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Friday, March 23 Living

It’s hard to keep resolutions, and it’s only January

OK, so we are a week into New Year’s resolutions, and things are not going well.

There has been wavering. There has been backsliding. There has been rationalizing. There has been complete and total throwing in the towel. Although there are a lot of reasons for this, the overriding factor, and one we all share, is that New Year’s Day is not a good time to be pledging to do anything that involves willpower.

The only worst time, of course, is New Year’s Eve. Resolutions made on New Year’s Eve are predestined to fail for the obvious reason: They’re like giving up drinking when you are drunk.

But back to willpower.

Most of us abandoned willpower at Halloween, the official starting date of the annual eating season, and it is a fantasy to assume we can suddenly retrieve it just because of a calendar change. Willpower must be regained in small steps. For example, at the top of my list of resolutions every year is quitting smoking. The fact that I don’t smoke makes this a relatively easy one to keep. This success, in turn, provides positive reinforcement and lengthens the time frame before I inevitably cave on my more difficult vows … such as the one to avoid all food that tastes good.

Anyway, besides overreaching, the major reason why New Year’s Resolutions are doomed to failure here in the Northeast is because of January. As we well know, January is an interminable month of bone-chilling temperatures, icy wind and darkness. It is frozen days and nights without end where anything resembling optimism is either stone-cold dead or on life support. This is not a time for self-improvement, for making over, for fashioning a new you. This is a time for hunkering down and binging on empty calories and emptier TV. Nothing short of survival is at stake here. You make it through January, and you have a 50-50 chance of putting another New England winter behind you.

In the face of this, resolutions are pretty much worthless. Does anyone seriously believe it is possible to lose weight in January, when comfort food is akin to prescription medication and the average person has the get-up-and-go of a garden slug? Plus, there is no incentive to lose weight in January. Who is going to notice you have gained the holiday 10 pounds? One of the advantages of dressing for winter is that in most cases the layers hide the rolls.

As for regular exercise, this regimen is difficult enough to tackle without having to deal with the extra burden of motivation. It is one thing to resolve to get up before sunrise to run or walk. It is quite another to crawl out of a warm bed on a frigid morning to dance with an Arctic windchill.

Opting to exercise at the gym has its own set of drawbacks:

What if your favorite machine is taken?

What if the television is tuned to … you know what.

What if you run into someone who wants to talk more than exercise?

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What if you are that person?

Then there are the regulars with which to contend. What I am talking about are the muscle-shirted, spandex-clad, year-round health freaks whose new year’s resolutions probably included a vow to eat a cookie in the coming year.

Granted, resolving to upgrade yourself is admirable. Everybody can use some work. The issue is the timing. Why make something difficult near impossible by attempting it in January?

Here’s a thought. Why not move the high holy day for resolutions to April 1, and move April Fool’s Day to Jan. 1? Seems like a lot better fit.

Anybody got a light?

Jim Shea is a lifelong Connecticut resident and journalist who believes the keys to life include the avoidance of physical labor and I-95. He can be reached at jimboshea@gmail.com and on Twitter @jimboshea.

Jim Shea|Columnist