Strip off your Hairshirt of Guilt, and Shed the (Too Tight) Pants of Inaction

Confess now: As your January comes to a close, how’s the whole ‘New Year, New Me’ looking? Surveys suggest that 80% of us will have already reneged on the resolutions we set ourselves. So if you LOUDLY gave up sugar on Jan 1st, but are now speeding through a bag of sherbet dip, why stop there? Join the rest of us sinners in a large glass of fizz!

Dry January, it seems, has proved a wash. My statistically robust study (of the few friends I’ve called) shows Covid angst has totalled even this totemic teetotalling: The moment Boris returned us to lockdown, millions of glasses came right back up. (Tempting though it is to prove we don’t have a drink problem, who wants to face this pandemic too sober?)

Hangovers aside, nothing accelerates self-loathing like the act of making A BRAVE, PUBLIC COMMITMENT only to break it a few days later. I should know: A festive ‘feast or famine’ kind of bloke, I spend December in a permanent state of feast. When not cooking for my family, I’m over-feeding myself (picture Jamie Oliver crossed with Mr Kreosote making love to a slab of Stilton. Then pity my poor wife…)

Come January (every January) I throw myself at the fitness wagon, only to tumble off when it starts to hurt, and/or get dull.

Result? Minimal fitness gain, maximum guilt.

Fed up with poor results, I’ve stopped making BIBLICAL-SIZED commitments that I fail to keep. Instead I’ve resolved to carry out small experiments I can’t fail to learn from. Here goes—

My simple formula for experimentation


Experimentation takes energy, so be clear and intentional around the reason you’re experimenting. Is this the issue that really needs your attention?

 In my case, I really do want to improve my fitness, raise my energy levels and reduce my over-reliance on elasticated slacks. 


Make an educated guess on what you can ‘bat’ for, based on your prior experience and knowledge.

I believe doing 10 minutes of high-energy exercise (burpees maybe?) every morning will make me feel better than planning an hour of elaborate exercise…a fixture so daunting I end up skipping it entirely.


How long do you need to stick with the experiment (or how many times do you need to repeat it) before you can learn something useful? What can you realistically commit to?

Check yourself, and your chosen experiment: If it requires a level of commitment you’ve proved yourselfincapable of keeping to in the past…think again (and think smaller!)

Even I should be able to survive a week of daily exercise…surely?!


Have a clear sense of how you’re going to measure ‘success’ or progress and keep track of how you’re doing.

Improved mood? My kids say I’m a little less shouty (though this might be down to lack of breath).

Improved fitness? My burpee count seems to be heading in the right direction.


What learnings or insights can you take from your initial experiment?  Capture them down, if you have the strength! How could you change your approach for better results? Is this shot stimulating ideas for new experiments?

If nothing else, I’ve learned that a diet of burpees can get very dull – could be time to vary the routine. I also plan to expand my playlist of ‘power tunes’ (if only to drown the sound of my wife yelling up, “You’re bringing the ceiling down!”)

The joy of an experiment is that nothing is a failure. Simply doing new things creates positive energy and momentum. Outcomes may not be perfect, but at least progress is being made. So let’s agree to strip off our ‘hairshirt of guilt’; shed our (eye-wateringly tight) ‘pants of inaction’, and grab the opportunity to learn.

It’s great to have huge ambitions, but it can take iron willpower to achieve them. In these tricky times, why not be kind to yourself? Stop failing…start experimenting.


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