I honestly cannot remember the last time I declared, publicly or just to myself, a New Year’s resolution. For as long as memory serves, I have not been fond of New Year’s resolutions for the very reason many others loathe the concept — an expectation of disappointment or outright failure. With that said, for the last two or thee years I have eluded making the dreaded resolutions by coming up with a short list of goals. Who am I fooling? These goals are really the same thing as resolutions, and I admit to falling short of even being clever by half.
A few weeks ago, I talked to my wife about some overall lifestyle changes that I would like to initiate. I thought it would be good to have a defined start date for bringing on some these changes — January 1. I know…I know…this sounds like a resolution. The difference, in my mind at least, is that I don’t have an end date in mind. Instead, I thought that I would kick start “Operation Twenty12” as a means to measure how I bring on new things and/or shed old habits. So often, people endeavor to make dramatic lifestyle changes, but they set unrealistic timelines for success. I’ve played that game many times, and have a losing record.
Ok. Now that I’ve provided a little context for Operation Twenty12, here’s how things will work. Operation Twenty12 is a living project. I will add some things along the way, and I may take some things of the table. The whole idea is to break away from some conventional things I’ve tried that didn’t work. I want to try out some ideas, and remain open to new things. The things that work will become part of the Operation. Those that don’t — won’t.
I intend to post regularly about what’s going on. I don’t always like to share my goals with people, because there’s usually at least one person far too willing to remind (read: needle) you that you’re off track. I am hard enough on myself. I normally don’t need someone else pointing out the obvious. That’s not motivational. However, I am taking a different approach. I think public accountability might be good.
I am not quite ready to lay out the “hows” just yet, but here are some things that I intend to include in Operation Twenty12. I am including a little bit of an explanation (the “why?”) next to each item, because I think it’s helpful, if not cathartic, to acknowledge why something is on my list for inclusion in this project. Note: Some things on this list will logically fit together; while others will seem like complete non sequiturs — unless you know me well.
- Weight — I don’t blame my parents for what I am about to type. In fact, we’ve spoken about it, and I know that their intent was not malicious nor mean-spirited. When I was kid my dad’s nickname for me was “Chub.” My dad called me Chub because, he said that my stomach stuck out as if I had swallowed a bowling ball. My stepmother would often talk to me about my weight, making reference to Uncle who was a heavy man that died way too young. My stepfather would also lean in on me about my weight — then and to this day. When I went to college, I specifically recall people describing me as chubby. “You know Matthew? Tall, light complexion…chubby.” Ugh! Clearly, for reasons that I have to own, I have an issue with my body image. I don’t think there’s ever been a time in my life when I’ve been content with my body. Interestingly enough, I was a lot thinner in college than I am now (195 lbs then, versus 270 lbs now). Interestingly enough, my stepmother’s periodic voice in my ear about weight eventually became my own. I have become concerned, if not obsessed weight-related health issues. My family has a history of heart problems, and I am fully aware that my weight has a direct correlation to my heart health. As part of Operation Twenty12, I intend to find a sane way to begin to reducing my weight. I would like to eventually take my weight down to an “ideal range” found on most physician’s tables chart for my height and age — somewhere between 190 and 210 pounds — with a body fat around 18 percent (or less). I didn’t get to my current weight overnight, or even in a year, so Operation Twenty12 is more about beginning the journey. I want to chart my progress over the course of a year, not day-to-day as I have been doing. That obsessive weight checking is stressful and, usually, discouraging. This is a non-negotiable Operation Twenty12 item. It has to be in the project.
- Nutrition — In 2003, I jumped into a pretty dramatic weight-loss regimen. I started an Atkins, low-carb/high-protein diet. I stayed on the induction phase of the diet for nearly three months and lost just over 60 pounds. It felt great, but unfortunately I didn’t move into the advanced phases of the diet and the weight eventually crept back up. Since 2003, I have gone in-and-out with an Atkins-esque diet. I usually lose about 15 pounds and then plateau. Part of my problem is that I go through (brace yourself for the language) something I call the “Fuckits!” [Full disclosure: I borrowed that expression from my wife.] When I try hard to lose weight and don’t see the progress I hoped for, I am guilty of saying “Fuck it!” and I eat whatever. In fact, the eating is tantamount to binging. While I won’t gorge, I have been known to eat a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream every day for a week straight. I’ll snack and eat things that I am fully aware have no redeeming nutritional value or place in my diet. I keep trying and I can’t get ahead. Fuck it! I’m gonna have a Double Baconator combo — Biggie Size my drink and fries, please. Ugh! It’s an exhausting cycle — both mentally and physically. As part of Operation Twenty12, I intend to read and get help establishing a sustainable, healthy diet, as opposed to be being ON a diet. I probably need to get some help to identify and address the emotional drivers for eating. I’ve got to do away with the “Fuckits!” Ironically, when it comes to nutrition, like most people, I know what’s good and bad. I just need to summon the will to see things through. This is a non-negotiable Operation Twenty12 item. It has to be in the project.
- Fitness — I suspect that my real problem here is that I’m a little lazy. I have pretty good endurance, but I just don’t excited thinking about working out. I think the root of this problem may be that I have found an activity that sustains my interest. I am somewhat compulsive, so once I start an exercise program, I can keep it going for a while. Eventually, though, I get the same “Fuckits!” that I do with eating. I get bored and quit. Obviously, the combination of saying “Fuckit!” to responsible eating and exercise is not a good thing. I’ve been reading a lot about sustainable fitness activities, and as part of Operation Twenty12, I hope to find the thing that I cannot wait to do. For some it’s running. Others, riding a bike. It may be walking for me. I want to discover what I enjoy sooner than latter. I have a gym membership, and have yet to find any joy in hitting the treadmill on a daily basis.
- Clothing/How I Dress — I wrote not too long ago about an incident with my shoes looking horrible. That experience stuck with me for a reason. For the most part, I don’t like the way I dress anymore. While I was never what one would call a clothes horse, I did take much more pride in my clothing and appearance. Perhaps, it was a function of my previous jobs. I had to look the part. I think a lot of it also has to do with fluctuation in my weight. It’s tough to find clothes that fit properly, let alone look nice (in my mind’s eye) on me. I pretty much have an idea of how I’d like to dress, but haven’t really made much of an effort to get there. I intend to shift that dynamic in Operation Twenty12. While I have my own ideas and sense of style, I hope that friends are willing to give me constructive feedback on my clothing and make suggestions for items that I might wear well. Dressing in a way that makes me feel good about my appearance and myself should come about irrespective of where I am with weight and nutrition.
- Make a Decision About Photography — For a couple of years now, I have been full on in day-dream mode about becoming a full-time professional photographer. I have had a few opportunities come my way, as well as inquiries. However, I have to own up to the fact that I have not put much energy into making this dream a reality. This is actually one of the first things that let me to get serious about Operation Twenty12. I need to make a decision about what I am going to do with photography. I love the medium, but cannot decide whether I am romanticizing the idea of being a professional photographer, or am simply avoiding the hard work that comes with engaging in the craft full-time. I have become more open to the idea that it’s more of the former, but don’t want to give up that easily. Much like with the fitness and reading (see below), I have to admit that I can be lazy. However, I have become friends with some really good people in the field, who have been encouraging and incredibly supportive. (Shout out to Sarah Mattingly, Paul Kim, and, of course, my wonderful wife!) I need to sort out whether my lack of fire to do more with my photography is because there’s a delta between my romantic notions and reality. Do I really want to pursue this field as my next career? If so, getting my act together and putting some action behind the interest is imperative. I’m willing to give myself a little time with this, thus it fits nice with Operation Twenty12. If I haven’t started chasing my passion for photography by the end of the year, in earnest, I think the answer to my question will be pretty obvious.
- Read More — I am a skimmer. I admit it. I often don’t have the patience to sit for long periods of time curled up with a book. Perhaps it’s simply because I haven’t found the right genre. I don’t think that’s it, though, because I am pretty self-aware about what does, and does not, interest me. Where I do fall short is following through reading about things that do interest, in fact, interest me. I am an incredibly curious person, and will often go looking up/researching things that I stumble upon in day-to-day life. I have often felt that I am just intellectually lazy. This may sound a bit arrogant, but a lot of things come easy to me. So, when something takes more time, commitment, and motivation to master, I usually pass. It occurred to me while in Amsterdam that I long for knowledge about a lot of things. I don’t know if my desire to know things is an honest-to-goodness intellectual calling or whether it’s for simply for the vanity of knowing a bunch of stuff. I’ll have to sort that out. I sincerely hope it’s the former. If it’s the latter, I’ll need to add some material on humility to my reading list.
- Write More — Reading and writing work hand-in-hand. Irrespective of the material, I am a firm believer that the more you read, the better you write. Given that you’re reading this on my blog, it may come as no surprise that it is here that I intend to write more as part of Operation Twenty12. I’ve run many laps in my head about what, exactly, I should write about. I’ve come to the conclusion that the answer is — anything. So often I have something in my head, but I stop before typing the words. It’s usually because I assume that no one is interested. I have to remind myself that this is my blog. Of course, I want my content to resonate with people. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t ask myself “Who cares?” before I hitting the “Publish” button. This is really one of the components of Operation Twenty12 that I intend to address immediately. I don’t need to do research or soul searching about writing, because I love the activity. I suspect the real challenge is to remove the hurdles and obstacles I put up for myself. Hopefully by year’s end, my assessment will be easy to achieve by looking at my blog’s archive.
- Patience — This item doesn’t really have, or need, a back story. It’s pretty simple. I need to be more patient with people. I think that I am pretty compassionate person, but I do find that I can become rather impatient with people. There are various triggers, many of which I am aware. I think the way to assess progress on this by the year’s end will be to ask my wife and son. They seem to be acutely aware of my need for improvement in this area.
- Financial Planning & Acumen — I have made great strides in the last five or six years to improve my financial situation. I made a number of mistakes with money when I was in college and throughout my first marriage. I didn’t have the best role model for finances growing up. I will forever love my mom, but she was terrible with money. I don’t foist blame on her for my financial missteps, because, again I have to own my shortcomings; but it is amazing how much we exhibit or reflect the behaviors that were modeled for us as children. One of the biggest challenges for me was being open about missteps. In my previous marriage, when money got tight, or a credit card balance grew large, I would quietly try to handle everything on my own. Meanwhile, the financial knots only grew larger, tighter, and harder to unravel. My divorce forced me to face a lot of my financial demons. There’s nothing like going solo with bills from your past life, obligations to your past wife, being responsible to take care of your child, and find enough to live a modest life. Though I am not consumed with “stuff,” I do like nice things. I have struggled to find the balance between having nearly everything I want (on credit) versus living a spartan life. Somewhere in between would be acceptable, but I refuse to return to a lifestyle purchased on credit. As part of Operation Twenty12, I plan to continue my debt reduction plan. I have been rather diligent about paying down/off my consumer credit accounts. Assuming that I stay on track, I should have about another 14 months before I am consumer debt free. I still have my student loans from law school, which are enough of an albatross. Another part of Operation Twenty12 is to get our mortgage in under a better rate. I would be fine paying the same amount for a 15-year mortgage at a lower rate. Otherwise, I’ll take a reduced-rate 30 year mortgage and will plan to make at least one additional full payment per year.
- Get Back to Cooking Regularly — There’s a direct correlation to my weight and eating convenience food. There’s also a direct impact on my finances. Eating lunch at Whole Foods daily costs about $10. That’s $200 a month. Given what I eat from the salad bar at Whole Foods, I am certain that I can purchase those items once a week for much less. The same goes for dinner. With my wife in New York on weekdays, I have felt less compelled to cook. The result is that I often eat prepared food or items from Whole Foods hot bar. Either way, it’s expensive, and often not as healthy as what I’d make myself. I love to cook, so taking this on in Operation Twenty12 should be a problem.
- Putting the Phone Down in the Car — This may, on the surface, seem like a minor item for a lifestyle project; but I must admit that I am guilty of texting and driving, fiddling with my smartphone and driving, playing Word with Friends and driving. I know…I know. Bad Matthew! Though most of the things listed above are to be rolled out, implemented, or decided by the end of the year; putting the down my smartphone while driving is an immediate action item. In fact, I have already put this item into effect.
I am sure there will be more items that get added to Operation Twenty12. Please forgive me for repeating the title so much. I hope that I don’t sound like Herman Cain with his repeated 9–9-9 mantra.
As I said earlier, this is a living project. I created separate page on my blog where I will list items in my project. I will add new items there, strike through things that I am no longer pursuing. I will post updates, observations and notes about my experiences throughout the year here on the main part of the blog.
I am excited and interested to see where things stand at the end of the year. Of course, I am a big believer in accountability partners. My friend Greg and I have begun some accountability partnering on weight and fitness. I would be interested to hear from any of you that are interested in starting your own Operation Twenty12 project. Of course, I can appreciate that not everyone is comfortable being as open about their goals, needs, desires and shortcomings. Even if you don’t share your Operation Twenty12 project with others, I hope that my post may inspire you to kick start some introspection about things you want to start doing, stop doing, or moderate in your life.
Thanks for your support, and have a wonderful Twenty12!