The secret to sticking to New Year resolutions is to start them in March and make them simpler and more achievable, says Darrel Bristow-Bovey between press-ups.
So, how are your New Year’s resolutions going? I never bother to ask in January – anyone can keep their resolutions in January. But as the year grinds on and the iron wheel of time rumbles and crushes your toes if you don’t move out of the way – that’s when the resolution game starts to get serious.
I have a simple way to make sure I’m still keeping my resolutions: I only start them on March 1. March is a dull month – you’re bored with work already and Easter isn’t here yet. It needs spicing up and motivation, so why not make it the new January?
Usually, I make vague and unmeasurable resolutions like, “Be more charming”, or “Don’t worry so much about my hair”, but this year I decided to make them simpler and more achievable. Every single morning, starting on March 1, I have been doing press-ups.
Don’t shrug like that – this is a big deal. It’s been years since I did a press-up – the last time was in Standard 7 at Glenwood rugby training with Mr Sjolander. In certain one-on-one coaching sessions he liked to see if we could lift ourselves with him lying on top of us. Usually I couldn’t, so he would just lie there companionably for a while, shifting to make himself comfortable, murmuring tactics in my ear and chuckling throatily until our breathing synchronised. Ah, good times.
The thought of doing press-ups again was intimidating. On March 1 I started with one press-up. Anyone can do one press-up. The next day I did two, and the next day three. It’s the grain-of-sand theory: if we can lift a weight, we can always add one more grain of sand, right? So surely if you keep slowly adding an infinite number of grains, you’ll be able to bear an infinitely large weight?
It’s a version of the old debate about whether there’s a limit on how fast a human being will ever run the hundred metres. If it’s always at least theoretically possible to run one-millionth of a second faster than the previous fastest, that implies infinite progression. Human beings can always get better! But a French researcher named Geoffroy Berthelot disagrees. He concluded that the rate of breaking athletic records levelled off in 1988, and that human beings have reached our maximal capacity for athletic improvement.
There’ll be no more great surges forward in performance, he predicts, and only advances in technology, gene therapy or doping will see any meaningful shaving down of times. We’re about as good as we’re going to get.
Well, we’ll see about that, I think each morning as I drop and do my press-ups and add one more. I believe in human improvement. I believe in hope. The hell with you, Geoffrey Berthelot.
But it’s all very well being optimistic about the human condition when you’re adding one press-up to six to make seven; as you move deeper into the double digits, human perfectibility starts to seem mighty far away. This morning I wheezed my way to the end then lay on my back gasping and thinking. By my birthday I’ll be up to 50 press-ups. Is this likely? How will I do just over 300 press-ups by the end of the year?
This thinking doesn’t help. You have to keep your horizons small, and not look too far ahead. Some day I won’t be able to add a press-up; someday I won’t even be able to do the number I did yesterday. Soon enough the grains won’t be added – they’ll start being subtracted. But that day wasn’t today, and I’m hoping it’s not tomorrow.