April 15th, 2008

A fine line or a moving target?

Tonight, I found myself pondering the fine line that exists between (a) seeing that the garbage is full and making a mental note along the lines of "I should take out the garbage," and (b) seeing that the garbage is full and simply taking it out. What separates the two? Clearly, energy level is one factor. Personality is another, and a potentially major one insofar as it can be viewed partially as a product of accumulated age/wisdom/experience.

Over the decade or so of my "independent adult life," I have become much less of the "hmm, I should do (x)" type and much more of the "I see that (x) needs to be done, so I'm doing it now" type. Many people would probably chalk this up to increased maturity. And while I don't disagree with that notion, I have to wonder what underlying mechanisms/motivations actually comprise that maturity and the supposed increase thereof. What makes a dirty toilet in my bathroom so much more intolerable to me now than it was when I was in college? Why does that pile of papers I once would have overlooked indefinitely just need to be organized and put away now?

Why am I so much pickier about such things than I used to be? And if it really is just because I'm older and more mature, why does that make a difference?

Maybe self perception is the mother of action. Maybe if you feel like an adult, you somewhat induce yourself to act like one. "A mature, responsible adult would take care of (x) right now, so I'd better do it or else I'd be acting way too childish. And that would be embarrassing." But I still feel somewhat like a kid. Maybe there are different components to my personality, some of which are adult and some of which are not even remotely so. Then again, what's so immature about swinging on swings in the park? About dashing off to get a soda and watch the sunset? Nothing, if you ask me. There's a big difference between juvenile immaturity and childlike innocence/openness/adventurousness.

I have posited as a potential factor the mere idea that as I've grown older, I've come up with more and better "ways of doing things." So when I'm confronted with a day-to-day challenge, I am far better equipped to improvise a solution than I was in the past. For example, I have been refining and honing a computer filing system for the better part of 20 years. I actually have a paper filing system, something I didn't have at all 10 years ago. And in the past year, I've added a simple plastic desktop folder holder that prevents current/pending issues from being represented by an unruly pile of papers. None of this is rocket science, yet it took all of my life up to this point to fully internalize and use such methods.

But at the same time, I realize I am still very much a "work in progress." Just because I've grown more intolerant of any dirt/scum/whatever on my toilet doesn't mean I clean it as often as I think I should. I'm more likely to stand there, annoyed, mentally yelling at the dirt as though it might get discouraged and go away through sheer force of will on my part. Finally, I reach a threshold (or I'm just feeling particularly ambitious) where I can no longer take it and I must do something. And then the cleaning occurs, and it is always painfully thorough, making me dread the next time I have to do it. Vicious cycle ensues.

Hey, wait a minute...!

In my opinion, the biggest reason people fail when trying to get into an exercise routine is they don't grasp one simple underlying principle: it's consistency and persistence, not one-time intensity, that brings success. (Bear with me, I'm going on this tangent for a reason.) They make a New Year's resolution (or realize spring break is coming up next week), hit the gym for the first time in years, totally annihilate themselves, and find themselves in so much pain the following day that they can't bear the thought of going back, all while having accomplished nothing noticeable during that one compensatory workout. Kudos to those who make it through a week. Very few make it past that point. It's no coincidence the Cornell gyms were always insanely busy the first week of classes in January. I learned to be patient with the madness, and within a week, things would return to normal and I'd actually be able to find unoccupied equipment and get through my workouts.

My reason for mentioning this is simple: it proves I am able to internalize the "consistency + persistence" methodology, because I got past that hump and made exercise part of my life back in my early 20s. Now that my body is used to the "abuse," I can go pretty hardcore and still come back for more the next day. So why is it so damn hard for me to clean the toilet or take out the garbage?

Congratulations if you've followed me through these serendipitous meanderings thus far. But there is a point, and no, it's not that I think too much, although if you said so, you wouldn't be the first. But no, I've just noticed how I've evolved in my ability to handle routine challenges. In some ways, I'm doing great; in other ways, I feel I'm never good enough.

I'd been at the "I should take out the garbage" point for the last two days or so, which is what prompted this line of thinking. It wasn't overflowing, but I had to compress it down a couple times. Maybe I was just a bit annoyed that it filled up so quickly (so no, it wasn't even remotely stinky or rotten). But in any case, I finally took out the garbage about an hour ago.

It's a small victory, but a victory nonetheless.