I discovered the key to my Happiness Project. What is it? Resolutions. It has been the ability to make and keep my innumerable resolutions that has allowed me make real changes in my life, and therefore in my happiness. (As always, if you'd like to get a copy of my Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just email me at grubin, then the "AT" sign, then "gretchenrubin" [.]COM. Just write "resolutions chart" in the subject line).
One resolution that many people make and break is the resolution to exercise. Exercise is a key to good health, and for me, has always been essential to feeling calm and cheerful. In fact, when I'm feeling blue, one of the best ways to shake the mood is to exercise. The Big Man is exactly the same way. On Sunday, he was feeling low, and a trip to the gym chirked him up considerably.
And even if I don't feel better, at least I have the satisfaction of knowing that I exercised.
I'm fascinated by the question of why sometimes people are able to stick to resolutions, and some people aren't - and what steps people can take to help themselves stick to their resolutions. There are a lot of factors, of course, in each individual's case.
I have a friend who is a yoga instructor and a friend who is a strength-training trainer. I asked them if they recognized any warning signs in people who are likely NOT to stick to a resolution to start exercising.
They both agreed that there are warning signs. So take this quiz. If you recognize yourself in the statements below, beware. You may need to make a special effort to stick to a program. Check off any statement that sounds like it could have come out of your mouth:
"This time, I'm really going to stick to it! I mean it, I'm totally, 100% committed!"
This person sounds like she's trying to convince herself but not really succeeding.
"I'm potentially thinking that maybe I might join this class."
This person hasn't really made up his mind. He's not committed. Although he sounds very different, he's actually an awful lot like the person who says...
"I have to start TOMORROW. No delay!"
This person is afraid that she's going to lose her resolve. It's probably happened to her before.
"Well, afternoons don't work. And I can't do mornings. I can come Tuesdays at noon, but not this Tuesday. Or next Tuesday..."
The President of the United States works out almost every day! If people really want to exercise, they find the time.
"I'll squeeze it in at lunchtime. I can just run out between meetings."
This person hasn't acknowledged to himself that exercise must be its own priority, and if he doesn't do that, it'll always get shoved to the bottom of the to-do list. Which means it won't happen.
"I can't wait to start. But first, I need to buy some new clothes. And some new shoes. And a mat. And I want to read up on it, too."
I had a roommate like this. She loved shopping and everything involved in the preparation stage. But once she had all the stuff she needed for yoga or roller-blading or whatever, she lost interest.
If any of these statements remind you of yourself, use it as a warning sign to re-commit yourself to sticking to your exercise plan.
Sometimes it helps to tell yourself that you're just going to do it for six months. That doesn't sound too onerous. Both instructors agreed that once people have kept up a program for six months, the exercise has become part of their routine, and it becomes much less likely that they'll drop out. Also, if you really just can't fit it in, or make yourself do it, try to go for a twenty-minute walk each day. Or two ten-minute walks. Even that much exercise is so much better than nothing.