Two days ago, after three or four hours of driving around town looking at houses, drinking Mexican lattes, and chasing cell phone signals, my wife and I decided to go to the gym. We were worn out, but if we didn’t get our workout time in, we’d have trouble justifying all the Friday night snacking we’d planned for later. That’s basic science.
Our gym is a good place to exercise, but it isn’t perfect. They have nice, well-maintained equipment, but they also have televisions hanging from just about every available square inch of ceiling, all of them tuned to FOX News, CNN, ESPN, and A&E. Lucky for me, when I take my glasses off to exercise, all I’m able to make out is a vague swath of blurred screens, which is the best way to take in all that basketball, red-faced political punditry, and reality television.
The thing that keeps me coming back to the place, though, is the fact that it’s rarely crowded. It’s spacious, and they have machines as far as the eye can see: weights, bikes, treadmills, ellipticals, and some kind of ten-foot-tall stair stepping thing I’ll never use.
In fact, the only time it’s difficult to find a machine at our gym is the beginning of the year, which is why, two days ago, we made uneasy peace with the idea of parking a half-mile from the door and elbowing our way through the hordes of resolutioners. I don’t mind having to hike to the building, especially since that also qualifies as exercise, but I like it more when it’s not happening because every adult in the county has decided it’s time to hit the weights and preen in front of the mirror for an hour or two.
To my surprise, when we pulled into the gym parking lot Friday night, it wasn’t full. Maybe it was my imagination, but it even looked sort of abandoned. There were a few spots available, anyway. At first, I was surprised, but then I remembered it had almost been three weeks since New Year’s Day. It all started to make sense.
Here’s the way it works: By the end of the third week of the year, the resolutioners, all those eager exercisers who’ve been packing the place since January 1, find other things to occupy their hours. It’s that time of year when New Year’s resolutions come up against the cold reality of life, that transitional phase between the gleeful optimism of New Year’s Day and the lethargy that returns around the time new sitcom episodes begin to air.
Resolutions are funny things, in particular the New Year’s variety. New Year’s Day is like the Monday of the year, so it’s a logical time to announce to the world that we’re making serious changes. Resolutions make us accountable and keep us on the straight and narrow, for the most part at least, but they can also turn us into manic, change-obsessed machines. I know this because I’ve been one before. Trust me, you wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere near me during any of the first twenty times I quit smoking.
Not long ago, I gave up on making resolutions. I don’t fault others for theirs, but I’ve sworn off. Okay, I guess you could say I made a final resolution, a promise to myself that I call the Non-Resolution Resolution. I don’t want to be that guy who quits something and wants everyone else to quit right along with him, but I don’t want to be the other dude, either. You know, the one who crashes back into his old ways and feels worse as a result. A resolution can be helpful, but it can set us up for heartbreak, too. Putting it on the calendar can be a good thing, but it can also turn into a reminder of failure. The alternative is to just keep trying until it works.
Under my new plan, if I decide to make a life change, I go ahead and do it when it occurs to me, with the understanding that if it’s important enough, I’ll stick with it. If it doesn’t work, then the time isn’t right. Maybe I’ll try again tomorrow. Remember, it took me twenty-one attempts to quit smoking. For context, you should also know that’s almost as many times as I’ve seen Star Wars.
Despite my renouncement of resolutions, they’re a part of human life, and we all get to live with the consequences. That’s fine. For now, I’ll enjoy having a bit of breathing room on whichever elliptical machine I happen to choose. Who can say? Maybe I’ll even switch machines halfway through my workout. I’ll marvel at the sheer variety of available weights, treadmills, and recumbent bikes. I’ll bask in the glory of waltzing into the empty gym like I own the place.
At least until January rolls around again.
This piece was originally published in 2016 on US Represented at www.usrepresented.com