John was the toughest guy in the ninth grade — which wasn't a bad thing if he liked you.
Thankfully, he liked me, and I was smart enough to figure out how to keep it that way. When he blasted me from behind during football practice, I jumped up and told him, "Good hit!" When he found out I was interested in a girl he liked, he said I should stay away from her, and I agreed. And when we were matched in a gym class wrestling tournament, we worked out a mutually beneficial strategy: I would go down quickly, and he wouldn't hurt me.
Cowardice? That's such an ugly word. I prefer to think of it as Adolescent Darwinism. Just as turtles didn't outlive the dinosaurs by being tougher than a T-Rex, I figured that the safest way to survive junior high was to stay on John's good side — which was sometimes hard to find.
Like during gym class basketball games. John was a fierce rebounder and defender, but he had no offensive game at all.
Layups caromed off the rim wildly. Backboards began to quiver even before his jump shots crashed into them. And his free throws weren't free throws; they were adventures. All of which was upsetting to John. And since it was unwise to play against him when he was upset, I offered a little constructive criticism.
"The problem with your free throws is your follow-through," I said.
"My what?" he replied, ominously.
"Follow-through," I continued. "As you shoot, you're supposed to follow through by flicking your wrist. Like this." I demonstrated, forming a graceful goose-neck with my wrist.
"That looks goofy," John said.
"Maybe so. But it's better than shooting shots that look goofy."
That was a tactical error on my part. Within a few minutes I was on my back, the result of a well-placed elbow from John while going after a rebound. As I hustled out of the gym, blood spurting from my nose, I heard him call after me: "How was that follow-through?"
So I'm a little reluctant to discuss follow-through with anyone, especially since I'm clearly no expert on the subject — and no, I'm not talking about the follow-through on my jump shot, which still goose-necks nicely. I'm talking about the follow-through that makes it possible for us to accomplish the goals we set as each new year approaches.
Take, for example, my 2012 goal: lose 20 pounds. In order to do so, I swore off Diet Dr Pepper. I cut out late night junk food binges. I started eating healthier and exercising a half-hour a day. In fact, I swore off, cut out and started those things three or four times during the year.
You see, I'm great at setting goals, but like my junior high buddy John, I'm not much at following through. I've jumped on and off the Diet Dr Pepper wagon so many times I've increased my vertical leap by 3 inches. I've started so many diets that Kirstie Alley, Valerie Bertinelli and Marie Osmond want to do an intervention for me. And I've launched enough exercise regimens to depress Richard Simmons.Comment on this story
But this year, I'm taking my own advice: I'm going to accomplish my New Year's goals by following through. For each resolution I make, I'm also going to make a plan for how I'm going to accomplish it. While it's important to keep our eyes on our ultimate, long-range goals, it is sometimes discouraging to think about losing 20 pounds when the weight comes off an ounce at a time. That's where focusing on the plan — the follow-through — can help. If working the plan becomes the resolution, then accomplishment of the ultimate goal naturally follows.
I can't lose 20 pounds today, but I can exercise for 30 minutes today. I can say "no" to late night snacks tonight. I can drink more water and less Diet Dr Pepper today. And if I follow through on the plan every day, every week for 52 weeks, the 20 pounds will naturally fall off.
And come New Year's Day 2014, my goose-neck will look more graceful than ever.
To read more by Joseph B. Walker, please go to www.josephbwalker.com.