January settles in like a damp blanket. The cheerful lights and Christmas displays disappear, the decorations are stripped and put away, and the commercial air time is filled with ads for weight-loss programs, gym memberships, and help with tax preparation. Is there anything more depressing than watching relentlessly fit superbodies who’ve never eaten three slices of pie at a single sitting tell you how easy it is to get in shape? Your local store shelves are now packed with exercise equipment and diet books. The commercial intent of this month is to make you as miserable as possible and make you part with money you don’t want to spend. Don’t let it happen this year.
Here are four simple steps to a happy January. You’ll start February refreshed, fit, and renewed. Give these a try.
1. Don’t weigh yourself
Don’t throw your scale away, just put it in the closet. Don’t weigh yourself for the entire month. Maybe you’ve put on some weight during December (and most people do), but fretting about those pounds in January does nothing but make you unhappy and does no good. The majority of New Year’s resolution weight-loss plans don’t work.
My yoga instructor asked our class today if we were ready for the “newbies” in January. The New Year’s resolution types get gym memberships, they resolve to lose ten or twenty pounds, and they fill the gyms for a week or so. They exercise outrageously, make themselves sore and exhausted, and stop coming to work out after the first week. Does this sound like fun? Of course not. This is a waste of money, time, and energy.
Unless you’re a member of OK Go, in which case never mind, you’re awesome.
Don’t buy expensive exercise equipment, don’t engage in some outrageous fitness plan, and turn away from advertisements that barrage you with fitness appeals. You can resist because you have already resolved to follow the Four Simple Steps. They are now powerless against you. You can laugh at the commercials now. I use the disdainful laugh from Christopher Lambert in Mortal Kombat.
2. Take a fifteen minute walk every day
No, this is not a workout. You are walking every day for fifteen minutes to breathe fresh air, to feel the miracle that is your body in motion, and to remember that this day, each day, is yours.
If you have a dog, there is now someone else who will have a happy January. If you are at a busy job and your schedule only allows a brief lunch, take a walk at lunch. If the most you can do is park at the very end of your parking lot and walk to work, then take it. The most important part of this step is to be outside for a simple quarter of an hour. It doesn’t matter if it’s cold or windy or rainy. My sister and brother-in-law own a farm in central Wyoming, where it is often -40 F in the winter. Every day my brother-in-law bundles up and walks on the land. He’s making sure all is well, but he’s also connecting with everything that is his. Like James Dean in Giant, he strides across his earth.
My walk takes me across open space, but I still feel that echo of James Dean as I stomp through my fifteen minute walk with my dog. This is my earth, and this is my day. For fifteen minutes every day, it’s also yours.
3. Eat simply
The flip side of the exercise-until-you-drop craze is the diet craze. The commercial spaces are filled with more than exercise equipment in January. We are all barraged with the most outrageous diet advertisements possible. Try the soup diet! Do the South Beach Diet, the Atkins Diet, join Weightwatchers, count your spoonfuls, buy gadgets that weigh you, pinch you, detect your body heat and body fat and guilt levels and can determine how much batter you ate from the spoon before you made those butter cookies for the Christmas party. Does this sound like the recipe for happiness?
Stop it. Just stop. If you’re itching to diet, start on February 1st. For the month of January, you must not diet. No crazy diets, no new plans. The third step in the Four Simple Steps is this: Eat simply.
Every time I fix a meal in January I try to make it simple and as fresh as possible, like a grilled chicken, salad, and steamed vegetables. The leftovers go into the kids’ lunches the next day as chicken wraps, and we include apples or orange slices as sweet treats. No cream sauces, no gravies, no elaborate meals. We had enough of those during the Christmas season, didn’t you?
You can’t always eat fresh food, of course. My sister-in-law in central Wyoming lives thirty-five miles from the nearest grocery store and lettuce is available for only a few days a month for her. But she makes soups and stews with venison and lamb and buys frozen vegetables, and for the month of January she keeps her meals as determinedly simple as possible. Try it, and see if February doesn’t begin with a feeling of lightness in your life. You might also drop the holiday pounds you put on, but you’re not going to be able to figure that out until February because your weight scale is hidden away. This is not a diet. It’s just eating simply.
4. Write four stories
Sailor Lee John Droege on the bridge of the USS Blower
During the month of January you must write down four stories. They can be long or short or just a sentence or two, but they must be about your life. These stories are about you, just you, the important or funny or tragic moments of your life.
January is the iron month, the dead time where nothing grows. The land lies brown and lifeless, often covered in ice and snow. This makes January the month for introspection, for being still, for taking the time to remember. Writing just a few paragraphs about your life reconnects you and centers you. Doing this simple exercise may surprise you.
But there’s also a great gift in this step. The mundane, sometimes funny, and sometimes comic moments of your life are treasures for your descendants or for future readers. They don’t have to be well written, they don’t have to be great literature. They just have to be your stories about your life.
My father, a World War II veteran, served on the USS Blower. He never told me about his experiences on a submarine, but one day I overheard him telling tales to his grandchildren. After he left, I ran to my computer and wrote down everything he said. The sound of the hull when they submerged, the time a whale followed them for hours and sang whale love songs to them, the one cook that could make a tasty meal from tinned meat and gravy powder. These stories seemed so ordinary to him, but they’re a treasure to his family. Your stories are just as important as his. Tell them. Don’t let them be lost.
Remember: 1.) Don’t weigh yourself. 2.) Take a fifteen minute walk every day. 3.) Don’t diet. 4.) Write down four stories about your life. If you take these four simple steps, there’s a good chance you’ll start February renewed, refreshed, and ready. There are many challenges that face us this year. Start out by having a happy January, and you’ll be ready for them.