Running Toward Your Resolutions

Tomorrow being New Year’s Eve, many of my readers will be coming up with resolutions for 2014.  Yet statistics say that most resolution-makers are going to fail in their attempt.  If you believe that you are too fat or too skinny, chances are you will be looking in the mirror and thinking the same thing four weeks from now.  If the house continues to approach candidacy for an episode of “Hoarders”, don’t be surprised if come Spring cleaning, the place still looks like a dump.

The reason for resolution failure, those same statisticians tell us, is often a lack of specificity.  If John tells himself, “I want to get in shape,” but cannot answer the question, “To what purpose?”, then he is more likely to fail.  This is common sense, since if we have learned anything from the examples of our current President and the “mainstream” media, one does not achieve any demonstrable goals based purely on feelings.

Yet sometimes, even when you think you have a solid goal that you are working toward, a well-planned resolution itself will not be enough to make you continue down the path to a changed life.

I was never an athlete when I was in grade school or in high school.  However in college, I became friendly with many of the athletes playing for Georgetown, which was a mix of both NCAA Division I – basketball, track, lacrosse, etc. – athletics, and also some not-so elite athletics.  I grew particularly interested in track, and was told that if I wanted to try to walk on to the track team – no easy task – as a middle-distance runner, which given my height and rather long legs seemed the most sensible option, I would have to be able to run the 1500-meter at under 4 minutes, not for competition but at practice every day.

Being young and stupid, I decided to go for it.  I began running like crazy on all different types of surfaces, using a sports watch, eating like mad, as well as keeping a journal of my miles logged and how I felt after each run.  Gradually I added more and more miles every week, based on the advice that the middle-distance fellows gave me.  I learned what shoes – never sneakers, mind you – to buy, who were the good manufacturers of different types of athletic gear for the sport, and began reading magazines like “Runner’s World”.

Running became one of the most important aspects of my life, even though I was nowhere near competing with anyone in a race.  I attended track meets so I could learn more about the sport and support my friends.  I trained in all kinds of weather, wearing everything from only split shorts with a thin t-shirt all the way up to layers of tights with three layers of sweatshirts, gloves, and a hat.  Gradually my friendships dwindled down to a small circle of track people and non-track people, with the latter group growing thinner and thinner.  I lost interest in my coursework, but was so caught up in this new sport and the friendships I had formed around it, that I wasn’t paying attention to developing my mind – which of course was the whole point of being in college in the first place.

Then one night when no one else was running, but the field lights were still on up on the track, I headed up the hill from my dormitory with a young lady I was interested in at the time.  I asked her to time me on a stopwatch as I attempted to run the 1500 in under 4 minutes.  I would be timing myself on my stopwatch as well, so that there could be independent verification of the result.  I do remember loosening up a little bit, but mostly I remember just staring at the somewhat spongy surface of the track, before suddenly everything became a blur, as I exploded into a flat-out run.

Lo and behold, I did it: both timepieces confirmed that I had run the 1500 in 3:56.  The elation I felt at the time was very difficult to describe, although to be honest more than feeling happy I was completely out of breath and wanted to throw up.  Fortunately, I had the presence of mind not to do so in front of a lady.

Later that evening as I lay in bed, I realized that this was not supposed to be a one-time achievement.  Rather, this was something that I would be expected to do every single day in practice, and to surpass it during competition at track meets.  And that was assuming I would even get a look-see from the track coach.

It was then that I realized, for all I had done to myself to get to that point, that I was not interested in pursuing this sport any further.  It was no longer fun, or a way to hang out with my new buddies, it was very quickly going to become a chore, and one that if I was honest with myself, I did not actually enjoy.  Within days, the running shoes and tights were in the garbage, and I was back to enjoying cocktails and espresso, writing journal entries about literature and architecture, instead of charting how many miles I had run.  I have never regretted that decision to walk away when I did.

The moral here, if there must be one, is that although 2014 may be a great year for you to try something new, or change something about yourself, without a specific, achievable goal in mind you are probably not going to succeed.  Your first task is to identify something that you can see through from start to finish in a reasonable period of time.  You need to have some idea of how many days, weeks, or months it will take for you to achieve that goal, calendar for yourself accordingly, and stick with it.

Yet you may well have a second task, just as important as the first: identifying what happens when you achieve the achievable goal.  If you lose 20 pounds but still dress like a schlub, or clean out the guest room but never have anyone come stay for the weekend, what was the point?  Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of the fact that at least once in my life, I ran at a reasonably elite level of speed.  Yet when I reached that goal and realized that pursuing it further would require more of me than I was willing to give, I stopped and focused my attentions elsewhere.

So be prepared Gentle Reader, this New Year’s Eve, that when you make your resolution, you not only have an achievable goal in mind, but that you are also considering what, if anything, will happen when and if you achieve that goal.

"Runner" by Unknown Artist (19th C. copy of Ancient Greek Original)  Achilleion Palace, Corfu

“Runner” by Unknown Artist (19th C. copy of Ancient Greek Original)
Achilleion Palace, Corfu

Come On In, The Water’s Fine

There’s nothing like plunging in rather than just standing around at the edge of the pool, waiting for things to happen.

Many of us have made New Year’s resolutions for 2012 which we will eventually abandon, for most experts will tell you that it takes at least several weeks of consistency to form a new habit.  Human nature being what it is, we will tend to go at it with gusto, and then for various reasons will put things aside and forget about these things until someone asks us, some months down the road, whether we have made any progress on that goal or project we announced we were going to undertake.  We will then feel guilty about it for a day or two and then forget about it until next year.

While we do not have to wait for the turn of the year to try something new, or to change course on a particular aspect of our lives, for most of us going it alone is not a realistic way to achieve what we set out to do.  We need some kind of accountability, even as adults, to know that if we do not stick to what we feel called to do, someone will be there to remind us of what it is that we ought to be doing.  There are whole industries devoted, in whole or at least in part, to this sort of thing: from doctors and lawyers and financial planners, to personal trainers, coaches, and counselors.

On the plane back from Barcelona after Christmas, I had plenty of time to sit and think about some of the goals I hope to achieve this year in my personal/professional life, as well as with respect to my writing.  The exercise proved to be particularly helpful last year in regards to writing, as I switched to WordPress and purchased domain names, and made more of an effort to get involved on Twitter. The results have been measurable, and because of that the hope is to build upon what has already been done by improving my online writing: seeking opportunities to write articles and guest-post; adding new features to Catholic Barcelona; thinking about a re-design for my author site and finally getting around to having some proper photographs taken rather than snapshots by willing friends and relations; etc.

Knowing that the various goals, both online and otherwise, that I hope to achieve are likely doomed to failure without some of that aforementioned accountability factor, I am taking the advice of, as it happens, a friendly voice on Twitter and lining up a couple of people to serve as “responsibuddies” on these goals.  Putting aside the admittedly twee nature of that term, the idea is that if you know someone will be checking up on you, you are more likely to actually try to achieve what you set out to accomplish, if you are going to have to report to someone on a regular basis with regard to how things are going.  Thus in my case, for example, a friend who is very knowledgeable about sports and fitness matters has agreed to help with keeping an eye on my fitness goals for the year, and another who is very prominent online is going to help out with keeping focused on improving what I write online and getting it to a wider audience.

Yet as fun or as challenging as some of these goals are, they really do not mean anything if they are nothing more than vanity projects.  They have to, in some way, be contributing to my own spiritual and temporal welfare, and/or that of others.  If I am to use the talents and abilities I have been given, it is because I recognize that I have a responsibility to do so, rather than to simply allow them to linger or collect dust, unwanted and ignored.

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which is the more technical end of Christmastide in most places, since we go back into Ordinary Time tomorrow until Lent begins.  We remember when Jesus presented Himself to St. John the Baptist, in order to be baptized at the beginning of His public ministry.  By so humbling Himself – as St. John commented to his Cousin, “YOU should be baptizing ME!”  – He set an example which Christians still follow today, in baptizing children and adults in acceptance of the Christian faith and in the rejection of sin, with the ultimate goal of getting to Heaven.  Yet He also set an example of creating a starting point, which we recall this time each year, for a renewal of the self and a focus on what lies ahead, and doing so with the help of an old friend.

As you consider what you hope to achieve over the next year in your own life, these goals do not of course have to be all seriousness.  It is perfectly fine to want to save up for a special trip to visit some old friends, for example, without trying to turn it into the equivalent of the Camino de Santiago.  Yet one of the benefits of asking one or more of your friends to help you in achieving those goals is that it will hopefully not only draw your friendship closer together, but also give the other person the opportunity to reflect on their own goals for the year, or for their life, as you consult together.  You may end up planting a seed for something profound in someone else or in yourself, if you reach out to make that happen.

And to that end, gentle reader, I wish you the very best of luck in jumping in at the deep end of things.

Detail of “The Baptism of Christ” by Pietro Perugino (c. 1490-1500)
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna