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I have always been a bit of a disaster when it comes to New Year’s resolutions. Here’s how the process has gone for me in the past: Walk into grocery store. Scan magazine racks. Choose issues with teaser lines promising “Six-pack Abs,” “Marriage of Dreams,” “Job that Means Happiness, Wealth and Retirement!” Pile magazines high in arms. Bump into something while shuffling to check out, creating a “clean-up in Aisle 7” scene with magazines strewn everywhere. Skulk out of store, fuming and embarrassed.
Despite my less than graceful magazine procurement, I would remain hopeful as I returned home with my stack of glossy periodicals to assist with my ambitious New Year’s resolutions. One by one, I would read the articles, dog-ear the pages and make furious notes about my steps for making and keeping my resolutions. But sure enough, I’d start to feel overwhelmed by the prospect of losing 10 pounds in 10 days. Especially when I needed to lose 30 pounds by tomorrow. I also realized that the 1,204 daily crunches I planned to start on January 1 would clearly result in nothing but lower-back issues. And this perfect career? How in the world was I supposed to get that cracking by New Year’s?
So there I was, before New Year’s had even started, donating the magazines to the elementary school for paper doll crafts.
Then, I would turn to my last resort—the trusty Resolution List that I vowed to keep and execute perfectly. I loved my Resolution List, but over the years, the List became a bit like the movie “Groundhog Day.” It always began with “Lose that weight. Forever.” Yes, that would be the same weight that I am still wearing on my body today. The weight that I have gained and lost for the past 15 years. Up and down, up and down—I am the poster child for yo-yo dieting. I joke with my family, “You never know if Meredith is going to show up fat or thin to the holiday gatherings! It’s a surprise!” But this year? Well, this year will be different!
After a weight-loss pledge, my List outlined 5K races that I vowed to finish, and Mean Girls at work I promised to win over. At some point, the definition of insanity popped into my head—you know, doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result—and I began a new approach to my so-called resolutions.
Maybe you’ve fallen down in the grocery store, clutching the “30 Days to a Rocking Body” issue. Maybe you’ve even asked yourself, “What’s the point of all this resolution making?”
When it comes to resolutions, we are all a bunch of rookies taking steps to realize new, scary promises to ourselves. Some of us scribble down triathlon race schedules as a part of our resolutions: This year, I will do my first triathlon. This year, I will finish my first iron-distance race. Each resolution reflects a “beginner” in some way. Making a resolution to finish a race, in theory, is great. But if that particular race doesn’t pan out for whatever reason, then it’s easy to feel as if the journey, however long, was a failure. Also, focusing simply on finishing a race can sometimes cause a beginner to be ill-prepared for the race and not train as hard. “If I can just crawl across the finish, then I will be a triathlete.” Or, my personal favorite: “I sure hope I can handle open-water swimming for the first time on race day.” (In some cases, throwing a Hail Mary for a single race in order to keep a resolution is downright dangerous.)
Sometimes, when we focus on that one “I have arrived as a triathlete” race, the reason behind a whole-hearted, life-changing dream gets lost in the shuffle. In 2010, part of the reason I started triathlon was to save my life. Truly. I was working 75 hours a week with children under the age of 2, and looking at this unhappy, fat stranger in the mirror each morning, wondering, “Who the heck is this woman?” I was close to losing my mind. Tackling triathlon and learning how to swim, bike and run was a journey, one that was not seeking a perfect “resolution-style” me. Rather, it was the search and pursuit of a better version of myself.
The day-to-day workouts, foam-rolling and true diligence in the wee hours was what has carried me along. Training consistently was the real resolution, the one thing that I diligently pursued—and the thing that made me better. In turn, race days became celebrations of all the hard work that I put in behind the scenes.
This January, if you find yourself making your own Resolution List, try this:
This year, I will be a triathlete.
Maybe add other caveats: I will be the best triathlete I can be. I will share my healthy lifestyle with people I care about. I will train hard. I will take rest days. I will not eat garbage and wash it down with garbage soda and a side of garbage dressing. I will perceive myself as a swimmer, cyclist and runner, even if I don’t feel like one right now.
Making the resolution to become a triathlete was the stepping stone for the true start of my life. I did not make a resolution to do a single race. I took on a promise for a new life, and went after it. I became stronger and faster and more adapted to the sport—though by no means someone who is super-fast (or super-adapted, for that matter).
Being a triathlete has become a way to stay healthy, semi-sane and goal-oriented in other areas of my life, too. I’ve become a better person because I have this wonderful outlet, peppered with awesome goals, races and people.
Of course, those perfect-life promises and six-pack abs appeals may continue to catch my attention while cruising the grocery store aisles. But at least now, I’ve got my eye on the real prize.
Meredith Atwood is a wife, mother, attorney, Ironman, coach and author of Triathlon for the Every Woman. She lives in Atlanta and blogs at Swimbikemom.com. For more from Atwood, check out her “Beginner’s Luck” column each month in Triathlete magazine.