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Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
December 31, 2001

First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC.

I've been told that the most common New Year's resolution is to lose weight -- or "get fit" or "work out more" or "get more exercise."

That's why gyms are always crowded in January and February. (Then there's a lull in March and April, followed by the "I'm going to look good in that swimsuit this summer" crowd in May.)

Why do these resolutions usually fail?

1. Many goals are too vague to mean anything.

For instance, "Get fit" -- what measure will you use to know when you're done? This goal keeps receding the closer you get.

"Work out more" is just as bad, because all you have to do is walk around the block once and you've probably worked out more than you did the year before.

Goals have to be specific enough for you to know when you've met them.

2. Many goals are not within your control. "Lose ten pounds by summer" is very specific -- but it's still not in your control.

People's bodies are different. They give up fat at different rates, and some bodies cling to fat tenaciously.

Despite the feminist dogma that men and women are exactly alike, the fact is that women generally have a harder time losing weight than men do.

While there are exceptions on both teams, most men are like me, able to lose weight fairly easily just by upping the amount of exercise.

Most women's bodies, on the other hand, laugh at diets and sneer at exercise, grudgingly giving up a pound where a man's body, subjected to the same diet and exercise, would give up five or ten.

This can cause much resentment in marriages. A wife who watches her husband jog a couple of miles twice a week and fit into his pre-marriage clothes by summer can feel almost suicidal -- or homicidal -- when she sweat her brains out in an aerobics class and doesn't seem to make any progress.

A man who says to his wife, "Just work out a little like I do" is (a) ignorant and uncompassionate for not realizing that it's not so easy for her, and (b) a complete lackwit for saying it out loud to a woman who has the power to wash a new red shirt with his underwear.

You'll look real sweet in pink.

3. A lot of resolutions fail because they're couched in all-or-nothing language. "I'm going to the gym every day this year" is a resolution that evaporates the first time you miss a session. Having broken the resolution, you might as well give up, right?

Or when you break the resolution, you punish yourself by exercising double the next day. Which, of course, only fatigues you and increases your risk of injury.

4. Even if you do exercise or diet faithfully all year and lose the ten pounds and meet all the other goals, what then? Having lost ten pounds, can you then eat what you want -- and gain it all back again? Having exercised every day for a year, do you get back on the couch with the other potatoes?

Here's how to make a resolution that works.

Don't set goals.

No, I don't mean that you should give up on New Year's resolutions entirely, or that you should forget getting in shape and instead join a "lumpy bodies are beautiful" nudist club and accept yourself as you are.

If you really want to be physically fit, don't set a goal or a resolution, change who you are.

Here's what you say to yourself:

"This is the only body I'm every going to have, so if I keep letting it deteriorate, I'm going to either die too young or spend the last years of my life crippled by ill health. Therefore, starting now, I am a person who gets regular healthy exercise for the rest of my life."

Of course, if you don't mean it, then it doesn't matter what you say.

But if you really mean it, then you move exercise to a much higher place on your list of priorities -- higher than eating, for instance. You would rather miss a meal than miss the day's half-hour or forty-five minutes of exercise. You would rather miss the news on TV, or the morning paper.

You would rather leave work on time so you can run, instead of staying late in order to impress your boss.

You would rather get up half an hour earlier and walk two miles in the bitter early morning cold than to miss your day's exercise.

Not because if you miss a day then your whole plan has collapsed, but because you're a person who exercises every day. Period.

I know this works because I did it. I tried all the methods that fail, and they failed. Then I tried this one, and it worked.

Every morning I wake up as a guy who is going to exercise today. Whether I missed yesterday or not.

When I made this change in myself I was a pillowy sort of guy tipping the scales somewhere between a cow and a walrus. I hadn't run even a hundred yards since junior high.

I began by walking around the neighborhood for twenty minutes a day, then thirty. After a while I felt good enough that I could run a few dozen steps now and then.

Three years later, having lost a hundred pounds along the way (and if you find them, please don't bring them back), I run nine or ten miles a week, and sometimes six to eight miles in a single session.

I'm not fast and I'm not pretty doing it. Nobody would look at me and say, "Must have been in the Olympics as a lad," or, "Too bad he's already happily married."

But my heart rate is good, I buy clothes in the regular stores, and the statistics say I have a good chance of living long enough to meet my grandchildren.

Did I "achieve my goal"?

I didn't set a goal.

I became a different person.


Instead of doing one big end-of-year wrap-up column, I'm going to dribble my "best and worst of 2001" over the next few weeks.

-- Worst movie of the year:

"Phantom Menace," a movie so bad that it still outstinks the competition two years after it came out in '99. (Though to be fair I didn't see "Osmosis Jones.")

-- Worst movie promotion of the year:

"Attack of the Clones," the new Star Wars prequel. The trailer makes it look like the dumbest, sappiest, most inadvertently-funny love story ever. (Runner-up: "Osmosis Jones," whose trailer was so repulsive I couldn't bring myself to see the movie.)

-- Worst novel I actually read all the way through:

"The Fourth Hand," by John Irving. An author who has written some moving and substantial works, Irving seems to have typed this one while watching somebody's homemade weirdo-porn movie.

The book does have a few bits that remind you why Irving is a beloved novelist. There's a charming story of a man reinventing himself as a father. There's the sad woman who berates the hero and then asks him to go to the abortion clinic with her. The gum-chewing makeup girl becomes interesting when we meet her bizarre family on the phone.

Unfortunately, those are only subplots, abandoned well before the end of the book. Most of the novel is devoted to a one-handed newsman's inexplicable devotion to a weirdly empty woman who is never even remotely interesting.

And the climax of the book is a Packers game.

I rest my case.

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