Seven-Point Guide to Recovery
After a year from hell, self-improvement experts, artists, and activists provide ideas for building a better 2017 — for yourself and for the world
Table of Contents
1. Phone a Friend 2. Make Your Gym a Mosh Pit
3. Get on the Bus 4. Free Your Inner Harmoine
5. Bet off the Pounds 6. Embrace Loss
7. Keep Breathing Special Thanks
The Realist’s Guide to Going to Gym
Forget remaking your abs in one fell swoop — what a fitness regime needs is a social network and a plan
It was the last week of December, and the Planet Fitness on Wyckoff Avenue was bracing for its annual onslaught of new members. Straddling the border between Ridgewood and Bushwick, each January the gym with the purple-and-yellow-splashed façade draws droves of fresh hopefuls, novice athletes who rouse themselves from their hangovers and food comas to clog treadmills and drip sweat doing bench presses until their enthusiasm wears thin by mid-February.
“It hasn’t been too bad because it’s winter right now, but once the New Year’s resolutions come in, it’s going to be crazy,” Andre Rodriguez, a nineteen-year-old team member at Planet Fitness, told me as Smash Mouth blared from the speakers. At nearly 10 p.m. on a Tuesday, Rodriguez had just finished signing up a couple of sweatpant-clad twentysomethings who paid their holiday special $1 start-up fees in spare change. “It’s usually about two months” before the new members start to drop off, he continued. “People exaggerate and say two weeks, but [pretty soon] everyone is going to start leaving.”
Stuck in an on-again-off-again relationship with Planet Fitness for nearly a decade, I’ve become something of an expert when it comes to failure at the gym. The truth is I’m still trapped in the same cycle of bad habits that have stunted my gym progress since day one: an absence of
concrete goals, a lack of accountability, and a level of commitment that waxes and wanes with my mood. My most recent tryst with the “Judgment Free Zone” began last summer, when I allowed Planet Fitness to start taking $10 out of my bank account every thirty days for months before I finally started a semi-regular routine around Thanksgiving. (The gym’s infamous pizza and bagel days haven’t exactly helped my physique either, but I digress.)
According to a 2016 study from data analytics company Cardlytics, nearly 50 percent of new gym-goers cancel their memberships by the end of January, and just 22 percent last through October. But while gym business models largely depend on quitters who pay their fees without ever working up a sweat (if all 8.7 million Planet Fitness members exercised simultaneously, no one would get
a turn on the elliptical), some do succeed in their fitness goals. And according to experts, physical fitness is more a game of mental fortitude and planning than a contest measured by deadlifts and squats.
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results,” says Steve Kamb, founder of the website Nerd Fitness and author of the book Level Up Your Life: How to Unlock Adventure and Happiness by Becoming the Hero of Your Own Story. Raised on Super Nintendo and Lord of the Rings, Kamb spun his wheels in the gym for six years as a scrawny adolescent before transforming into a geek-friendly fitness guru. “You want to make your goal as specific as possible, and something where you can definitively say, ‘Yes, I did this’ or ‘No, I didn’t.’ So a bad goal is ‘I want to lose weight’ or ‘I want to go to exercise more.’ A good goal is, ‘I want to lose x amount of pounds by this date’ or ‘I would like to go to the gym three times per week.’ ”
Long-term gains, experts say, look more like a slow and methodical game of chess, one in which fledgling gym rats seek to continually outsmart their own inner critics. Kamb prescribes building a routine “over many, many months, rather than all or nothing. These are changes that you’re making permanently, not the roller coaster yo-yo that many people go on.”
According to Kamb, success hinges on setting up systems and safety nets. Start by taking things slow and building up new habits one step at a time — walk a few minutes each day, or order vegetables in place of french fries. He also lauds the benefits of having an “accountabilibuddy”: When motivation inevitably begins to plummet in February, give a wad of cash to a friend and instruct them to donate to a political cause you despise every time you miss a workout.
Still, one problem with New Year’s gym resolutions — and all big, life-changing goals, for that matter — is the tendency to declare victory before the battle even begins. The appeal of signing up for the gym on January 1, and posting about it on social media for the world to see, speaks to our desire to reinvent ourselves at a moment’s notice. Real progress, however, is often incremental.
Keeping abstract, long-term goals to yourself is a good idea, says Peter Gollwitzer, an NYU psychology professor and a leading authority on goal attainment and motivation, “because telling others about them may already give you a feeling of having moved forward, which in turn reduces your motivation to actually act.”
If motivation is a finite resource, the best use of it may not be to rush headlong toward the dumbbells, but to sit down and plan out a course of action — which can be as simple as packing a gym bag the night before or prepaying for personal training sessions. The difference between my ten-year merry-go-round of gym memberships and a workout regimen that actually sticks is more than just willpower.
Though David Napolitano started his membership at Planet Fitness in September — hoping to drop a few pant sizes before a wedding — in some ways January marks a fresh start for him, too. December was a “cheat month,” Napolitano jokes, but now he’s ready to travel from his apartment in Bed-Stuy to Ridgewood three times a week to get back on track. He’s devised a schedule with a trainer, works out with two close friends, and hopes to one day muscle through a set of pull-ups without any help. But perhaps most important, Napolitano used that month off to let go of the all-or-nothing perfectionism that can be poison to a new gym-goer.
“I’m usually a little down in the dumps when December rolls around, for various reasons, so I just kind of did what I felt would make me happy, and going to the gym didn’t happen to be it,” he explains. “Now, with the days getting shorter and everything, [exercising] actually helps me with my depression a little bit — both the endorphins of it, but also feeling like I’m accomplishing something.”
The other day, Napolitano accidentally put on the wrong pair of pants while getting dressed for work — a smaller waist size that he hadn’t been able to wiggle into for years. To his surprise, they fit.
“It was a tangible result from what I had been doing,” he says. Whether that small victory can propel Napolitano past February, or just lead to another “cheat month,” remains to be seen.
Illustrations by David Saracino
Rock ’n’ Roll Workouts
A new wave of fitness centers provide edgier alternatives to the usual gym treadmill
Fitness, like everything else in this city, can be a down-and-dirty battle — and the local health club doesn’t always rouse everyone to fight. If the same old treadmill runs and spin classes are getting you nowhere, maybe it’s time to try an edgier approach: A growing number of gym alternatives offer offbeat workouts that promise to kick your resolutions square in the ass. Eat your heart out, Lululemon.
Overthrow NYC revels in backroom-ring culture — more Fight Club than Rocky.
Located in the Bleecker Street building that until 2014 housed members of Abbie Hoffman’s Yippies — the boxing club’s name references the organization’s Overthrow magazine, equipment is labeled “Steal This Bag” in a nod to Hoffman’s most famous book, and Sid Vicious and GG Allin memorabilia is on display — this gym stays true
to the aesthetic with sessions in its grungy basement. The 45-minute Boxing Burnout Class is suitable for all skill levels and mostly covers the basics: shadowboxing, bag work, technique — all no-contact stuff, with the goal of building strength and accuracy. Ring-work classes are available on the brighter but still dingy main level, along with private training. The young, thoroughly tattooed trainers are experienced instructors — many, like Alicia Napoleon and Melissa St. Vil, are pro boxers themselves. For those who want to get fit but also live it up, Friday night’s Boxing & Booze
always wraps with a cold beer. Various class times, 9 Bleecker Street, 646-705-0332, overthrownyc.com, $34 per class.
Anyone who’s been to a punk show knows they can resemble a communal sweat bath, and now you can harness the cardio benefits without waiting for your favorite band to come to town. Tim Haft’s 45-minute MoshFit promises to burn you a “shitload of calories”— 400 to 500, approximately — while improving strength, agility, power, and stamina. As in his signature Punk Rope classes, Haft emphasizes having fun and creating a judgment-free community, as you work out to the loud, fast riffs of the Ramones, Stiff Little Fingers, and the Misfits. Stage lunges, side planks, mountain climbers, and other bodyweight exercises supplement the cardio dance moves. And since this semimonthly class takes place in a tiki bar right before happy hour, you’ll have earned yourself a post-mosh drink.
At 6:30 p.m., first and third Tuesdays,
Otto’s Shrunken Head, 538 East 14th Street, 212-228-2240, ottosshrunkenhead.com, suggestion donation $10 per class.
Gotham Girls Basic Training
When it comes to teaching how to skate and do physical battle at the same time, there are no better instructors than five-time Women’s Flat Track Derby Association world champions the Gotham Girls. All genders are welcome, and no playing experience is needed: The only requirement is that you can make it around the track without holding on to walls or people. Biannual sessions, all taught by Gotham Girls coaches or skaters, are ten weeks long and divided by skill level. This is a class for those looking to build muscle without the weights, as skating brings out that tight core and toned legs. More advanced skaters build up to making contact as they learn form, crossovers, and safe falls. Returning participants will scrimmage to sharpen their competitive edge. Winter session
January 7–March 11, spring session April 1–June 27, gothamgirlsrollerderby.com, $250 per ten-week session.
Anyone turned off by yoga’s Zen-and-rainbows approach can try Metal Yoga,
a class that promises to get you holding poses until you “feel the hellfire creeping into” your body. Founding instructor Saskia Thode teaches to the oddly meditative music of Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and Bathory, among others. Throw up your devil horns (in Warrior 1) and open your heart to Satan (in Camel Pose). The class provides all the time-tested body-and-mind benefits of traditional yoga, but you’re just as likely to practice alongside metalheads in jeans as athletes in tights. Like most yoga it’s low-impact but effective for all body types, toning and elongating muscle while increasing flexibility. Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m. (75 min.) and
Sundays at 2 p.m. (90 min.), the Cobra Club, 6 Wyckoff Avenue, Brooklyn, 917-719-1138, cobraclubbk.com, $13 per class.
Illustrations by Remie Geoffroi
The Joy of Inauguration Protest
The dawn of the Trumpists will also usher in a new age of activism. Here’s how to join the fun in D.C.
The night after Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, I was walking up Broadway when I saw a woman weeping on the corner. Hundreds of protesters were marching north toward Trump Tower, drivers were blaring their horns in frustration or support, and illuminated ads for smartphones and snack foods turned the rainy air into a noxious fog. This woman stood crying with relief.
“So many people woke up this morning feeling disempowered,” Becky Phillips told me. “I am so excited to see so many people still feeling like they have power, and coming together. This is really hopeful,” she added.
As I scribbled her words down in my wet notebook, I remembered how drained of power the crowds on the subway had felt that first morning — sapped of the crackling energy that had drawn millions of us to this filthy town in the first place. In the street that night, among my fellow New Yorkers who rely on one another for a seat on the train, for a hand up endless staircases, for survival, our sense of community returned. And we were all sending a message to the man who threatens to destroy it.
A little after noon on Friday, January 20, that man will become the most powerful person on the planet. D.C. officials expect at least 800,000 people to show up for inauguration weekend — roughly the same number President Barack Obama saw for his second inauguration, in 2013, but around a million less than Obama’s 2009 swearing-in. According to the National Parks Service, 21 different groups have applied for First Amendment permits on federal land along the inauguration route. Others are just planning on showing up and speaking their minds.
“Power concedes nothing without a demand,” Frederick Douglass famously said, and those demands are much harder to ignore if they’re made in person. With too much at stake to stay home, the only questions left are: When do you go, and how do you get there?
WHEN TO GO?
Several groups will host demonstrations for tens of thousands of protesters aimed at either disrupting Trump’s inaugural parade procession or at least heaping unwanted scrutiny on our dangerously thin-skinned president:
• Freedom Plaza, 7 a.m.: The Act Now to Stop War & End Racism Coalition (ANSWER), a group steered by members of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, a split-off from the Workers World Party, is holding a permitted rally not far from the White House and in plain view of the parade route. “It’s a historic moment in that you have a president elect who is promising to declare war on workers’ rights, women’s rights, immigrant rights, and you’re not gonna change history by staying at home; you make history by standing up,” Ben Becker, an ANSWER spokesperson, tells the Voice. “We [sought] a permit because we want to have people feel comfortable and confident that they can come out and protest.”
• Dupont Circle, 8 a.m.: A group called DCMJ will hand out coffee, tea, and 4,200 joints before marching to the National Mall at 10 a.m. “We’re forcing Donald Trump and Senator Jeff Sessions to be tolerant of the cannabis movement,” says Adam Eidinger, the group’s founder, referring to Trump’s attorney general pick, who once said that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.” DCMJ’s website states that four minutes and twenty seconds into Trump’s speech, participants will “light up!” (Eidinger says he officially discourages public smoking, which is illegal on the Mall, but notes some may feel “compelled” to break the law.) “Trump has a choice: on day one he can arrest all of us, we’re all going to be one place.”
• McPherson Square, 9 a.m.: A collective of anarchist-aligned organizations under the name #DisruptJ20 will meet for “mass protests to shut down the inauguration of Donald Trump and planning widespread direct actions to make that happen,” according to the group’s website.
• Independence Avenue and Third Street S.W., 10 a.m. Around 200,000 people are expected to converge on the Mall for a Women’s March on Washington that is not being explicitly framed as a protest against Donald Trump. “We are centering women and women’s rights for this march as opposed to centering it around politics and ‘anti this’ or ‘anti that’ sort of rhetoric,” says Bob Bland, one of the organizers. “This is something that generations have already been fighting for, and we’ve made a lot of strides during that time, but we’re still clearly nowhere near where we need to be when it comes to civil rights, when you look at misogyny, bigotry, and racism in the U.S.”
WHERE TO STAY?
• Hotels in and around D.C. are either full or prohibitively expensive. As this story went to press, Airbnb was listing entire apartments for rent in D.C. proper in the $350 to $400 nightly range, with prices dropping to $250 and $150 in Virginia and Maryland; single rooms outside the city are still renting at around $80 to $100.
• Some local activists are helping visiting protesters find a place to sleep, with #DisruptJ20 stating on its website that it will give priority to “black and brown, trans and queer, and disabled folks.” The Rev. Robert Hardies of All Souls Church Unitarian in D.C., located around two miles from the inaugural parade route, said that his church is sponsoring a pay-what-you-can couch-surfing campaign for “progressive people of faith” after a “bed and breakfast” at his church filled up with forty attendees. While he says he wishes he could personally host more visitors, “we’re not sure our plumbing can take that many folks.”
HOW TO GET THERE?
• A few Amtrak tickets are left, but they’re at odd hours and at least $160 apiece. At press time, Megabus, Bolt Bus, Peter Pan, Greyhound, and GotoBus all had seats available before and on Inauguration Day for $30 to $50 each way. ANSWER still has seats on its buses running from Union Square, East Harlem, and Jackson Heights for $50 round-trip; you can also apply for a discounted fare. Those buses leave at 1 a.m. on Friday morning and return to New York Friday night.
• Four-day car rentals from Newark Airport range from $100 for a compact to a little more than $200 for a minivan, but driving into D.C. isn’t advisable. Instead you could try parking at or near a Washington Metro or MARC train station in Maryland or Virginia to get into the city. (Both Metro and MARC are running more frequent service on inauguration weekend, but both shut down at midnight.) Try to arrive early: “Historically, end-of-the-line station parking does fill up fast,” says Ron Holzer, a spokesperson for the Washington Metro.
While the logistics of getting to the protests may be necessarily ad hoc, organizers hope that the same outrage that filled the streets after Election Day will bring record-breaking crowds to greet the Trump White House. To those still on the fence, Bland poses this question: “Is there anything about this country that you’d like to changed? If so, get your butt to Washington.”
Research assistance by Gunar Olsen
Continuing-education classes don’t just build skills, they can make you a better — and more effective — person
In college, I had a sculpture professor who swore I’d be an “international superstar.” My initial attempts at crafting a realistic bust of my project partner had come out looking more like a Nick Park creation than the Venus de Milo, leaving me to cure my boredom by making clay vegetable gardens. It was those tiny, cartoonish carrots and pumpkins that caught my professor’s eye, and he gave me a new assignment for the rest of the semester: Make as many minuscule vegetables as possible and mount them onto clay tiles for an entire wall of gardens.
It’s experiences like those that I relish — when thinking outside the box wins the day. Years out of school and mired in the nine-to-whenever workday, it seems nigh on impossible to recapture the magic of discovering something within myself (even through mistakes, or lack of sculpting ability) that isn’t motivated by the next paycheck. That’s where my New Year’s resolution comes in.
In the Age of Trump, while signing change.org petitions and attending rallies are important, allowing your brain a creative critical-thinking workout every day is going to be a vital part of thriving. Now, more than ever, the world needs Hermione Grangers: strong individuals eager to raise their hands and show off their knowledge even at the risk of looking uncool, and to speak up, indulge their curiosity, and learn. After spending the last weeks of 2016 bingeing on Bob Ross how-tos, I decided it was high time I stopped watching and started participating. This year, I’m working out and toning something that isn’t spandex-clad: my mind.
One of the biggest challenges aspiring lifelong learners face in choosing a class is whether to go with the head or the heart. Choose something in line with your profession that will further your career in the long run? Or choose something that will fuel your passion and help strengthen your creative life? A survey of my friends brought plenty of suggestions, from Brooklyn Brainery and Brooklyn Botanic Garden to the Office of Adult and Continuing Education and local community centers. A few friends said they’d secured work stipends to complete classes, while others had tried building on what they already knew.
“I wanted to continue using my degree, but apply it and challenge myself in a new way,” a fellow English major said of her writing classes at Second City, which offers online coursework for those not in Chicago. “It’s been awesome to write every week without the pressure.” Another friend talked about the unexpected joys of community center courses, which he said can be cheap but hit-or-miss in terms of quality: “The worst-case scenario is it’s a little boring, but I had a whole hell of a lot of fun learning to tap-dance with a bunch of moms.”
Ideally, you’ll want to take in-person classes, which get you out of that matchbox you call home, help you meet people from all walks of life, and encourage new perspectives. If you lack spending money, there are tons of free and sliding-scale classes around New York City. And if your schedule doesn’t permit the IRL, online courses can allow for weird hours and great professor-student feedback unconstrained by classroom walls.
With so much noise to sift through, here are a few local places where curiosity is rewarded:
For something off the beaten path
There’s more to Brooklyn Brainery (brooklynbrainery.com), a self-described “book club on steroids,” than meets the eye. The adult education school with sites in Prospect Heights and Windsor Terrace offers a casual community approach to education that takes student suggestions and creates courses that range from soapmaking and tarot card basics to the history of “Nasty Women of Ancient Egypt.” What you get here are hands-on lessons taught by experts who won’t charge you an arm and a leg. If you’re interested in trying a little bit of everything until you find your passion, your wallet will thank you.
For traditional learning
The New York Public Library (nypl.org/events/classes) offers thousands of free classes each year — from basic English to tech how-tos (there’s even a mini workshop on 3-D printing). If you’re looking for something straightforward, or just another excuse to hit the library once in a while, these are a good option.
To get in touch with the earth
There’s more than just putting trowel to dirt at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (bbg.org/learn), though there are plenty of gardening lessons, too. You can also learn to ferment, concoct herbal medicines, or capture landscapes with watercolors. The best part? In a city with few opportunities to get up close and personal with greenery (without worrying about whether someone puked there last week), you can get your hands dirty in BBG’s teaching-oriented greenhouses and gardens.
For those tired of Seamless
Williamsburg’s Brooklyn Kitchen (thebrooklynkitchen.com/classes) boasts some of the borough’s best classes for home cooks, teaching folks to ditch delivery apps and pick up a knife (literally, in the case of nose-to-tail butchery classes). If you’re a dessert devotee, try out a Bake the Book event at Milk Bar’s Williamsburg classroom (milkbarstore.com/main/classes-2), where you can learn to make chef Christina Tosi’s crack pie (which really does live up to its cheeky name).
To prepare for the worst (or just a weekend getaway)
Mountain Scout Survival School (mtnscoutsurvival.com) will make you into the self-sufficient survivalist you always wanted to be. Whether you want to learn how to track animals (in the “wilds” of Brooklyn or at the school’s upstate location) or just want to be ready for urban emergencies, these classes will help you prepare for just about anything.
And just about everything else
Course Horse (coursehorse.com/nyc) gathers up thousands of classes from organizations around the city and puts them all into one easily searchable location. Want to try your hand at glassblowing or leatherworking? Or brush up on your dusty French, or even get into armored combat? This is a grab bag of pretty much every kind of class (from professional and life skills to performing arts and tech), taught by specialists who will help you master new skills every step of the way.
In the end, passion won out: For my first course, I’m pursuing calligraphy —what seems like a dying art, save for the infinite chalkboard writing and invitation samples clogging my Instagram and Pinterest. I’ve always been a doodler and a letter writer; why not combine the two and send out some nice missives in 2017? I may not be building a wall of vegetables, but I’m ready to stock my arsenal of artistry for the years ahead.
Illustrations by Klaus Kremmerz
A new set of weight loss apps don’t count calories, they offer dollars
Dieting apps are almost as old as app stores themselves, though at first these programs were little more than simple expansions on the tried-and-true food diary. The most popular meal-logging apps, like Calorie Counter and Lose It, now tap into vast online databases of foods and their nutritional content. This helps with the daily data entry, but ultimately leaves almost all of the motivational burden on your shoulders (and waist and butt and thighs).
More recently, though, a wave of new apps is seeking to apply sophisticated psychological principles to help users shed pounds. One peer-reviewed study from 2008 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that dieters who were rewarded with financial incentives — or punished along similar lines — lost three times as much weight as those who weren’t, and were five times more likely to meet weight loss goals. And the Mayo Clinic found in 2013 that 62 percent of dieters in a financially incentivized group lost weight, while only 26 percent of those in a control group did. Seizing upon such research, developers have cooked up a variety of apps that employ a range of carrots and sticks to raise the stakes for dieters.
HealthyWage (iOS and Android, free) was directly inspired by the 2008 JAMA study. The concept behind the app is simple: Place a bet (called a HealthyWager) on how much weight you intend to lose by when, and the app will calculate a cash reward you’ll receive if you make it. The company calculates the prize amount based on variables that include everything from your current body mass index to the time of year the bet is placed, with more challenging goals commanding higher rewards. In addition to the individual bets, employers can use HealthyWage to devise group challenges for their workers, who compete as teams to lose the greatest percentage of weight.
HealthyWage says that people are “surprisingly honest about their bets,” though it also requires participants to verify their weight loss before cashing in their winnings. (You can either use the app to take videos of your weigh-ins, which are then reviewed by HealthyWage referees, or have your weight corroborated by a medical professional.)
To discourage yo-yo dieting, once you’ve lost weight via a HealthyWager, you have to get back to that weight before placing another bet. Of course, the healthiest wager would be one that bet on long-term weight maintenance, but the company says it’s found that maintaining weight loss “just isn’t very exciting” — although it is working on some new approaches.
Created by three Yale professors, StickK (iOS and Android, prerelease, free) follows a similar model of financial incentive, allowing members to make legally binding “commitment contracts” with themselves for a multitude of habits to adopt or end, or goals to meet. StickK’s contracts, however, can be far more devious than HealthyWage’s: For those who fail to meet their goals, StickK donates a predetermined amount of money to the charity of their choice. For an extra bit of motivation, you can choose to give to a cause you oppose — for example, gun control advocates could choose to have their escrow funds sent to the NRA or lifelong Democrats could help support the George W. Bush Presidential Library.
For those seeking a side dish of personality with their weight loss incentivizing, consider the wisecracking, slightly sadistic digital provocateur Carrot, created by Grailr. Founded by a former screenwriter, the iPhone developer boasts apps including Carrot Hunger (iOS only, free, offers streamlined services with in-app purchase), which tracks food intake via barcode scan, a food database, and manual entry.
Carrot Hunger punishes its users, whom it gleefully refers to as “chubby humans,” by way of monetary loss (demanding a 99-cent bribe not to count an item’s calories), onscreen eyesores (full-screen pop-up ads, some of which are ruses), and peer pressure (publishing embarrassing tweets such as “I enjoy eating so much, my calorie counter now has to publicly shame me for going over my goal”). The snark extends to asking users if they’d like reminders to log food entries: “Compared to omniscient supercomputers, meatbags have terrible memories.”
To help meet daily caloric goals, Carrot Hunger provides the companion app Carrot Fit (iOS only, $3.99), which offers rapid-fire exercises it calls “seven minutes in hell.” These consist of standard exercises like squats and push-ups; abandoning them mid-workout means pressing a “Yes, I suck” button. While there’s no direct integration between the two apps, both take advantage of Apple products beyond the iPhone: Carrot Fit can prompt exercises through the Apple Watch, and Carrot Hunger can use an iBeacon location sensor such as those from Estimote to remind you to log food when you’re near the fridge.
While incentives can create motivation for weight loss, their impact will inevitably vary from person to person. (Indeed, HealthyWage partly subsidizes rewards for those who win bets with payments from those who fail.) And if you don’t feel the need for algorithm-derived weight loss payouts, even lowly paper diaries have been proven to increase your chance of success. Digital brains can help make your diet healthier than ever, but it’s still ultimately the brains of “gluttonous humans,” as Carrot defines us, that determine whether we “indiscriminately stuff our chubby faces” or take a healthier path.
Illustrations by Neil Webb
If You Can't Mourn, Don't Organize
As decluttering Maria Kondo's empire grows, some early adopters find that demanding joy is harder than it looks
Four days in, Maria Walley realized she had nothing to wear.At first she hadn’t noticed. Standing in front of her closet, the 28-year-old Ohioan, who co-founded and runs marketing for a photography start-up, had admired her newly organized racks and evenly spaced hangers. The piles of old T-shirts had vanished. The once overflowing drawers shut smoothly. Maria had embarked on a radical decluttering mission, and now she was savoring its fruits.
Then reality hit. Cut down by two-thirds, Walley’s wardrobe was so devoid of clutter that it was...empty. “It had only been a few days, and everything I wanted to wear was in the hamper,” she recalled with a laugh. “That’s when I started thinking I went too far.”
Walley had Kondo’d herself into a corner. She had followed the advice of organizational consultant Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, a tiny book with a cloud-print cover and an ethereal title that has sold more than 6 million copies worldwide since it was published in 2011. Kondo’s prescription for decluttering hinges on a simple principle: Discard anything you own that fails to “spark joy.”
Readers have taken that message to heart. In New York, a consignment chain claimed to the Times that it saw a 20 percent increase in inventory thanks to the book. In the U.K., one nervous self-storage operator issued a press release urging customers not to trash childhood mementos. And Kondo is showing no sign of stopping: Since Life-Changing Magic was translated into English in 2014, its bright-eyed Japanese author, who dresses in florals and famously smiles at garments as she folds them, has penned two more books, launched an app to guide fans through the decluttering process, and begun training an army of consultants to, in her words, “organize the world.”
It’s a dramatic goal for a dramatic method. Kondo recommends permanent decluttering through a purge that typically takes about six months. “Aim for perfection,” she writes, and you will transform not only your home but your mindset. In the Kondo cosmology, stuff has psychic power. Discarded belongings should be thanked for their service, and socks should be shown appreciation through careful folding and storage. Animism is by far the most controversial aspect of Kondo — “I can’t believe she sold 6 million copies saying that your socks need to rest in a drawer,” says Barbara Reich, a professional organizer based in New York — but it’s also her greatest source of appeal. Whether or not you buy the idea that objects have feelings, you probably have lots of feelings about them.
For many on a Kondo journey, one of those feelings is regret. While Kondo acknowledges that regret is a normal part of decluttering — “You should expect this to happen at least three times during the tidying process,” she writes in Life-Changing Magic — some followers say her method spurred them to get rid of so much stuff it generated new emotional baggage.
“Clothes, books, out-of-print textbooks that cost hundreds of dollars,” rattles off Kelly St. Claire, 50. “What didn’t I get rid of?” Purging feels good in the moment, notes the Virginia wellness coach. “You lose track of time and get in the zone. I could get addicted to that feeling.” St. Claire discovered Life-Changing Magic around the time her boyfriend moved out, and saw it as a chance for a fresh start. These days, she considers it more the nuclear option of organizing: “I almost wish the book had come with a disclaimer. A breakup is not the right time to get rid of things.”
Even those who are happy with the results of decluttering have sore spots. For nanny Trish Mundle, 39, of the Bronx, it was a low-cut red dress with bell sleeves. “I think about it when someone mentions the book,” she says. For Joy Crook, 66, a plant nursery owner in Oregon, it was a tea set — or rather, the idea of herself as owner of a tea set. “I always thought I’d be the kind of person who’d have girlfriends over and entertain. Now I’m coming to terms with the fact that it was an illusion,” she says. Kondo writes that investing objects with anxieties about the future and attachments to the past is a major cause of clutter. Crook agrees. But “as wonderful and freeing as decluttering is, there is an element of grief that the book does not recognize,” she wrote on a Kondo forum.
Other decluttering methods promise less emotional turmoil. Unfuck Your Habitat — a Tumblr that is now a book — advertises itself as “for people who are terrified by Marie Kondo but intrigued at being able to see their floors again.” Its author, Rachel Hoffman, advocates twenty-minute stretches of tidying with ten-minute breaks, rather than marathon purges. “For me, the idea of taking every single item out of my closet and going through them one by one is overwhelming,” she says. “My approach is more practical rather than sweeping and theoretical.”
Then again, perhaps only a sweeping approach can effect lasting change. Eventually, Kelly St. Claire got back together with her boyfriend. When he moved back in to her house, “he didn’t totally get why I regretted getting rid of things,” she recalls. “He was glad. The house looked better.”
Illustrations by Nicole Licht
Master Your Reality
A meditation expert advises how to keep your bearings amid Trump heartbreak
That upside-down feeling? The perpetual sense of impending doom? If the Age of Trump has fried your circuits, Lodro Rinzler — author of The Buddha Walks Into a Bar and other spiritual practice guides and co-founder of the Greenwich Village meditation studio MNDFL — wants you to know you’re not alone. “We have a lot of people come here motivated by fear, anxiety around this particular issue,” says Rinzler, who’s been a meditation teacher for sixteen years. As if in response, MNDFL has just opened an Upper East Side location, with a Williamsburg spot soon to follow. If you’re one of the stressed-out New Yorkers Rinzler calls “medi-curious,” dropping in for a first class costs just $10.
People woke up on November 9 with a grinding anxiety, like they were trapped in an endless Black Sabbath song.
People really feel heartbroken, essentially. Heartbroken, for lack of a better explanation, is when you have an expectation of how things are going to go and then reality steps in and says no, and your expectations are dashed to the wind. Now you’re heartbroken — and that includes feeling depressed and angry and frustrated and betrayed and the myriad emotions that I was certainly feeling and I think other people were feeling.
What’s the simplest thing someone can do to calm those feelings?
When we get stuck in worry, sometimes the simplest thing is to just stop, raise your gaze or close your eyes, and take three deep breaths in through the nose, then out through the mouth. Just pausing and doing that actually calms the nervous system and allows us to come back to a point where we may be able to think of things a little bit more differently.
The millionth time we’re playing out a potential situation we might ask ourselves: “Is this useful? Is me sitting here on my own worrying about something that may or may not come to reality useful?” The Tibetan Buddhist teacher Dilgo Khyentse once said that he never understood why us Westerners worry so much. If we worry about something and it doesn’t happen, we spent all of the mental energy for something that wasn’t reality. And if it does happen, what was the point in worrying? Because you didn’t do anything, and it still happened.
We get so lost in worry as opposed to saying, “OK, I can drop the storyline for a moment to come into my body and just notice what’s coming up.” Just feel the emotions for what they are. We can say, “Oh, there’s heartbreak. It feels like a sinking in the pit of my stomach and tightness in my shoulders and deep lethargy.” Starting to become familiar with the underlying emotions, we might actually see action that we want to take. But it’s not based in worry and neurosis. It’s based on our own wisdom, because we’re actually a little bit more embodied.
So meditation can help people move to action?
A lot of people come to a place like MNDFL with the idea that they’re suffering. The more familiar that they get with their own suffering, neurosis, pain, strong emotions, the more they start to see that in everyone else around them. So it’s no longer, “I’m a really angry or upset person and I’m in a bubble.” It’s, “I’m going about my day and I notice my co-worker is really upset and angry.” And all of a sudden it’s not me versus him, it’s an empathetic thing. It’s we.
Then step one is get grounded, take a breath, get in touch with me. Step two is get to we.
Exactly. People need to find out their own skillful means for how they would like to show up in what seems like a radically altered societal norm. That’s going to look different for everyone. It might mean giving to charities. It might mean donating your time. It might mean quitting your job and sitting in front of the White House and protesting for the next year. So long as it comes from a place of self-awareness it’s all super helpful. But when we’re talking about coming to the point of “we” it’s like: What’s our intention? If our intention is to force anyone into our point of view we may end up disappointed. But if our intention is to actually connect and understand others and try to effect change from a place of wholeness and compassion, then we might have a shot at changing minds and hearts.
MNDFL, 10 East 8th Street; 239 East 60th Street; mndflmeditation.com