There was an interesting photo in the paper the other day from the Cheongryong Self-Denial Training Camp on an island in South Korea. It showed boys sitting outdoors, rubbing snow onto their naked torsos, wearing the kind of anguished facial expressions one might expect under the circumstances.
The adults, who presumably did not need to "mentally and physically strengthen themselves,'' as the boys were said to be doing, stood in the background, warmly clothed.
This naturally got me thinking about New Year's resolutions. The annual ritual can be sort of a self-denial training camp, snow or no snow, made all the more excruciating when you are surrounded by others who aren't joining you.
I used to be a great one for resolutions. Back in middle school, when I was about the same age as the boys in that photo, I'd make these long lists, veritable road maps of physical and mental self-improvement.
None of my lists involved getting shirtless in the snow, but I think I covered most other bases, from getting to the bus stop on time and keeping my room clean, to starting my homework earlier and taking up tennis.
Not one of these brave resolutions stuck. To this day, I am frequently late, my closet is a mess, I thrive on deadline and I have no interest in tennis. I'm still working on the lateness thing. As for the rest, well, I'll live with it.
Still, I haven't given up on resolutions. There's something hopeful and encouraging and just flat-out wonderful about believing we have the power to make our lives better.
Today in Personal Best, we're serving up a New Year's Day resolution buffet, specific goals you might wish to consider, as well as strategies to help you realize them.
The idea is not to turn all these ideas into a laundry list you'll soon abandon with the dryer lint. Rather, I hope the resolvers among us will take the time to pick just one thing that's truly meaningful, and then make a specific, careful plan to achieve that goal.
So, instead of just resolving to exercise, you might take a cue from our cover story and find an exciting event to aim toward, and a club or gym where you'll find help to achieve your goal. If quitting smoking is your project, enlist a coach to help you (see Page 3 to find one for free online or over the phone). Losing weight is a perennial resolution, but it's also a toothless one if you don't have a solid plan to help you make that vague dream a specific reality (see Page 7 for details). Slowing down seems like a no-brainer, but plenty of us need tips, and you'll find some good ones on Page 6. Want to be a better parent? We've got 10 specific ways to help you get there (Page 12).
Finally, there's nothing magical about Jan. 1. Take your time and plot your strategy — we resolvers want positive, smart change, not frosty self-denial.