Thinking about Zeal

I read an article in WSJ this morning using Facebook data to show that gym attendance drops off 10% at the beginning of February.  “Oh, yeah”, you say to yourself, “New Years’ resolutions gone sour.”

But what’s going on here?

I’ve been coasting through January on my fitness goals — 185 lbs, 120/80 blood pressure, and 22% body fat — effortlessly (well, more or less) doing my diet stuff and my exercise stuff.

Is that “will power”?  I don’t think so.  I think it’s zeal.

I’ve been through this a lot over the years: some behavior change, either starting up a good habit or ending a bad one, is unbelievably difficult, day after day, year after year, attempt after attempt.  Until, suddenly, one day, I’m… ready.  And once I’m ready, the change is easy.

What’s changed?  Something happens.  In the case of smoking (which I quit years and years ago), it was the birth of my son.  Not my first child.  And I had struggled to quit after my first was born, without success.  But suddenly, I had reached some tipping point, and it was easy.  I did the same things I had done before — the Nicorette, the rewards, the toleration of overeating, the whole bag of tricks — but now it was effortless.  I would (probably!) have done the same thing if I were living with a smoker.  My zeal had kicked in.

A few questions:

What is zeal?  No idea.  Some kind of limbic-system switch flips to the other position.  Kind of like falling asleep.  or maybe falling in love.

Can you command it?  No idea.  Maybe.  My best guess today is you’ve got to keep trying and simply recognize when the zeal has come.  If you keep trying, your bag of tricks will be ready when the zeal is ready for you.  But maybe there are things you can do to hasten or enhance the probability of getting zeal.

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