, but I wish I had.) How are you doing as a friend to friends? How decent a colleague are you? And an obviously huge one: How are you doing at work? And even bigger, in my opinion: Are you using your best gifts at the high end? (I think that may be the single great key to happiness. Get that one right and a lot else follows.) Here’s one that can be as big as any, especially for Boomers: How are you doing on your finances… on providing for the rest of your life? Ugh, but take a hard look; It is SO key. I am awful at it and it may make a hash of my life. Another one I’m awful at: The spiritual life; how do you stand with your god, if you have one? I have some smart pals for whom that one makes all the difference. Or an arguably related concept: how are you doing at being present, at meditation, at dealing with stress and depression? Are you planning for a great Third Act? That is SO important. Okay, how are you doing with anger these days, if that’s one of your issues? Or grumpiness (the old boys’ disease)? Or booze? Or anything that you know is important in your life. There are more; make up your own list but do it seriously. It is your life, after all. Not a bad way to spend a grey December afternoon, as you head into the rest of your life. I tried it and it was pretty good fun… a bit intense, not boring.
THE ARC OF YOUR LIFE
There’s the backward glance… now the future and the resolutions. The traditional resolutions are fairly narrow… closer to the three big points in YNY. And that’s all that most of us are ever going to think about, which is fine. But it’s not nuts to think about big ones, too. Like bending the arc of your life. Here are some thoughts that go beyond how many pounds you want to lose, important though that may be.
How about sitting down and figuring out who and where you’d like to be, ten years from now, or five…what kind of person and with what accomplishments? Wow! Especially the who. If you’re a business woman or a professional man, what kind of a balance do you want between work and family and what price are you prepared to pay, on either side? That question does not answer itself. What balance do you want between your private life (the life of the mind, say, or of the outdoors or travel) and business success? Here’s an odd one: Where do you want to stand on the axis of Gentle-and-Caring versus Aggressive-and-Ambitious? That’s a real “Who are you?” question which few of us ever ask. I have only begun to ask it in my 80’s; I wish I’d gotten here a bit earlier. I might be a slightly better person. Big one: what are some ideas for your Third Act, after retirement? That’s as tough as it is important. And believe me, No plan means no luck… almost guaranteed.
THE ARMATURE OF HOPE AND CHANGE
Okay, now I am going to revert to more conventional stuff, like your physical self…the YNY areas. Having spent some time on Big Issues, let me quickly say that nothing is more important than taking your physical life in hand…fitness, health and all that. This is an area I know well, and that is simply true: the armature of the good life is physical well being. And the single great key to that is serious physical exercise. Get that right and the rest of your life soars. Honest. It is the font of energy, optimism, intelligence (surprise but increasingly acknowledged), health, fitness and effectiveness. And it gets much more urgent as you get older. I’d know. Big tip: serious aerobic and strength training has everything to do with preserving your brain function and not having dementia. That’s new science and everyone agrees. Everyone!
So, what do you do to achieve the good life, physically? That’s easy: you exercise like a crazy person, six days a week until the day you die, both aerobics and strength. Oh, Lord! And what do you actually do?
My answer is probably predictable. I seriously would start by reading (or re-reading) Younger Next Year – Amazon. It has changed an astonishing number of lives… rare indeed for a book. And, then, almost as important, get the terrific new one (I do not make a dime out of sales of the new book, so this is pure altruism), Younger Next Year; THE EXERCISE PROGRAM. It is the ultimate exercise book, cutting edge, comprehensive and… funny. Hey, how good does it get. Seriously, do start exercising hard. And do use the new book. There are some stunning offers for it on Amazon and other places. [Go to the web site, Youngernextyear.com for more info on books, YNY Retreats (in Aspen and around the country) and the delightful business of HIRING ME TO SPEAK.]
One of the best things about an aggressive exercise resolution is that it is doable. Are you going to lose 40 pounds by June? Maybe but I’d be surprised. Are you going to sit down and really re-cast your financial life… and live by new rules? Hope so, but again, not easy. One of the amazing things about an exercise program – no matter how scary and improbable it may seem now – is that human beings, like you and me, can actually do it. It’s concrete, it’s real… you go out the door and you just do it. And a surprising number can.
Personally, I have the devil of a time being good about food. But I am a near-saint about exercise, like a lot of the people I hear from. Get into it and there is a realistic hope of being able to keep it up indefinitely. I have been hard at it for over ten years… still there. Still works. No details here about how to go about it… get the damn book.
Next, I would at least give some thought to “food for fitness”. The way we eat in this country is a horror and the impact on our health is enormous. No details here… our entry in this field is Thinner This Year… pretty good and it has the rare virtue of being science-based and true. Not much truth in the books in this area for some reason. One good tip: think in terms of eating sanely because your body and mind work better on good food than on crap. Weight loss is an important side benefit. BUT, If you have to pick JUST ONE AREA for change, make it exercise. It matters more than anything… including weight loss, or being kinder to the cat.
After you look at those categories, I suggest you look at your own lists and prioritize areas for resolution, depending on what’s most important to you. Tip: Have at least one goal that will be easy for you. Building some success into resolutions is such a good idea
One last word: EVERYONE agrees that those who set goals are radically more successful than those who do not. The studies are consistent and astonishing…setting goals makes all the difference. So, don’t be a dope, make some resolutions. And DO NOT crawl under the bed.
I’d love to hear how you’re doing…what you’re thinking. Don’t hesitate to send me an email at Chris@youngernextyear.com