I went for a run on January the first. Which is not particularly impressive because when you have kids – there’s no New Year’s Eve party the night before. It’s was just me and Ms Bechus watching the ‘Royal Variety Show’, and shielding our family dog from the sound of the fireworks – truth be told, I think we called it a night around 11.
I love running in the first week of January because there’s always a new crowd out on the roads. They’re a little rounder and a little more out of breath. But fiercely determined. It’s the new year’s resolution pack – a few of the millions of people around the world who made a resolution to finally, once and for all – lose weight and get into shape.
And that’s what I want to talk to you about today. Your New Year’s Resolutions. You might be wondering why I’ve chosen to speak about this on the 28th of January. The reason is actually quite simple. I went for a run this morning and almost all the new runners were gone. Whatever motivation had got them out of bed on the first of January had disappeared four weeks later.
But don’t take my word for it. Take Strava’s. Strava is a fitness app for athletes that records runs, swims and bike rides through smartphones and watches. It allows you to track your progress and also to share that information with others. I’m a competitive person and so when I’m not in the mood to run, just seeing that Mr Gittins went for a run the night before is all the motivation I need to get out of bed at four AM.
Strava looked at more than 108 million entries in the U.S. and found that the 17th of January is when most users were likely to bail out on fitness resolutions, with Thursdays being particularly problematic. Perhaps you’re thinking ‘Thanks for the heads up, Leathem – why didn’t you tell us this two weeks ago’?
But think about that stat for a minute – that’s millions and millions of well-intentioned people whose resolutions didn’t see out the first month of the year. And that tallies with our own experiences. The top resolutions for adults are the old standbys – get out of debt and save more, lose weight and exercise. For students they are probably about improving marks, staying out of detention, or making specific teams. If we’re honest with ourselves many of the resolutions that we made have already been abandoned while others are barely hanging on.
I’m not suggesting that making resolutions is pointless. In fact, I think it’s brilliant. It means you’ve thought about areas in your life that might need some tweaking. Recognising that there’s room for improvement is the first step – some might say the most important step – in actually achieving your goals. No, seriously, you need to make some New Year’s resolutions so that you can become a better you – a more attractive you; an organized you; a you that is well… less like you.
But you also need to stick to your resolutions past Thursday. Whether you’re swearing off junk food, promising to stay on top of your studies or you’re a teacher determined to get marking back to your classes on time this year… here’s my advice.
First, aim low. Your teachers, parents and coaches are constantly telling you to do the exact opposite. Dream big and shoot for the stars. But when it comes to comes to making meaningful changes to your life, I’m going to ask you to do something radical. I want you to lower the bar and start with something small. I want everybody in this hall to think of one small thing that you aren’t doing now, that if done on a regular basis, would make a tremendous positive difference in your personal life? If it’s small it’s manageable. If it’s done regularly, over time, then it’s powerful. It’s right there is your Physical Science textbook on that page of equations you have to learn. Work over time equals power.
My next tip is to find a way to hold yourself accountable. I made the mistake of telling Mr Jackson that I was planning on running the Comrades Marathon later this year. Since then he’s made reference to it at least 5 times in the staffroom, mentioned it at the Grade 8 induction evening and used it as an analogy to drive home points in exec meetings. Telling him was a mistake. A mistake I seem determined not to learn from as I announce it here to 1000 boys and later when I upload the transcript of this speech to my blog …So why is this significant?
By making my goals public and announcing them to the world, I’m essentially asking those around me to hold me accountable. I realise that there is a certain danger in posting a ‘before’ photo on Facebook, before you’ve achieved the ‘after’…. but the reason it’s a risk is the very reason why it’s effective. While many of us are afraid of failure, we are often far more afraid that a potential private disappointment will instead become public humiliation.
It’s at this point that I would like to mention that Mr Gittins, Mr Ruh, Mr Allan and Mr McCann have also entered this year’s Comrades … just saying.
These are tricks or tips that might help you to stick to your resolutions, but there is a far more important step you have to take if you hope to make lasting changes in your life. I think most resolutions fail because when we make them, we know what we want – but we haven’t really decided to make it happen. Not really.
There is a great story that Michael Hargrove tells about a life-changing experience he had when he went to pick up a friend at an airport. He was going through a bit of a rough patch in his marriage at the time: his children were young and difficult, his wife and him were getting very little sleep and were constantly at each other’s throats.
While he was waiting for his friend, a man walked out of the arrivals gate and stopped close to him to greet his family. He greeted his children one by one. First, he motioned to his youngest son (maybe six years old) as he put down his bags. They gave each other a long, loving hug. As they separated enough to look in each other’s face, Hargrove heard the father say, “It’s so good to see you, son. I missed you so much!” Then he took his oldest son’s face in his hands and said “You’re already quite the young man. I love you very much, Zach!” And they gave each other a big hug.
Then the man declared “I’ve saved the best for last!” and gave his wife a long and passionate kiss. According to Hargrove they were behaving like newlyweds, and he couldn’t help but feel a twinge of jealousy for this man’s happy family life.
“How long have you two been married?” he blurted out.
“Twelve years total.” the man replied without breaking his gaze from his wife. “And how long have you been away?” Still beaming at his wife, he said, “Two whole days!”
Hargrove was stunned! He had been certain by the intensity of the reunion that the man had been away for several weeks, if not months and said, “Wow. I hope my marriage is still that passionate after twelve years!”
The man stopped smiling, looked Hargrove straight in the eye and said, “Don’t hope, friend…decide.”
Don’t hope; decide.
That anecdote really resonates with me, because I know what it feels like to really make a decision to change your life. The next time you’re walking past the staff room, have a look at the 2008 first team water polo photo hanging outside the kitchen entrance… I weighed 114 kilograms, I was depressed, unhealthy and basically hating life and I can remember with absolute clarity the moment I decided that enough was enough.
It wasn’t a Monday (diets always start on a Monday), it wasn’t the first of the month or new year’s day. It was mid-afternoon on a Tuesday in September 2008 and I decided. There was no negotiation, no procrastination or deliberation. There was a decision.
That photo used to bother me and I would joke that I’d come in over a weekend and steal it at some stage and I once even lied to a grade 8 and told him that it was my brother – but I’m actually happy it’s there – it serves as a reminder of where I was both emotionally and physically, and how I will hopefully never allow myself to get back there again.
And I haven’t so far. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like it’s been smooth sailing ever since. There’s no magical, once-off mental step that changes everything forever. You will have to decide again and again and again.
That is why members of alcoholics anonymous measure their sobriety day to day. They decide again every single day. At every Sunday braai, at every staff function, at every celebration and after every disappointment.
Today, I’m asking you to reflect on your lives, ask yourself what one small thing done consistently over time, will have a meaningful impact on your life? And then decide. Not next Monday, not next term and not next season. Being better is difficult, and you won’t always manage – but that’s ok because you always have the chance to decide again tomorrow.
Don’t just hope boys – decide.