The Person Behind the Resolution

There is a good New Year’s Eve story about Fred Lebow, founder of the NYC Marathon. I think it comes from the excellent documentary about him, Run for Your Life. One year Fred had resolved to run a certain number of miles, 1000 or something. He did it. Except at 9 or 10 pm on New Year’s Eve, as he waited for his girlfriend to get ready for a party down at Studio 54 or some such place, he started leafing through his running journal. As he turned the pages, spot checking the math, he suddenly noticed he had made an error calculating his total mileage for the year. He was 17 miles short of his goal.

So Fred started getting ready, too—for a run in Central Park. When his girlfriend saw what was happening she gave him an ultimatum: me or the mileage. For Fred it wasn’t a difficult decision. He went for a late-night run, the relationship ended, and Fred hit his goal.

This time of year we’re inundated with media filled with advice about our annual ritual of setting resolutions for the new year. I set resolutions just like the next person. And unlike Fred, within days or weeks, I fail at most of them. But this year I have a new approach. I picked it up from some episode of the podcast Trail Runner Nation. Lately this podcast is my ASMR. I have been falling asleep to the soothing voices of Don and Scott and their guests as they chatter about the mysteries and passions of their strange subset of ultra-trail runners who consider even a hundred-mile race a shorter sort of challenge. 

As I drifted off one night, I heard them talking with a guest about resolutions. Something they said stuck with me: When you resolve to do something, such as going to the climbing gym three times a week, don’t make your resolution, I will go to the climbing gym three times a week. That’s not the mantra you want running through your head as you are lying in bed, deciding whether or not to get up and make it happen. That formulation is removing a key ingredient from the recipe for success. The key ingredient is not about the thing being done, it is about the person doing the thing. Your resolution should be, I want to be the kind of person who goes to the climbing gym three times a week. Rather than a thing or a place it focuses on the person. That person is an abstract, a version of yourself you are aiming to become, but this way of looking at a resolution puts the emphasis on something both bigger and more personal than a mere chore. It also focuses on the positivity you’re already associating with the attainment of the goals you are shooting for. 

Maybe it’s a bunch of bunk. Maybe I read it somewhere and didn’t even hear it at all. All I know is, it’s the way I’m framing my 2020 goals, running and otherwise. We’ll see if it works.