When the ‘think system’ fails, it’s time to get real about fitness

I’ve been trying lately to lose 20 pounds, drop a dress size and get really lean and fit in the process. Strengthen my bones, build endurance, become more flexible, improve my balance and straighten my posture. Maybe drive down my cholesterol while I’m at it.

I’ve actually been working at this for several months, with no discernible change. This is because I’ve been using, almost exclusively, the “think system” championed by Professor Harold Hill. You may remember Prof. Hill from the classic 1962 film “The Music Man,” starring Robert Preston in the title role, or the pointless 2003 remake with Matthew Broderick. If you go back far enough, you might even have seen the original Broadway production, written by American playwright Meredith Willson, which ran from 1957 to 1961 in some 1,375 performances.

There are some fine theatric moments and many musical highlights in this terrific show. But these days I’m channeling the moment when traveling con-man Harold Hill tries to persuade wise-to-him Marian the Librarian that he can teach the boys of River City  — including her shy little brother, Winthrop, played by young Ronnie Howard in the ’62 film — to play their new band instruments by using the “think system.” You just envision yourself playing, the theory goes, and it happens. That way, Hill explains, “you don’t have to bother with the notes.” Simple.

My particular application of the think system involves lying awake at night and berating myself for having gained some weight in the past couple of years. I remember when I was thinner — particularly in the wake of my 2010 divorce — and resolve to lose the “happy weight” that has crept onto my frame since I settled into a contented, stable new  relationship. How will I do this? Well, by eating much less and exercising much more, of course. Simple.

I imagine myself pecking at a half-filled dinner plate of steamed vegetables and pushing it away with a sigh. “I’m full,” I’ll murmur, excusing myself to go out for an evening run. I practice some key phrases. “Just water for me,” I’ll insist when the wine is being poured, and “No, thanks, I don’t really care for sweets.”

Between cutting calories and ramping up a vigorous exercise routine, I think, it’ll be just a few weeks before I’m slithering back into a size 10 and registering for the Mount Desert Island Marathon. And yet, the weeks go by and it doesn’t happen.  Because — I hate to break it to you, River City — although a positive attitude is a good starting point, the think system doesn’t actually work.

So, this week I cut my losses and invested in a more substantive approach. I decided to start hitting the gym, and then — here’s the critical part — I hit it.

Because I work in Bangor, my initial thought was to enroll at the Bangor Y, the University of Maine fitness center in Orono or one of the commercial workout centers. These facilities offer a huge variety of exercise options — including special programs and discounts for seniors — along with great locker rooms and and other amenities.

But then I remembered that, right here in tiny Stockton Springs, there is a small, privately owned fitness center. I had seen a flyer posted on the bulletin board at Red’s Automotive, and Red himself had been enthusiastic about the place. I learned that the gym, called Fitness is Terrific, is about five minutes from my house. It has limited hours, because the owner has another business to run, and those hours include a “Fit Class” that meets on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings at, gulp, 5 a.m.

That’s pretty early, and I didn’t want to set myself up for fitness failure by committing to an unsustainable workout schedule. But for a number of reasons, it’s actually a really sensible time to get in a workout. Plus, I liked the idea of coming back home to shower and change instead of having to bring everything with me to Bangor.

So, with a fit friend along for moral support, I was at Fitness is Terrific at 4:55 Monday morning. It was still dark outside when we parked the car and walked into the brightly lit room, a refurbished storefront with big picture windows. The place was clean and tidy, with foam mats hanging neatly on the wall, a selection of colorful hand weights stacked in a rack and big exercise balls corralled at the far end of the room. No treadmills, no barbells, no cable-and-pulley torture machines. Just the friendly owner/instructor and four other worker-outers — my fellow Stocktonites! — of varying ages, both genders and a range of fitness levels.

For a full hour, I sweated through a workout that left me drenched and humble but also satisfied and proud. I came home and showered but kept a nice glow all day. Tuesday my muscles were so sore I could barely walk. Wednesday I went back for more. I’m writing this on Thursday and have every expectation of being there again Friday morning, and then of signing up for a full 6-week session. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Of course, I still need to keep an eye on my diet. And I do want to work on balance and flexibility, maybe by getting more serious about my yoga practice. But an hour of vigorous, heart-pumping exercise and strength training three mornings a week, in the company of friends and neighbors, seems like a great way to start my day. And, with apologies to Prof. Hill, it’s way more likely to have a positive effect than his think system.

Meg Haskell

About Meg Haskell

Meg Haskell is a curious second-career journalist with two grown sons, a background in health care and a penchant for new experiences. She lives in Stockton Springs. Email her at mhaskell@bangordailynews.com.