Friday, March 30, 2007

The C & E People

When I was a kid, the minister in our church was a bit of a humorist. He was one of those pastors that knew how to bring laughter into a sermon at just the right place, and keep everyone engaged in what he was saying. I remember that he once poked a bit of fun at the full church on Easter Sunday by referring to much of the crowd as "C&E People" (those who only come to church on Christmas & Easter.)

I was reminded of that this week when I realized why the gym is feeling relatively calm and not so crowded these days. The New Years Resolutionists have departed once more. Anyone who goes to a gym regularly, year-round will understand what I mean. Like clockwork, right after New Years day, the Resolutionists will arrive in droves. They're often sporting brand new workout garb, holding shiny water bottles, their shoes are unscuffed. They're ready and raring to go. They're going to knock themselves into Denise Austin shape this year, or die trying. Some of them will fall prey to the over-do-it-itis. They'll lift or aerobicize themselves into an overuse injury within a matter of weeks. Others will simply fall off of the bandwagon when the newness and excitement wear off. This is also why I find so much good athletic wear in brand-new condition at thrift stores.

Of course, there will be another surge once the radios and TVs start reminding people that it is Almost Swimsuit Season. But that one will be smaller and shorter-lived than the first. It seems that good intentions at the start of the year trump even the thought of squeezing oneself back into a bikini when it comes to motivation.

As perhaps my childhood pastor did, I have to scratch my head and wonder at what makes the difference. What makes some people stick with it year in and year out? What keeps them coming when they feel like sticking their head under the covers and going back to sleep when that alarm goes off? Why do some pairs of shoes and running shorts get worn until they fall apart, while others end up at Goodwill, unscathed? I'm sure the answer is different for everyone, but in general I think that it takes longer than one might think to change old habits into new ones, just as it takes longer than people might think to change in an out-of-shape body for a stronger, fitter one. Try too hard or too fast or place your expectations too high at the outset, and disappointment is probably going to be the outcome.

So those of us who are still there, at the gym or on the running trail, in the pool or on the bike, know that we're in it for the long haul. It's not an immediate size 6 that we're hoping for, but a strong, fit, fast body for the rest of our lives. There are lots of side-benefits that keep us coming back as well: the people we meet, the smiles we share, the feeling we get after we've pushed ourselves really hard and every fiber in every muscle is quivering in response, the fact that we can run around on a field with our kids for hours and not get winded. But I think it's the long-term outlook that makes the difference. A spiritual journey cannot be accomplished in two brief stops in a church a year, and likewise a bodily transformation won't occur with a couple of bursts of good intentions. Any step one takes has to build on the steps that have come before it.

In any case, I'm not going to complain about it. The lap lanes are now empty, there's no waiting lists for the treadmills, and there are plenty of towels in the locker room instead of the depleted stacks of six weeks ago. The rest of us can enjoy it, at least until next year.


Ginger Breadman said...

That's a really interesting perspective. What really does make a person stick with it? I think the people who start and stop so suddenly started for all the wrong reasons in the first place. If they were able to see exercise and sport for the body-soul-lifetime connection instead of looking for instant gratification, perhaps we'd have a healthier planet.

Robin said...

I think you're right on that one. I think often people just don't do it long enough, or torture themselves too much with it, so it just isn't the enjoyable thing that it can be!