Sunday, August 15, 2010

Love vs. Hate

I read an interesting post this week on the Zen Habits blog.

I like this blog and often find it inspiring.  The guy, Leo Babauta, is one of the most successful bloggers on the Net.

I say I "often" find it inspiring because sometimes he just makes me feel unworthy, weak, and bad.

Leo is ruthless about simplifying his life, running, eating all vegan, and stuff.

I tend to be relentless about attaching things unto myself and displaying them as attractively as possible, eating all junk-an, and, especially, not running.  (You can see my knee x-rays -- well, at least, x-rays that approximate the general state of my knees -- right here on this very blog.)

Leo's latest post inspired me because he very generously paused his athleticism and stooped down to speak to me at my lazy level. (To be fair, he does this a lot.  And he's not a rub-your-nose-in-it kind of guy.  As far as I can tell from reading his blog.)

The post in question was about how you cannot be successful at creating a new habit by beating at yourself with the discipline stick.  (He didn't put it like that, but that was my takeaway.)  He suggests you NOT try to grit your teeth and keep going at something you hate.

This was timely advice for me because I'm about to make a serious run at exercise as part of preparing to get my knees replaced, and, folks, let me be crystal clear:  exercise is so not my thing.  Over time I have tried plain vanilla Chicken Fat calisthenics, running, swimming, Jazzercise, Tai Chi, Yoga, Curves and Working Out with Wendy, a wonderful personal trainer.  My current exercise is an arthritis water class I've been going to a couple of times a week for a couple of years.

First of all, I'm lazy, by design.  At a deep, fundamental level I'm a Stop, when the world says Go.  I'm a down not an up.  I'm a slow.  I'm a later.  I'm a Zzzzzzzzzzzz.  I'm a "leave me alone. I'm resting here."  On the Eneagram, if you're into that sort of thing, I'm a nine. Big time.

Plus, as noted in another post, I have a deeply embedded fear of "doing it wrong."  This fear is matched only by my terror of doing it wrong and looking stupid.

In the seventh grade I grew about 100 inches, which hideously exacerbated my innate stumbling awkwardness.  Not only was I constantly dropping things and walking into door frames, I was up so high everyone could see.  Therefore, in Jazzercise and Tai Chi, for example, though I was in love with the music and rhythm of the one and the transcendent energetic trance of the other, I was obsessed a lot of the time with going left when the rest of the class and the leader were going right.

(Actually, the leader did appear to me to be going left -- since she/he was leading and therefore facing the group. Being a follower of the most profound sincerity -- and also a little dyslexic about perceiving the location of myself in space -- I found it hard not to emulate this optical/spatial illusion.)

Also, in addition to my lifelong embarrassment, inertia and general laziness, now it hurts quite a bit when I move. Even more incentive to remain stationery.

Back to Leo.

The gist of his essay was that you can only drive yourself into the abyss of despair for so long before you decide to go lie down and eat some chips. The use of discipline to overcome deep aversion is not a viable long term solution.

So, what is?  What is a long term solution that can help me
  • make a habit of serious and abiding integrity 
  • around something I very much need to do for my health and wellbeing
  • but which a long history of personal failure suggests I pretty much ain't gonna do?
There's the challenge.  Leo suggests that

a) you plain old don't try to do that or

b) if you really must do that, find something you love that goes along with it, is part of it, or can be made part of it, and is an overwhelming, irresistible reward for doing it.

So here's my example:  I have signed up for a water aerobics class M W F, at 8 a.m.  Starting Monday.  I also plan to work out for a half hour before my T Th water class. 

Here's what I hate about doing that:   doing that.

Here's what I plan to love:

  1. The shoes pictured above.  They're my water shoes.  They're only comfortable in water.  I love them already. 
  2. Wearing ratty workout clothes.  I'm giving myself permission to wear the disgusting oversize Adidas t-shirt which is my favorite garment. Every day if I like. And not care how I look.  I'm wearing it right now.  I'm so happy.
  3. Driving the Flying Tomato (which is a "salsa red" VW bug) down Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard at 7:30 in the morning M W F with the top down.  Breathing in the juicy green of summer as it morphs into the dusty gold of fall.  Admiring everything.  Even rain that makes me stop and put the top back up. 
  4. Going somewhere and seeing people.  I like people.  Liking the people in my water class is all that stands between me and the couch a lot of times. 
  5. Giving myself permission to not hurt myself, even if everybody else is just doing it  better, faster, longer than me.
  6. Rewarding myself with rest that I've actually earned.  Spending time in the hammock before it gets icicles on it and has to be stored away again.  Reading.  Reading a whole stack of books I'll acquire from the library and elsewhere to encourage myself to earn some Rest & Reading.  Or napping, even.
  7. Feeling better.
  8. Feeling better about myself
  9. Feeling proud of me. 
  10. More things will go here as I find them.  This list should get me through the M of MWF.  At least.
An earlier piece of advice from Leo (and several other folks, actually) that really works for me is that when you want to make a change, put it out where your friends and family and possibly your enemies can see it.  Garner their support and their general butt-kicking scorn for the times when you can't think of a darn thing to love about what you promised to do.

Write about it in your blog.  And see what happens on Monday morning.


  1. One of the things I like most about my exercise time is seeing all the other people at the "Y". Young, old, very old, fat, slim, trim and flabby. Everyone is there to do something good for themselves, because they care about themselves no matter what. That is such a positive environment for me, which makes me feel as good as the workout itself. And most of the time I'm looking like the biggest rag on the planet. I come home and look in the mirror and say to myself (or out loud) OMG, I took THAT out in public? The folks at the "Y" don't seem to care one tiny little bit what I look like.

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  3. Hi Annie,
    I've been exercising restraint -- don't want to crowd your style and your wonderful posts with a lot of extraneous stuff, for the moment. I see Laura S and Lynn L are among the readers within your gravitational pull-- there will be more, as long as you keep up the exceptional habit. Congrats on that, and best to you on the water workout. The shoes, the Flying Tomato, the hammock on the Lake -- all sounds like a good plan to me.

  4. Annie,
    Don't underestimate the power of that workout community! Since I began swimming with the Masters I get a coach and a bunch of really great people to swim with every week! For sure there's no OTHER way I'd get up at 5:45 am to do this!! And I've been doing it fairly steadily for almost 5 years!!!! You can do it! And here's another thing to love: the way you'll feel with all that oxygen in you! Amazing. I'm with ya!!

  5. Thanks, Erica. I love hearing people's success stories. It gives me hope. And a board to beat myself with. "Look at Erica," I'll say to myself. She gets up at 5:45, you dolt." Oops. I forgot I was supposed to reward myself. And all rewards lead to ice cream. Everybody knows that....

    Thanks for visiting and thanks for commenting!

  6. Oh, there is also the deeply calming pool smell, I always liked that too. Good luck! The Flying tomato and you should have lots of fun together this fall.

  7. I like that smell. And weighing only about half my body weight in the water. How buoyed I feel. How slim. What a disappointment when I crawl out and notice the lead butt has returned. The Tomato is pretty thrilled. I'm featuring her in an upcoming post.