Culture

For 2018, Commit to the Resolution That Always Works

Let the work flow

Soon, millions of Americans reeling from an orgy of spending and holiday bacchanal will rub their temples and make resolutions for 2018.

The data says most will fail.

New Year’s resolutions fail for the same reasons they fail all year. Some are over-ambitious (“I’ll make a billion dollars!”). Some are trivial and unimportant (“I’ll learn Klingon!”). But most are vague, without a specific goal or plan. “I’ll get in shape,” or “I’ll fit into my high school jeans by Valentine’s Day” are perfect examples.

What does “in shape” mean? That you can shuffle from the couch to the fridge without sucking wind? That you can complete an Iron Man competition? Getting into those jeans is probably either under-ambitious (maybe they’re just a little tight) or over-ambitious (12 sizes? Get real). But it’s also unimportant, because contrary to magazine covers, how your pants fit is not a fitness attribute. And where’s your plan for “getting in shape” or sliding into those old bell-bottoms?

Even worse than failing at a resolution is not making one. Bold resolutions for real change seem to fall by the wayside as we age. Time flattens ambitions, narrows horizons, and rusts our joints. Reeling in the years, we think that if we were going to change our lives or remake our bodies, we would have done so by now.

Growing up, we’re taught one need only show up, apply oneself, work hard, and it will always pay off. This is a useful fiction during our larval stage, rather like the lies you’re telling your kids about Santa Claus right now.

But by the sixth decade, we know that it just isn’t so. Yes, effort is essential, but not always sufficient. The universe is under no compulsion to reward our work ethic. Bad luck, the capricious marketplace, the irrational whims of the human heart, and especially misdirected work can sabotage the best of ideas and most Herculean of efforts.

Consider the resolution to “get fit.” Showing up, applying oneself, and working hard are necessary — but not sufficient. You have to show up at the right time, apply yourself in the right direction, work hard at the right things.

Thus, a lifetime as a runner has left you with a heart like a hammer — but you’re stringy and achy and too weak to sweep your wife off her feet or manhandle a beer keg. The decades have made you a great golfer, but your pot belly makes its own annual resolutions. (“This year, I’ll increase in girth by several inches.”) And unlike you, it keeps them.

At thirty, a fitness resolution is a good thing, and you might improve your endurance or body fat with a few months of random thrashing-about at the gym. But at sixty, a fitness resolution is an existential necessity, and can only be achieved by the implementation of a specific, rational, goal-directed program.

So, how’s this for a resolution: “This year I will get strong, using a simple, powerful program that works every time.”

That is a resolution you can keep. Training for strength is a unique arena, in which showing up, applying yourself, and working hard at the right things always pays off. It’s not subject to weather, the market, or your boss’ mood. It encompasses specific and achievable goals. There’s a clear plan of attack. And it’s hard to think of anything more important and worthier of resolution.

Because without physical strength, life sucks.

So, as December dwindles, study these videos. They’re free.

On January 1, go the gym, put a bar on your back, and squat, adding weight until your first set of five starts to get heavy and slow down. Rest five minutes, and do two more sets at the same weight. Do the same thing with the bench press, working up to three sets of five reps each. Next, work up to one heavy set of five deadlifts. Go home. Eat something with a lot of animal protein in it. Get a good night’s sleep.

On January 3, show up again. Work up to three sets on the squat — five pounds heavier than Monday. Do a set on the deadlift — ten pounds heavier. Work up to your first three sets on the overhead press. Go home. Recover.

On January 5, repeat the first workout, with still more weight on the bar.

This is an explicit plan for achieving something important. Here’s the best part: It works. Every single time.

When you show up, add weight to the bar, recover, and repeat, you get stronger and healthier. Doing so is the best resolution you can make, because strength and health make every other goal — in 2018 and beyond — more tractable.

You can do this.

The only question: Will you resolve to make 2018 the year you get strong?