It’s December 31st, 2017. You just woke up from a revitalizing eight hours of sleep. You head to the kitchen counter where the coffee machine used to be. In its place is an expensive blender. You dump in the daily breakfast mix: spinach, kale, wood chips from the backyard. Coffee was one of the many things you cut out this year. The rest of the no-no list includes processed sugars, gluten, red meat and cable news. And it’s working. You haven’t farted since February. You bring the smoothie into the living room, take a seat, look outside at the squirrels. Even the squirrels have lost weight. You begin the power hour: 15 minutes of meditation, 15 minutes of reading the Bible, 15 minutes of mindfulness and 15 minutes of jumping jacks.
It seems like an excessive amount of jumping jacks, but there was that one article last month that said every person who has ever lived to be over 100 years old had one thing in common: jumping jacks. It turns out all other exercises cut 5-7 years off your life, meaning your jumping jack pushing gym teacher from elementary school had it right all along.
The power hour ends, and you lace up the cross trainers. Three hundred and sixty-four days in a row you’ve completed this three-mile run. Today there’s an extra kick in your step; you reflect on just how much you have crushed 2017. Best year ever. You laugh thinking back to your most recent doctor visit, the one when she said you were actually, “Borderline too healthy.” She wrote you a prescription for six ice cream sandwiches, and you thought about it, you really did, but in the end said, “Thanks, but no thanks.” Got to keep moving forward.
It’s January 12th, 2017. You just woke up and, crap! Work starts in fifteen minutes. You jog to the kitchen, press Brew on the Keurig coffee machine. Add water. Add water. You rush to the fridge; there’s no water in the pitcher. Welp looks like no coffee today. You grab a box of cereal, open the cabinet for a bowl. No bowls, all of the bowls are in the dishwasher with crusty spaghetti sauce. You grab a cup instead, but out of the corner of your eye spot the box of Oreos. Eh, it’s the same thing. Cup of milk, four dipped Oreos, hit the road.
You’ve got a new voicemail. It’s the third one from the new gym that officially opened up on January 2nd. Hey, good morning, just calling to remind you that we have in fact opened and, well, I mean you’re paying $9.99 this month, but next month it will jump to $800, so you might want to stop in. Have we told you about the new jumping jack machine?
Snap back to reality. A year from now, our lives will be somewhere in between these two descriptions and, in my experience, Option Two feels a little more accurate.
New Year’s Resolutions are a strange phenomena; for something that works for maybe one in ten thousand people, the fad never seems to die. It’s kind of like Cubs fans from 1909 to 2015, we keep thinking next year, next year will be the year and maybe that’s the secret, New Year’s Resolutions do end up working out we just need 108 attempts.
But I think I have a better idea. Sticking with baseball, I think the secret to New Year’s Resolutions is to turn it from a 365 day battle of will into a manageable nine-inning game. Here’s how it works.
360 days divided by nine innings = 40 days
Each inning is 40 days.*
*Final five days of the year can be an all-out, junk food eating celebration.
What’s the advantage to this? First, the finish line is in sight. You can even divide the 40 days into a top and bottom of the inning at 20 days a piece. Who are we kidding when we put a cookie ban up for 365 days. But 20 days? That’s doable. That’s just a couple weeks out of the grocery trip rotation. It’s not a season-ending injury; cookies are simply on Injured Reserve.
The inning approach also allows us to narrow down the goal into something that’s measurable. When the New Year’s Resolution is broad, say, “I’m going to be healthier in 2017” what does that mean? Is that diet and exercise or also mental health, spiritual health, sleep. All of it? How can it be measured? It can end up being like scenario one where we tackle too many things at once, and maybe that works for a week, but by Week 2 it’s like why am I drinking wood chips?
With nine innings you can divide up the big “I’m going to be healthier” goal into manageable chunks. It could look like this:
- No cookies
- No beer
- Eat vegetables
- Run every day
- No red meat
- No gluten
- No fried food
- No soda
- No potato chips
Giving up all nine of those for a year? Not gonna happen. Giving up even one of these for a year? Probably not. But one of these for forty days? Secretly doable.
And the science kind of backs up this plan. From 1960 to the early 2000s, the general rule of thumb was 21 days to make or break a habit. A study in 2009 highlighted in this article by writer Signe Dean updated the number to 66. So what’s nice about the nine-inning strategy is you are creating habits rather than tackling this with sheer willpower. Habits become second nature; it’s like how my wife and I trained Crash to pee outside or how my wife trained me to put the toilet seat down after peeing.
When we move from one inning to the next, from “No cookies” to “No soda,” we are already 2/3 of the way toward a 66-day habit forming streak. At that point, it’s like Joe Maddon sending Aroldis Chapman back out to the mound to get another three outs.
Allow yourself to give up a run or two in an inning. A win doesn’t have to be a perfect game. If it’s a “No Pizza” inning, but someone at work brings in a delicious deep dish pizza, think of that as Barry Bonds at the plate; there’s no shame in giving up a solo home run. Also, plan in advance, pair the inning with the month that makes the most sense. What I mean by this is “No Cookies, ” and December’s Christmas cookie fest might not get along. “No beer” and July don’t gel and definitely gotta plan in advance to make sure “No Fast Food” doesn’t collide with the McRib month. It’s all about pairing your left-handed pitchers against the opponent’s left-handed hitters.
And if this strategy doesn’t work out, hey, there’s always next year.
Thanks for stopping by the blog! It’s good to be back. Next week will kind of continue the New Year’s Resolution theme. I’ll be making a case for why Wednesday is the most under-utilized day of the week. And quick update, Medium Rare has OFFICIALLY moved from Mondays to Wednesdays, more on that next week too.
If you’d like to subscribe to the blog, simply scroll up and enter your email on the right. If there are any issues with that or if you just want to say hello, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ve got a Medium Rare book available here (somehow five-years-old now) and a still pretty new e-book on basketball available here. Follow on Twitter here and maybe the most important link of the batch, our dog Crash has an Instagram. Yep. We are that couple. Ashley runs a tight ship, pretty frequent “Big City, Small Puppy” updates. See you next week!