November 17, 2018
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When the ‘think system’ fails, it’s time to get real about fitness

Meg Haskell

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.

To read the rest of Meg Haskell’s story on her Living it Forward blog, click here

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