Hey, guys, we’re four days into 2009 and chances are good that you’re already feeling like a loser. Resolutions not working out too well, eh? It’s pretty easy to see why. Too much rich food, maybe a bit too much to drink and no exercise beyond the occasional lame attempt to shovel snow have turned you into twice the man – at least around your waist – that you were in high school.
But don’t stop there. Look in your closet. That pile of rags you call clothing belongs in a landfill.
When was the last time you read an actual book (and don’t count that Grisham novel your wife stuffed into your Christmas stocking) or watched a movie with subtitles?
And when was the last time you balanced your checkbook?
OK, forget that last one. We don’t do it either.
But guess what? If any of what you’ve so far read hits home, then you’ve come to the right place. Because we’re going to offer you a Guy’s Guide to Self-Improvement for 2009.
With one difference: Unlike the way these kinds of guides are usually written, we’re going to reveal some improvement tips – and if they don’t work, then we’ll show you how to fake it.
Either way, you’re gonna feel better. And soon. Trust us.
Personal trainer Travis Knight can compress his workout ethic to two words: “work capacity.”
What that means depends on your intent. Distance runners and competitive weight-lifters have more or less set routines.
“But if you’re just trying to get into shape, that’s more multifaceted,” says Knight, the head personal trainer at Spokane’s University District Physical Therapy.
And because it’s multifaceted, Knight says, the average person should think in terms of “being able to work out at different levels of intensity.”
Which means doing lighter workouts for longer periods, heavier workouts for shorter periods, all while mixing and matching the two methods – incorporating weights, exercise machines and aerobic programs – to push your body as it gets stronger.
And how do we fake it? Well, the easiest, most visible muscle groups to work are your arms and shoulders.
So encase yourself in a tanktop and use dumbbells to work your biceps, triceps and shoulders. A few weeks’ efforts should develop enough muscle definition to draw attention to the one part of your body in seemingly good shape.
Knight, though, has one caveat.
“I don’t think I can have my name associated with the word ‘tanktop,’ ” he says. “That’s scary.”
You think food is the center of your life? Consider the plight of Leslie Kelly. As restaurant critic for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the former Spokesman-Review food writer eats out five to seven times a week.
As she knows only too well, eating so much rich food, particularly when your job involves following the latest trends, can be hard on the body.
“One of the trendiest ingredients for 2008 was bacon,” Kelly says. “They even put bacon on doughnuts.”
It should come as no surprise, then, that she’s developed her own eating strategies. For 2009, for example, she says, “I’m going to cut bacon out of my diet. Or I may not cut it completely, but I’m going to cut back.”
The point, Kelly says, is to make every bite count. And, at least in a food sense, she strives to accentuate the positive.
“I don’t eat junk food,” she says, “although I do have one bag of Cheetos every year. The point is that I don’t deny myself, because once I do I start craving bad stuff.”
As for faking it, Kelly says she sometimes flips the order of her meals. She may have a big breakfast, then order nothing but soup for dinner.
Not only does eating light, late meals make people think you’re dieting, it might actually work.
“If you don’t eat past 6 p.m., you’ll lose weight,” she says. “Of course, then you might as well go to bed at 9…
“Oh, wait,” she adds, “I do go to bed at 9.”
Your fashion style
Face it. Those saggy jeans and that faded Seahawks hoodie may not prevent you from getting a decent-paying job, but it won’t necessarily be the job you want.
And your raggedy comfort clothes certainly aren’t going to get you any dates.
So listen to Gary Anderson, co-owner of the upscale men’s clothing store Anderson & Emami and champion of fine men’s clothing.
“If you buy a nice suit, or a nice sportcoat and pants,” he says, “it tends to make you look your best.”
Whatever kind of clothing you buy, though, Anderson stresses that the main thing to remember is to buy the right size.
“Make sure you don’t buy clothing too tight,” he says. “Guys say, ‘Oh, I don’t want to buy that big a size.’ So they try to buy a smaller size, thinking that it’ll make them feel better because they aren’t that bigger size. But it actually makes them look worse.”
The nice thing is that you don’t have to change your entire wardrobe (besides, who wears a sportcoat to watch football?). You can fake it by a making few judicious purchases.
As Anderson says, “When a guy wears a nice suit or a nice sportcoat, with an overcoat, he can look pretty slim, even if he’s overweight.”
Your personal style
Joe Lobb, one of the owners of the three Man Shop barber locations around town, says he’s noticed an unfortunate look that’s become fairly prevalent.
“Everybody wants to be a UFC fighter, whether they were the class idiot or not, you know what I mean?” Lobb says. “Shaving your head bald, throwing on a fancy hat and a UFC shirt, I’m seeing a lot of that right now.”
UFC, of course, refers to the Ultimate Fighting Championship, one of the mixed-martial arts associations that sanctions kick-ass cage fighting. But you already know that.
And you know that trying to look like, say, Georges St.-Pierre, is practically impossible.
So maybe the trick to looking good is simply to avoid looking, to use Lobb’s words, like the class idiot. Or, at any rate, something you very definitely are not.
That doesn’t mean, though, that you have to avoid embracing your essential maleness. As Lobb says, The Man Shop “is a place where a guy can come in and scratch himself, lie and curse in comfort.”
So, in other words, find a place to be yourself without worrying about embarrassing anyone.
Meanwhile, get a haircut, maybe a shave, and then leave feeling good about yourself.
Your sense of aesthetics
Say, you’re at a party and someone mentions the newest novel by Don DeLillo. Not only are you ignorant of the novel, but you’ve never even heard of DeLillo.
It may be small comfort, but you’re not alone. We all fall into situations in which we’re sadly un- or misinformed.
“I’m always amazed, I guess, at how many people just are completely oblivious to news and culture and just what’s out there,” says Andy Dinnison, owner of the downtown novelty shop/bookstore Boo Radley’s.
The trick to gaining a bit of knowledge is to not see it as a chore. Take 10 minutes a day and do something you’ve never done before. Open yourself up to new experiences.
“You have to put a few things out there that will expand your horizons,” Dinnison says. “And, yeah, make it a habit. Habit is what it’s all about, isn’t it? Whether that comes to exercise, whether that comes to grooming or whether it comes to bettering yourself intellectually, I think it’s just getting into the habit of making it so it’s part of your norm.”
If that’s too much for you, Dinnison is selling something that might help. It’s a book by Laurence Whitted-Fry titled “The Art of Faking It: Sounding Smart Without Really Knowing Anything.”
It might be the best $12.95 you ever spent.
The total package
This, then, is your new self. You’re fit, or look it. You own at least one decent adult outfit. You know what to eat (or not eat). You’ve embraced the inner you.
What else do you need to know?
Well, therapist Nina Danielson offers several suggestions in her book “What to Do When Your Therapist Isn’t There: A 24/7 Guide to Coping with Life on Your Own.”
Not that you need therapy. You’re a guy. Just saying.
Danielson, though, has one suggestion that may help put all these suggestions together. It involves reducing expectations.
“Maybe the food won’t be perfect,” she says, “maybe you’ll have a zit on your nose to clash with your new outfit, or maybe there will be a disagreement or two.
“Lower the bar. Expect reality – with all its wonders and warts.”
Or fake it. Whatever.