14 January 2015

49 – Lifestyles, Little Things, and ‘One of These Days’

2015 arrived two weeks ago. And that got me to thinking about New Year’s Resolutions. And then myself and a couple of work buddies had a chat about the problems with New Year’s Resolutions (hereafter known as NYRs), and how to do change right. So I decided to write about that.

We’ll start in the warehouse aisles a few days ago. As I rounded up product to fill an order I heard lively and animated voices in the next aisle. My work buddies, Bob Neil and Initials, were having a conversation.

When they’re together, Bob Neil and Initials put me in mind of John Stockton and Karl Malone. Bob Neil (who starred in House Newf #45) is a former pot-bellied drinker who now runs more than 100 miles a month. He’s Stockton in workboots – a lean little scrapper with a motor that doesn’t quit who considers a job well done making everyone else look good. Initials is a former skinny kid who now makes barbells and dumbbells tremble in fear. He’s Malone in workboots – a chiseled powerhouse who delivers the goods with brute strength and a smooth finesse. Watching Bob Neil and Initials riff off one another is like watching Stockton and Malone do that one thing that made them legend.

John Stockton + grey hair and glasses = Bob Neil.
Karl Malone one foot shorter = Initials.

I went in to the aisle where Bob Neil and Initials were talking, got the product I needed, and started off for the next aisle. But I paused when I realized they were talking about why people always make NYRs, always fail to achieve them, and how people should tackle change. And three things struck me: 1) they were discussing the very thing I’d just started writing about, 2) they’re the only two fellows in the warehouse whose every word makes complete sense to me, and 3) we weren’t very busy that morning. So I said ‘fuck it,’ dropped what I was doing, and joined them.

January 1st is a logical time to take stock of our lives. It’s easy to imagine January 1st as a blank sheet of paper on which we can start writing a new chapter in life. We’re constantly telling stories to our friends, our families and our co-workers. We tell stories with pens, paintbrushes, and musical instruments. We’re storytellers by nature.

But using NYRs to make changes makes little sense at all. The problems start with how The World packages, markets, and sells NYRs to us. According to The World, January 1st is the only day of the year when you can start making changes. And this only chance follows right on the heels of those Holiday food, booze, and spending hangovers you’re trying to get over. So you’re basically being told to get your NYR in order by December 31st or risk a year's ban from the soup stand.

No caption necessary.

The irony here is that The World packages and sells a lot of these NYRs to keep you spending money after The Holidays. Gym memberships, elliptical trainers, and SuperMagicDiet foods aren’t free. NYRs are a cash cow for businesses afraid of starving during the lean winter months following the spending circle-jerk otherwise known as The Holidays. The NYRs pitched at us by The World often have nothing do with making people better, and everything to do with making easy money instead.

But it’s not all The World’s fault. It’s our fault, too. We get overexcited about the coming of a new year and the buzz generated by all that sexy and seductive advertising spewed out by The World. We proudly tell everyone and their shadow that we’re going to do that one big thing we’ve always dreamed of doing ‘One of These Days.’ You know the kinds of things I’m talking about, so I’m not wasting a single word on them.

And on January 1st our ‘One of These Days’ dream becomes our NYR. But we soon convince ourselves that our ‘One of These Days’ dream is so difficult, outlandish, or out-of-character that we can’t imagine it actually becoming a real part of our daily lives. We can’t imagine living to see that day. And within a week or two we’re done. We’ve failed again. And we quietly put our NYR back where it belongs: in the ‘One of These Days’ folder in the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet of our dreams. After all, it’s only a dream, right? It’s OK to admit it. I did and said the same things for more than 10 years. I’m just as guilty as anybody else.

And I think about these things. And questions float through my head. Why do we always fail to keep NYRs? Why do we suck so bad at staying committed to a fresh start at the beginning of a new year?

We tackle our ‘One of These Days’ dreams the wrong way. The moment it becomes an NYR is the precise moment it becomes destined to fail. It becomes something we make a big deal out of while shoveling food into our faces and pissing money out of our wallets during The Holidays. It becomes something we plan to start in the New Year. And when the New Year finally starts we start treating that NYR, which is really a big deal, like it's no big deal.

NYRs are good in theory. But in reality NYRs, as brought to you by The World, are bullshit on the grandest of scales. 

Yes. I said that.

Now don’t get your piss hot. We can do a lot better than NYRs. And I’ll explain, with a little help from my friends.   

Your ‘One of These Days’ dreams need to be treated like more than just an NYR. They need a bigger starting window than a single day out of the entire year. They need more than to be started and left forever undone. Your ‘One of These Days’ dream needs a real chance to come true.

And after talking with Bob Neil and Initials that morning in the warehouse, I realized that we should be pursuing our ‘One of These Days’ dreams by:

1) embracing the fact that the change we wish to make requires a Lifestyle Change
2) making that Lifestyle Change gradually by focussing on doing Little Things differently
3) giving ourselves the freedom to begin that journey on any given day we want.

Initials is a very strong and muscular guy. But once upon a time, he was a skinny and weak young man. He decided to change that when he was 19 years old.

Initials started lifting weights at the gym. After a while he could see that he was getting bigger. He could feel that he was getting stronger. But he knew he could be even better.   

Initials gradually realized that he wasn’t simply lifting weights several times a week. He was performing a habit that had direct consequences on the overall quality of his life. Initials came to realize that lifting weights was doing more than simply changing his body. It was changing how he lived his life.

Things took off for Initials once he embraced the fact that he was actually undergoing a Lifestyle Change. He became a serious student of strength-training and taught himself how that work in the gym was changing everything about his body and his mind. Then he tackled nutrition and taught himself to eat foods that enhanced both his workouts and his overall health. Initials is 34 now, and looks like he could hold his own on an NFL line of scrimmage. And he can detail the X’s and O’s of life on a chalkboard with the best of them. So he’s basically a player-coach.

The way Initials put it, when we were talking, went sort of like this: 

And that’s what I keep tellin’ people, man. It’s not just wantin’ to lift weights to get big. It’s not just changing your diet to lose fat and get a six pack, you know? It’s understanding that what you’re really doing is changing your lifestyle, man. You do these things, you’re changing your life, man. You’re changing how you live. And I tell people they need to take this seriously. Because that’s what you’re doing, you know? You make changes like that, lifestyle changes, and it affects everything else about your life, man. 

Once you’ve identified the Lifestyle Change you want to make you need to create a strategy for doing it. Originally, I was going to go off on a big rant about this subject. But then I remembered that I’d already covered that ground in House Newf #44. So fuck the rant. Go read #44 instead.

You can’t simply dive into a Lifestyle Change. As Initials would remind you, it’s a big deal that’s going to change your life. You need a plan for it. One that’s reasonable and realistic. And Bob Neil knows just how to break it down for you.

Bob Neil chooses to age like wine. He turns 51 this week, and beats treadmill motors into submission. But Bob Neil doesn’t wait around for the replacement part to arrive. He’ll run 10 miles when it’s -20 celsius outside if he has to. Bob Neil doesn’t give a fuck. His wheel’s on fire.

But Bob Neil was a lot different when he was a lot younger. He drank a lot of beer, carried the beer gut around as proof, ate candy bars, and drank pop every day. Then one day he realized he felt and looked like a bag of shit.

So Bob Neil started running. At first, he could barely suck enough wind to get through a couple of miles. But he kept going. He set small, achievable goals. After finding the wind to run two miles he started aiming for three. Three gradually became five. And five became 10. And after several long years of consistent work and steady progress he now often runs 10 miles a night.  

And on Monday mornings when I ask him how his weekend was, it no longer surprises me to hear him respond: ‘Beautiful! Ran 13 miles Saturday and another 13 on Sunday. Fuckin’ beautiful!’ If you’re keeping score at home, that’s a marathon. And Bob Neil does that every other weekend.

As Bob Neil’s running improved, so did his health. The beer gut vanished and he stopped drinking altogether. Then he ditched the candy bars and pop. Now when he’s hungry at work he grabs an orange, some nuts, a protein bar, or a protein shake instead.

Bob Neil didn't become a lean, mean running machine overnight. He did it over a long period of time. He learned that he needed to be patient and consistent. He knew that if he wanted to improve his running, and his health, he needed to do it in small steps. Bob Neil made a Lifestyle Change by focussing on the Little Things.

Of course the way he described this to myself and Initials sounded more like this: 

People makin’ New Year’s Resolutions! It kills me. Fuckin’ kills me. Like my buddy: he told me on the weekend he was startin’ to go the gym. That’s his New Year’s Resolution, he said. Was death listenin’ to him. Fuckin’ death! I said, Fine. Go do it, and come talk to me in a month, we’ll see where you’re at. My buddy looks at me like I got six fuckin’ heads and says, What? Go do it, I said, and come see me in a month! You’re still plannin’ on going to the gym in a month aren’t you? And then my buddy says, Huh! Well you’re a real fuckin’ arsehole! Thought you’d be happy for me! So I says to him, Well, first of all: that’s Mr. Fuckin’ Arsehole to you. Second of all, you haven’t done anything for me to be happy about yet. You’re just talkin’, bud. You gotta have a plan, you gotta set some goals, what are you doin’? He just looks at me! That’s what kills me: people just look at the big picture and forget about the little things. And it’s all about the little things! 

And Bob Neil’s exactly right.

Think about it this way: if you make it your goal to climb a mountain having never walked up a hill you can’t expect to reach the summit in a single step. It’s just not happening. You need to take many small steps to reach the top. And that's fine. Little steps in the right direction are still steps in the right direction.

If on the off-chance you actually can leap to the mountain’s peak, then I’d suggest you check your birth records, ask your parents some honest questions, pursue a career as a beat reporter, and don a blue jumpsuit and red cape whenever an arch-villain threatens the honest, hardworking people of your city. And stay the fuck away from kryptonite.

And no one will know you behind those glasses.

But chances are you’re not a superhero. That means you should listen to Bob Neil and Initials. Realizing a ‘One of These Days’ dream, making a Lifestyle Change, is the result of improving and changing a series of Little Things over a long period of time.

And the beautiful thing is you can start taking small steps any day. There’s no need to fret if you entered 2015 without an NYR. You haven’t missed the boat. You don’t have to wait another whole year to start making changes.

Everyday can be January 1st.

Every day offers a chance to start making ‘One of These Days’ a reality. Every day offers a chance to start making Lifestyle Changes. Every day offers a chance to start changing the Little Things. Every day offers the chance to start fixing your life and finding yourself. After all, that’s the job that truly lasts a lifetime.

Don’t let The World convince you that you only get one day a year to start making changes. Don’t let The World set the terms for you making your own life better. Stop relying on the false promises and unrealistic expectations of NYRs to accomplish things you’ve only ever dreamed of doing ‘One of These Days.’

Make the changes you know you need to make when you feel you need to make them. They don’t have to be reserved for the first day of a new year. Making the changes for the better is what matters, not the date you start.

Make a Lifestyle Change by tackling Little Things one step at a time. It’s not an easy path to follow. It’s a path that requires planning, time, patience, and lots of hard work. And I don’t know exactly what’ll work for you. It’s your life, not mine. You’re a big boy or girl. Figure it out for yourself.

But I do know that tackling the Little Things to make a Lifestyle Change does work. So do Bob Neil and Initials. All three of us are following that path, one small step at a time, stopping occasionally to give The World the finger along the way. And I guarantee you somewhere, right now, Initials is nodding slowly and saying, 'Exactly!' while Bob Neil is throwing his hands up in the air and saying, 'Thank you!'

Now you don’t have to listen to me. That’s fine. But Bob Neil and Initials are worth your full attention. I compared them to NBA Hall of Famers at the beginning of this essay, for fuck’s sake. End of story.

Fuck The World, the NYRs it says you need to make, and the horse it rode in on. It’s not The World’s life to change. It’s your own life.

Own it.

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The House Newf is from a rugged and beautiful island on the eastern edge of Canada called Newfoundland. He was first identified by a potter with a naturalist's flair, and he does in fact live in a house under the watchful eye of a cat that seems bewildered by the universe at large. That house is in Halifax, Nova Scotia and that's where the House Newf writes fiction and essays on things that add value to his life that may add some value to yours. You can contact him at bobharding80@gmail.com, follow him on Twitter @theHouseNewf, on Instagram @thehousenewf, and like him on Facebook. The House Newf is a unique specimen. Every home should have one.