Resolutions, Algebra, and Great White Whales - New Year Ruminations

John McManamy Health Guide
  • We are eight days into the New Year. Have you broken all your New Year’s resolutions yet?


    I went back and read my resolutions post from last year, where I noted that “I don’t make resolutions as such” (very wise of me). Instead, I use this time of year to take stock and figure out how to apportion my limited time and energy. Two years ago, I initiated a massive reorganizing of my website. Last year, I wrote a book. No doubt - maybe six months from now - I will have something new and totally awesome to pat myself on the back over, but then it occurred to me:


    Maybe I’m lying to myself. Maybe my big projects are nothing more than hyperbolic distractions designed to take my mind off the things I really need to be tending to - such as my health, my financial security, my personal development, on and on. Yes, it’s all very well and good to congratulate myself on the things that come as easy to me as cheating comes to Lance Armstrong.

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    But what about the hard stuff? Stuff that sets off paroxysms of sheer primal panic in me, such doing my taxes and getting to the dentist. Why aren’t I working on those issues?


    Well, you see - er, um -  I am in the middle of an enormous project ...


    Gretchen Rubin, author of "The Happiness Project," has my number. In her book, she asked a yoga instructor and a strength-training trainer if they recognized any warning signs in people who are likely NOT to stick to a resolution to start exercising. In Ms Rubin’s words:


    “Well, afternoons don’t work. And I can’t do mornings. I can come Tuesdays at noon, but not this Tuesday. Or next Tuesday...”


    The President of the United States works out almost every day! If people really want to exercise, they find the time.


    “I’ll squeeze it in at lunchtime. I can just run out between meetings.”


    This person hasn’t acknowledged to himself that exercise must be its own priority, and if he doesn’t do that, it’ll always get shoved to the bottom of the to-do list. Which means it won't happen. ...


    You see what we’re up against? The key to recovery typically involves major behavioral and lifestyle changes. First let’s give ourselves credit - you and I have already made a good many of them. We’re smart, we’re tough, we buckle down ...


    But we’re also human. We have Achilles Heels, feet of clay, chinks in our armor. One of mine is numerophobia. I just looked this up. There really is such a thing. Way back in my first year in high school, I hit the wall - I couldn’t do the math. I simply gave up. I eventually graduated, totally innumerate, and spent my higher education assiduously avoiding fields of study that involved anything having to do with numbers, which is my only justification for studying law. Of all things, one year out of law school, I wound up in financial journalism, which proves there is a god of irony, but that’s another story.


    Anyway, my math deficit has always bugged the hell out of me. Maybe if I knew for sure that 3/5 was actually more than 1/2 most of the time, I might be more confident in other realms of my life - such as getting my taxes done. Decades pass ...


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    Then I started off the New Year with a monster cold. Two nights ago, in a fever/NyQuil-induced dream state, I turned in an A-minus on an algebra exam. It would have easily been an A or an A-plus, but I think I got deducted some points for bullying some poor polynomial. Trust me, I really showed those numbers (even the prime ones) who was boss.  


    I’m not nearly as good at math when I’m awake, of course. But it need not be this way, apparently. I’m not sure if my subconscious is encouraging me or taunting me. But what happened when I woke up was the introduction of this new thought:


    What if I were to purchase an algebra book and started doing the exercises?


    Would putting in this kind of effort lay some old ghosts to rest? Not sure. Would it make me less fearful about doing taxes? No idea. Would this turn into a monstrous example of whimsical thought morphing into the kind of obsession that escalates into something totally destructive, as in Captain Ahab and his great white whale? Good possibility. 


    Should I order the algebra book? You tell me ...

Published On: January 08, 2013