Drifting in and out of consciousness (oxfordhacker) wrote,
Drifting in and out of consciousness

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Becoming better

For many years, I have been of the opinion that my major problem is lack of will-power. I'm not good at making myself do things that require intellectual effort, from writing thank-you letters to working for my degree or keeping a job. Things I enjoy are fine, I can easily spend all day reading a good book, or even programming a pet project, but if something gets more than slightly taxing I tend to give up and do something easier. I guess that I've been bright enough to just about get away with this mind-set for most of my life without ever having to learn to change, unable to look beyond the ironic realisation that this was a problem that I could solve given... willpower. A couple of months ago, I was thinking about this and instead of just getting depressed and fatalistic, I formulated a plan.

I realised that I was much better at making myself perform physical exertion than mental. I'm not actually too bad at getting up in the morning if I have a reason to, for example, and I'm quite happy to go out and cycle for 20 minutes to meet friends or attend gigs even when I'm at my most mentally listless. So, my thinking went, if I want to build my will-power, I'm presumably going to have to practise making myself do something. And if I'm better at making myself make physical than mental effort, I might as well start there. And so, more-or-less arbitrarily, at some point at the end of July, I decided to start doing 20 press-ups and 20 sit-ups every morning. My thinking was that the probable outcomes were as follows:
  1. Worst case scenario: I give up after a couple of days, and feel that much worse about myself.
    Effect: Not too bad, really. If I'm in the mood for raking over past failures, it's not like 'failing to make myself do pointless exercise as an experiment' is even going to make my top 100.

  2. I keep up the exercise, but my will-power fails to improve.
    Effect: Pretty good. I'm still a slacker, but with the body of a young Adonis.

  3. I keep up the exercise, and my will-power improves.
    Effect: Excellent. My body and mind both bulge in exciting new ways. The only disadvantage would be having to change my LJ username, I suppose.

Don't get me wrong, I don't have any body image issues. Blessed with good genes and vague appetites, and travelling everywhere by bike, I've always managed to keep my trim indie-boy physique with minimal effort. Still, I figured that if I was going to make myself do something, it might as well be something with a potential positive benefit. Also, very occasionally, in an echo from my days in the sixth-form, the Red Dwarf quotation from the opening of Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine's "Surfin' USM" runs through my head ("You've reached that age, Listy. When you're younger you can eat what you like, drink what you like and still climb into your 26 inch waist trousers and zip them closed. Then you reach that age -- 24, 25 -- your muscles give up, they wave a little white flag and then without any warning at all, you're suddenly a fat bastard.")

Anyway, I started, and I haven't stopped yet. In fact, once I got the hang of them, I upped the numbers to 30 of each, and recently to 32 (just because 2 reps of 16 each seems more mathematically pleasing.) Unfortunately I'm either doing them wrong, my exercise plan has coincided with me contracting a horrible wasting disease, or those men in music videos must have a shit-load more time and patience than I have, because I look exactly the same.

What of the mental effects that are the raison d'etre of the whole enterprise? The most obvious (which I'm battling as hard as I can) is a tendency to feel smug rather than lucky about being fairly skinny, as if somehow now it's all thanks to me. Counter to this is a slight feeling of contempt for myself for becoming one of those people who do exercise. I've never been impressed by unecessary expenditure of energy, and I've always regarded exercise for its own sake to be weird at best. If only my games-lesson-skiving past self could see me now... Luckily, as he spent every break-time reading indoors, I probably wouldn't have much trouble rebuffing his feeble attempts to beat some sense into me. Perhaps I'd deserve it, though.

And has my willpower improved? Hard to tell really. Since I started I've managed to get and do 4 days' fairly taxing contract work programming in Access with net access and no supervision. I've always been better at doing jobs with tight deadlines, but I still felt like I had behaved very professionally, for what is pretty close to being the first time ever. I'm also currently in work, on my fourth week of yet another temp job doing first-line tech support over the phone, and haven't been told off for net abuse yet (I'm actually too busy to surf, sometimes!) Maybe I am getting a bit better...

Which leads to my new plan, the next step in my willpower-boosting attempt. I have decided to take on a task that is intellectually challenging (however lightly) and also has a (hopefully) beneficial side-effect. I hereby register my intent to post to LiveJournal every weekday. Not necessarily great epics like this monstrosity, but hopefully something more than a one liner or test result. I don't really know whether I'll manage, but it seem to be worth a try. Which, thinking about it, is exactly what I thought about the exercise plan.

Until tomorrow, then...

Edit: Corrected the name of the Carter USM song (I only ever owned it on a copy taped off one of my schoolmates. (Home taping, eh? Remember when it killed music?))
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