I’m not into New Year’s resolutions in a huge way (trying to improve your life – good; waiting for Jan 1st – why?), but I do find the turn of the year sometimes puts me in a reflective mood. This time around, I feel more backward-looking than usual – and I’m not sure if that’s some kind of artifact of getting older (please no!) or just the fact that it’s a little over a year since we moved to the US.
In looking back, a couple of things stood out for me from our family’s life in 2011. Did that really happen in a year? It’s pretty inspirational when I think about the possibilities for next year.
I know Kung Fu!
The first example is watching my daughter learn to read. Roughly a year ago, we started getting her to read a story to us as part of the bed-time story routine. It was hard going to begin with; the stories were essentially along the lines of “This is Tom. Tom has a mop …. This is Pat … “ and even then, they were often a struggle.
A year on, and she’s reading me the “How to Train Your Dragon” series, a chapter a night. I guess they’re like novels aimed at 10-year-olds or so. She reads all these long words perfectly, even when she has no idea what they mean.
Ok, so that was cheating a bit … it helps to be five years old! Sometimes she reminds me of the training scenes from The Matrix, with the speed she can pick things up.
Follow this one simple rule
The second example is about losing weight, the classic new year’s resolution. I didn’t actually make a weight loss resolution last year, but I did lose nearly 60lbs (27kg for my euro-friends) over the year. It’s truly incredible, looking back. I’ve tried so hard and failed so many times before, and it didn’t even feel like I tried too hard this time.
Obviously, you can boil it down to eating better and exercising more, but specifically, a rather wonderful set of random factors combined to make this time work for me (and I have Dreamworks to thank for all of them!):
- Unlimited free food. No, really. Maybe my mother drummed into me not to leave food on my plate, or maybe I’m just inherently gluttonous, but I’ve never been able to turn away from free food … until Dreamworks. Here, they put an unlimited amount of delicious free food in front of you, at breakfast, all morning, at lunch, and all afternoon. And it turns out that this is exactly what I needed. Once my subconscious greed reflex grasped the fact that the pile of delicious breakfast pastries was going to be there again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, it began to become less important that I ate one RIGHT NOW.
- Seeing a nutritionist. I’ve found this really helpful in making a series of small changes to my eating habits. The way I eat now is very different than a year ago, but at no point have I had to go hungry or feel like it’s been a hardship. It’s just been a series of simple, incremental changes, for example not having dessert with lunch every day, but picking my favourite from the week’s menu and just having that. It’s amazing how these changes add up over time. Also, having to talk through my food choices with someone put an immediate end to all the inner excuses I could come up with for eating crap.
- Lunchtime sports. I find it incredibly hard to exercise hard for the sake of exercising. I need a game to play, a ball to chase. With 4 young children, I also find it impossible to justify spending time on myself after work or at the weekend. Lunchtime sports are the solution to both these problems, and we have the most amazing facilities at work … full-court indoor basketball and a bunch of outdoor fields. Over the course of the year, I’ve honed my sports choices to get maximum benefit for losing weight. Firstly, I’ve minimised hard-surface sports like basketball as much as possible, because my knees started to get sore and became the limiting factor to how much I exercise. Instead, I try to play on grass every day if I can. Secondly, I’ve determined that ultimate frisbee contains more running than any other sport I can find. It’s unbelievably lung-bursting. Finally, I make choices within the game to maximise my exercise rather than to prioritise winning: run deep upfield routes whenever possible, try to guard the faster players on the other team, get back to the line fast after a score.
Little and often
The lesson for me in both of these is that the changes you can make to your life, your body or your mind in a single year are just incredible – almost certainly more than you can imagine right now. All you have to do is pick something and work on it.
Have a great 2012.