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January Joiners

Rebecca Sheir

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Ready to hit the gym?

All right, so it's January, right? That means you're very likely to be in one of two groups: new member at the gym or old member at the gym who can't get on one of the elliptical machines at the gym because some new member is on it. Dang new members. The online slang compendium UrbanDictionary.com has a name for this phenomenon: "January Joining." It defines a "January Joiner" as someone who "joins the gym in January as part of a New Year's resolution and by February is back to being a couch potato." Reporter Rebecca Sheir knows one such person who swears, this years, is going to be different.


Eliana is an aspiring actress in Brooklyn, N.Y. She's 31, about five-foot-three, with this amazing explosion of long, red curls. And this year, she's decided to hit the gym.

"I've resolved to join gyms before," she says, "to attend the gyms I've joined before. In New York alone I have belonged to, okay, hold on. I'm going to answer this in a second. I have to count."

Turns out that across a span of New Years, Eliana's joined six different gyms - soon to be seven. "I have access to a gym, in the same building where I work," she explains. "And I never go. So actually making use of that is one of my resolutions."

Each year, Eliana tries to get a head start with her resolutions. "Sometimes it's specifically lose 'x' number of unreasonable pounds," she says. "And a lot of the time it's just get in better shape and treat my body with more respect and so on and so forth. But a lot of the time it has to do with losing weight."

That's because ten years ago, when Eliana came home from college, she weighed a lot: 212 pounds, to be exact. And she was sick, she was depressed. So in December of that year, she made her very first resolution. Her doctor prescribed a diet, and in eight months Eliana had lost fifty pounds. She kept it off for two years, but then it started creeping back up.

So every year she resolved to creep it back down: to go on another diet, join another gym. But as Eliana puts it, "Every time I 'January Joined,' I've often been like the type of joiner who sort of falls off of a resolution or drops off of a resolution and beats myself up."

And that's the problem with resolutions. Robin Abrahams writes the "Miss Conduct" column for the Boston Globe. She's a former psychology professor, and stand-up comedian, and knows a lot about the January Joining syndrome - and how to avoid it.

First off, she says, don't use pass-or-fail language. Words like "quit" ("I'm going to 'quit' this."), "never" ("I will 'never' do this again; I will never have another cigarette again."), and "every day." That last one is setting yourself up for failure, Abrahams says, "because if you say 'I'm going to work on my novel, or meditate, or do whatever, every day,' well, the first day you don't meditate, you've broken your resolution."

You should also shy away from black-and-white thinking. Like, if you resolve to give up junk food, and you have a piece of cake at a birthday party, Abrahams says you don't want to then think: "'well, I've broken the resolution, I may as well just go out and eat the Grande Tostita Fat Bomb Lardo Magneto Macho Nachos for dinner.' And you just fall completely off the wagon in every possible sense. That's really what you want to avoid."

But the worst thing of all, she says, is setting the bar too high: "Sort of the idea that 'if I go to the gym three times a week I'm going to look like Angelina Jolie.' Instead of focusing on that, just focus on 'get to the gym.'"

And that's what Eliana says she's doing this year. Yes, she's dreamed of looking like Angelina Jolie in the past. But this time around, her dreams involve other things. She wants to bring down the house in a Broadway musical, or at least take up martial arts. "Do I think I have the stamina and the strength to (a) like sing eight shows a week, or (b) flip some guy over my back?" she asks. "Those are the things I would like to be options for me. And that's the incentive to be January Joining, like, one last time."

Eliana's dreams may be big, but her resolution is smaller: just to be healthy. Which means watching what she eats, taking her vitamins and getting her body moving.

"January is a new beginning," she says. "And I like January as a start point. But, it's always new years sometime. Like, you can make your own January if you have to."

And, just in case, Eliana's already got January 26 marked on her calendar: the start of the Chinese New Year.

  • Music Bridge:
    Artist: RATATAT
    CD: Classics (xl)


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