At this point in January, I’m willing to bet more than a few New Year's resolutions have already been abandoned.
A friend recently shared that his 2023 resolution not to eat pizza lasted only about 18 hours when his family ordered pizza on New Year’s night.
I changed things up this year with a resolution that isn’t directly related to improving my physical health although it has made me feel better in just the first few weeks.
What have I been doing? Making an effort to watch and follow sports in moderation. So far, I’ve done a good job sticking to it.
If you’re wondering why I made this resolution, what I’m doing to ensure that I’m sticking to it, and how I have been benefiting from it already, read on.
I am a sports junkie.
I’m a proud fan of my alma mater, the University of Illinois as well as the St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Bears, and St. Louis Blues. I also love watching Premier League soccer, and other European leagues, plus Rugby League, cricket, and Australian Rules Football. If that sounds like a lot to keep up with - it is. I track statistics, watch games, record games to watch later, and have several subscriptions to sports websites. I admit I pay too much attention to sports.
It has been a way to connect to family, first as a kid with my parents and siblings, then with my in-laws (my father-in-law was a high school basketball coach for many years), and now with my son. When we don’t have something else to talk about, we can always talk about sports.
However, it’s also been a crutch that I have used to avoid spending real time with my kids and my wife. On a typical evening, I’ll have a game playing on my computer while we are together. If I’m honest, I’m only half listening to them. That’s not healthy.
Beyond affecting my relationships, I realized that I was often depressed and stressed because my teams weren’t playing well. I recognize that it’s silly to let a bunch of kids playing a game have such command of my emotions, but it happened all too often. My wife knew that if Illinois lost, then I was not going to be pleasant for the rest of the day. I know I shouldn’t act that way, but it was just so frustrating!
The last straw that pushed me to make this resolution came after the Illinois vs. Missouri basketball game this past December. Every year, this rematch of rivals generates a lot of good-natured ribbing between me and my Mizzou friends. We lost this year. My reaction forced me to confront how I engage with sports. I decided that I needed to get a dose of reality and that sports could be enjoyable if I just turned down the intensity. So, I did. And so far, it’s been really nice.
How I’m sticking with it.
I unsubscribed from The Athletic, unfollowed the sports guys on social media, and generally tried to avoid making that noise a part of my daily life. Instead, I now limit my sports consumption to simply watching the game. If the outcome isn’t what I’d hoped, I am working on toning down my anxiety by putting the game into perspective. It’s not the end of the world if an 18-year-old kid makes a stupid play; I made a bunch of them at that age. Sure, I like it when Illinois wins, but I refuse to let it dictate my emotions.
My resolution has not been to stop watching sports; instead, my goal has been to learn how to enjoy and keep sports in perspective. If I want to watch a game, I do. The difference now is that I’m being intentional about it: if I feel myself getting too passionate, I’ll turn the game off. I didn’t watch the College Football Playoffs, but I did watch a little bit of one NFL playoff game. I turned it off at halftime to have dinner with my wife and I’ve heard that the game went on without me.
The benefits I’ve seen already.
The key was not to push myself to quit cold turkey as it would be very difficult to keep that resolution. But I do want to be intentional about what I watch.
This past Saturday, I watched sports for most of the afternoon. I enjoyed the events unapologetically and had one of the best days I’ve had in a while. My father-in-law, Hank, is crazy about the local high school wrestling team he has been following for 40+ years. None of his kids wrestled and my kids didn’t wrestle, but he decided to start going after he stopped coaching. He has traveled with the team to tournaments across the country, always wearing his Bulldog hat with “#1 Fan” stitched across the front. He has been a team fixture and over the years, the kids have always been very nice to him.
I don’t care for wrestling at all. Not even a little bit. But this weekend, I agreed to accompany Hank, watch the matches, and talk to him about it all. He’s in his upper 80s and is struggling with dementia and some physical ailments; we know he won’t have too many wrestling seasons left in his future. He’s not allowed to go to wrestling by himself anymore, so I went and watched it with him. And I had fun. But it wasn’t the usual fun I enjoy while watching a match or game. It was fun to see him happy, to have him tell me the same stories numerous times, and to see people come over to talk to him. He’s a part of this community of athletes and it makes him happy. Seeing him in his element warmed my heart.
My sports-packed day with Hank didn’t break my resolution, in fact, what it did was show me that sports can be a healthy outlet. I didn’t go home and watch football afterward. I don’t need to know who was winning, it doesn’t matter as much.
So what’s the benefit of not watching sports?
- First of all, I have more time. I’ve set a goal to read 75 books this year and I’ve already read more this month than ever before. My daughter and I have a little competition going to see who can read more books. She’s winning but it’s fun to share that journey with her. I’m currently reading a biography about Winston Churchill and it’s fascinating.
- I’m doing more than just sitting around. I have been taking more walks, playing with the dogs, and actually listening and talking with my family about real things. It’s been a healthy change.
- I’ve been eating less chips. Sports and chips are interrelated to me, so not watching means that I don’t have as many cravings for unhealthy snacks.
- I’m just happier. I still love my university, I’m proud to be an alum, but I’m not going to die if they lose (to Northwestern, of all places). I am honestly shocked at how freeing it has been not to care as much about how my teams are doing.
It feels great to finally enjoy the fruits of a successful New Year’s resolution.
The moral of the story is: make a realistic resolution and do your best. Don’t beat yourself up if you fail, just keep working toward the goal of a healthier and happier you.
You are worth the effort.