ADVENTURES IN FOOD AND FITNESS: Tiny New Year’s resolution delivers major satisfaction

When making New Year’s resolutions for 2018, consider small goals that feel doable. In this case, walking to the mailbox rather than stopping the car at the end of the driveway didn’t seem like much of a change – but over a year, those extra 260 steps per day add up to more than 42 miles. (Photo by Tanya Caylor for The News-Sentinel)
Tanya Caylor, author of Adventures in Food and Fitness

In a year when injury derailed my running plans, a ridiculously tiny fitness goal took on outsized importance.

It’s so insignificant I hesitate to call it a New Year’s resolution. And yet, perhaps because it was so unintimidating as to be potentially achievable, this tiny goal became my most successful New Year’s resolution ever.

Stopping the car at the end of the driveway to retrieve the mail and the newspapers wasn’t a particularly shameful habit, as vices go. But it bugged me to be so lazy, especially when I realized that walking those 260 steps out and back each day would add up to 94,900 steps a year – the equivalent of more than 42 miles.

Walking to the mailbox would also mean a lot less junk collecting in my car. (Because I usually grabbed the mail as I was leaving the house, I’d often toss it in the backseat and forget all about it by the time I returned home.)

What seemed most meaningful, though, as the weeks went by and a modest streak began to accumulate, was an increasing sense of how performing this one small task boosted my mood.

It was, I realized, my own personal version of what Navy Seal William McRaven talks about in “Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life … And Maybe the World.” Succeed at something small and doable, study the keys to your success, and then maybe you can replicate your “win” on something larger. That was my take on it, anyway.

But even this one small change would never have happened without having an out – a safe way to “fail” without breaking the rules or derailing the project.

In this case, what that meant was if something prevented me from fetching the mail on any given day, that was OK – so long as I didn’t use the car to retrieve it. In other words, it was fine to simply skip a day and pick up a double dose of mail and newspapers the following day. (Believe me, there were plenty of times when that happened, even when I was relying on the car to assist me.)

One close call came last spring, when an impending storm threatened to soak a paycheck I desperately hoped was waiting inside our leaky mailbox. I was on my way to my daughter’s soccer game, and my route would take me right past our house. Tempting as it was to stop at the mailbox, I forced myself to pull around the driveway to the backed door, my usual starting point when I fetch the mail.

I sprinted to the mailbox, grabbed the mail and raced back to the car as lightning flashed and the first drops of the impending monsoon began to fall. By the time I got to the school, the game had been canceled. But my check was (mostly) dry, and my streak was intact.

Another would-be streak buster came during the summer, when this same daughter begged me to stop the car on the way to softball practice so she could see if a package she was expecting was in the mailbox.

I thought about making her run up to the house and back first, but we were in a hurry.

In the end, I gave in. But I refused to look at either the mail or the newspapers until the next morning, AFTER I went out to fetch the morning paper – at which point, under normal circumstances, I’d have been bringing in the previous day’s mail as well.

Calling that a win preserved the streak and maintained my interest. After 200 days or so, I’d set up so many ways to succeed that it seemed ridiculous to give in. There was nothing I could imagine lurking in the mailbox that couldn’t wait until I took the time to walk out to retrieve it.

As the year came to an end with my New Year’s resolution firmly entrenched into my routine, I realized I could not necessarily claim to have walked an extra 42 miles by completing this project.

Because I never tracked how many trips I made to the mailbox, it was hard to say exactly how many extra steps I walked. Some days I made multiple trips to fetch the morning or afternoon paper separately from the mail, but other days I skipped entirely or someone else got the mail.

I did, however, finish the year with a tangible sense of pride for finally nailing a New Year’s resolution for the first time in my life. (While there were other years when I achieved more fitnesswise, such as losing 90 pounds in 2010 or running my first marathon in 2014, those goals weren’t conceived on Jan. 1.)

Now the goal for 2018 is to apply what I learned from this project to something more meaningful.

Tanya Isch Caylor blogs about postfat living at www.90in9.wordpress.com. Contact her at tischcaylor@gmail.com. This column is the personal view of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.

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