A Curious New Year

a curious new year      1.14.14

I wasn’t going to make a New Year’s resolution this year. Back in my 20s, I used to vow

Each January I would bring grapefruit to work and watch them go soft on my desk.

every January to eat more fruits and vegetables. For the next several weeks, I would bring a grapefruit to work, place it on my desk, and watch it slowly go soft. Why make resolutions on January 1, I thought, when there are 364 other days in the year for me to be more healthy, more efficient, and more proactive in pursuing my goals?

But around January 3, my thinking changed. A new year affords a new start, as do the first day of a new month or first day of a new week. From a certain perspective, Monday is the best day, full of new hope and  opportunity. And, being human, there are still so many things I want to do better, or do for the first time. So okay, I was in, but I hadn’t decided on a resolution.

It came to me when my husband and I were out cross-country skiing. The snow was fresh from a recent storm, the cold air burned the inside of my nose, and the physical distance from my everyday life gave my brain a chance to breathe. The resolution:


I will approach 2014 with curiosity.

Curiosity gives me an excuse not to know all the answers. I can experience uncertainty not as a failure, but as a starting point. Silly as this sounds, I was stuck in a long line of traffic the other day and in the spirit of curiosity, thought, “I wonder what will happen if I go right instead of left.” The answer turned out to be, more traffic. It was rush hour after all, but because I’d turned off the beaten path in a mindset of curiosity, I didn’t get flustered.

Curiosity in the pool helped me work on a shoulder-saving breathing pattern.

A few days later, I participated in a one-hour swim. Other years I’ve swum without stopping for one hour, thinking that gutting it out like that would elevate me in the eyes of my teammates. (The people I swim with are wonderful but I don’t think any of them truly cares if I swim without stopping.) Also, I’ve been over-straining my left shoulder by always breathing to the right. For the past few years, I’ve been trying to build sufficient lung capacity to breathe every third stroke instead of every second stroke: Breathe to the right, three strokes later to the left, and so on. Coaches, other swimmers, and anyone who understands basic anatomy tells me this spreads the load more evenly between both shoulders. If I swam without a break for one hour, there’s no way I’d be able to do it. So I decided to take a 5-second rest after every 100 yards.

After about 500 yards, I was running out of breath even with the 5-second breaks and had to make another choice: keep doing flip turns and revert to breathing every second stroke, or switch to open turns, which would allow me to take a big gulp of air every 25 yards and give me a better chance of sticking with breathing every third stroke.

It should have been an obvious choice but it wasn’t. It was a very big deal for me when I finally started doing flip turns. All the cool kids do flip turns. I feel very conspicuous anytime I do an open turn. The swimmers I admire most do flip turns: Dara Torres, Michael Phelps, most of the people on my team. But so what? I wanted to know what it would take for me to swim for one hour breathing every third stroke, and if my shoulder would feel less worn out. So I switched to open turns. Granted, I was a little embarrassed. Clearly I’m not the bad-ass swimmer I strive to be, but I had a good swim. I hit a good rhythm and by the end of the hour, breathing every third stroke felt smoother and than breathing every other stroke. And then I iced my shoulder. Now this is progress.

As a side note, I also plan to be a more active blogger in 2014, and curiosity will be my guiding principle.

Onward to a curious 2014.

About Joanne Barker

Joanne Barker is a healthcare writer and editor who lives in Somerville, MA.
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