A Month of No Cookies Beats a Year on the ’Mill

Between my debaucherous New Year’s Eve and the caffeine-induced haze of midterms, I’ve come to an eye-opening conclusion: There’s no use in venturing to commit to any kind of grand, life-changing New Year’s resolution anymore. At least not for me.

This year’s empty promise — to get to the gym more often — seemed doable enough. But try though I might to manage the two-minute walk to RIMAC from my apartment, I’m perpetually exhausted. It’s a bone-chilling 65 degrees out, and the five-pound box of Nutter Butters gracing my living room (love you, Grandma) looks a whole lot more tempting than whatever sweat-drenched treadmill may or may not even be open at the gym.

But — and I say this with all the seriousness of a vindictive nun — despite the fact that it’s Week Six and I still haven’t made it to the weight room, I’m not a lost cause, and neither are you. There’s another opportunity for self-improvement creeping around the corner next Wednesday: a little 40-day vacation from self-indulgence called Lent.

Before provoking any evangelist accusations, bear in mind that not only am I not actually Catholic, it’s only a matter of years until I get gay-married before a gathering of pro-choice, Bible-rejecting heathens like myself. (God and the U.S. Supreme Court willing, preferably on Maui. To Anderson Cooper. But we can save that one for another Monday.)

See, amid all the bro-induced misery of my Catholic-school past, one shining, notably less shitty memory stands out. One of our many high-school traditions (along with the ritualized heckling of disabled kids and the choir) was monthly mass in the gym — a universally dreaded occasion that brought us together in shirt-and-tie solidarity, if not any closer to God.

Whether it was the visiting Bishop Wang (a source of wonder not only for his surname, but also his praise of the “whore-y spirit”) or another preacher who imparted the message a few years back, I can’t be sure. But what I do remember is this: For once, the bishop’s words on Lenten sacrifice (i.e., giving up masturbation or video games, or any other teenage vice, for six weeks) compelled me to focus on something other than the pack of mint Milanos I’d be devouring within the hour.

Bishop Wang didn’t want us to shelve our PS2 controllers or resist peeking at our dads’ Playboy collections for Lent — oh, no. He urged us to go one holy step farther and take up a new habit. Preferably something charitable, like feeding the poor or leaving the choir boys to sing without shouting “GAY!” mid-chorus. Lent, he insisted, should be seen as an opportunity to bring some positivity into the world — not just to do away with the negative.

The season of self-improvement doesn’t have to be all about getting a six-pack, either. There are plenty of things most of us don’t do — recycle pizza boxes, eat vegetables, use dental dams — and there’s no time like the present for a trial run.

Despite four years of religion classes (another memorable teaching: that “safe sex” is, in fact, a media-propagated myth), that winter morning’s lesson was the only one that really stuck. Think about it: What better instrument for self-betterment could there possibly be than one that gives you an easy out after a few new-and-improved weeks? Why resolve to work out for an entire year — and then feel vaguely guilty for passing the gym on the way for a pint of Ben & Jerry’s — when I can give it a few weeks and call it quits, just in time for a proper Easter dinner?

Of course, I’ve got nothing against positivity and charity and saving the children. But what I’ve found, after countless failed attempts at this elusive concept called self-improvement, is that not only am I cripplingly lazy, I can’t very well motivate myself to fix anything if I’m too overwhelmed by the prospect of getting out of bed before 10 a.m. in the first place.

That’s why it’s so important to start small. Sure, I may not be able to get my ass out of bed before the end of the “The View,” but I can certainly manage to spend 20 minutes on the elliptical after class through the end of the quarter. Just as long as Beyonce propels me to the exhausting end of mile two, there’s still the promise of return to my comfy sofa (a perfect arm’s length away from that prized cookie box) when Easter finally rolls around.

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