Tag Archives: starting a new habit

Carved Outta Wood


A guy who came to Fight Club for the first time, his ass was a wad of cookie dough. After a few weeks, he was carved out of wood.

jacks-boredom

That’s a line from Fight Club, which, since I saw it early in college, has sat comfortably in my top five all-time favorite films. I love it mostly because I’m a man and RAH RAGE VIOLENCE BLOOD FARGO THE SYSTEM. Well, not really. There is that, but mostly I love it because it’s about a guy in a rut who pulls himself out of a rut in catastrophic fashion. No half-measures; the characters in this film go all-out for the things they want, and for the things they don’t even know they want.

The narrator and Tyler Durden get into a fight in Fight Club, not because they hate each other or because they disagree, but because they’ve never done it. Then other people join up and start fighting for the same reason, and soon Fight Club has evolved into Project Mayhem, with multiple chapters around the country and designs against the very pillars of society. These guys (well, spoiler alert, this guy) starts a thing for the hell of it, and like the proverbial snowball rolling down the hill, it gains a momentum of its own. Then it all goes sideways, of course. Great movie.

But the quote above, in particular, sticks out to me, because it’s at the core of the movie, but like all good movies and all good quotes, it’s really about life. Getting in a fight, handling one’s self mano-a-mano against another human, is the sort of thing that most people probably think they could do reasonably well at. I know I’m guilty of thinking I could handle myself if it came to it, not that I ever expect it to ever come to it (insert obligatory I’m a writer not a fighter cliche here!). But a fight has the immediate power to rectify your worldview by dint of the other guy’s boot crashing into the side of your skull. Training aside, athleticism aside, general awareness and savvy aside, there’s no substitute for stepping into the arena and facing the blows. However prepared you might be, however capable and willing, you can’t know how it’ll go until you actually get in the ring. The only thing that really teaches you is the trial.

Which is, I think, why there are so many would-be novelists out there, and why gym memberships spike in January but the gyms themselves empty out before February dawns. It’s why instead of trying the thing that intrigues and frightens us, we head for the couch and the reruns of Law and Order. It’s why instead of getting up with the early alarm and braving the cold to work out, we retreat to the warm, fluffy confines of our beds. The couch  and the bed are easy on our cookie dough asses. It’s easy to sit back and talk about how we could do the thing if we decided we wanted it. Just not today.

But that’s why I do get up and run before the sun, when it’s freezing outside and I’d rather be asleep. It’s why I park myself in front of the blank screen every day and pour the words forth, even when it feels like it doesn’t mean anything. Because my ass feels a little too much like cookie dough, and I’d rather be carved outta wood.

Of course, to get carved, you have to take the leap. You have to hold your breath and plunge into the icy water. Take off your shoes and walk across the coals. Jump out of the airplane.

self-ko

And yeah, sure. You’ll get knocked on your ass. Maybe more often than not.

But if you can master the fear and get used to giving yourself the lumps, day in and day out? And then stepping up to the bar and asking for just one more? Maybe you’ll actually stand up to the task when the real world comes calling.

Or, you know. You could just sit back and cookie-dough-ify yourself.

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.


The Weekly Re-Motivator: Breaking Orbit


This weird thing happens when you try something new. Exercising, or writing, or getting up earlier, or changing your diet.

First, the honeymoon. You make the decision and you feel fantastic about it: this is going to change me for the better! New year, new me! This time it’s for good! Maybe you go off the deep end: you hit Amazon and buy a bunch of new gadgets to make the change stick: new exercise equipment, a spangly doohickey for the kitchen, a fancy new word processor, new apps for your phone. And for the first few days, maybe even a week, it’s awesome. Difficult, but awesome. The change washes over you like a cool breeze in the dead of a Georgia summer.

But that’s fleeting. And the honeymoon passes quickly.

They days turn into weeks, and the body begins to resist the change, because the body is like electricity: it follows the path of least resistance. That least resistance means doing what you already know how to do, which is to say, not exercising, not writing, sleeping in late, eating the same old crap. Once the honeymoon is over, your body and mind pull a what is this shit?!?! and essentially revolt. Getting out of bed feels not only difficult, but demoralizing. Writing even a few words seems impossible. The sight of your workout clothes fills you with despair. If you even think about eating another salad, you might conduct your own personal holocaust in the produce section at the Kroger.

This is where most people fail. This is why New Year’s Resolutions collapse. It’s why people lose ten or fifteen pounds on their diets, then turn around and put twenty pounds back on. It’s why the internet is littered with the corpses of blogs that have maybe a dozen posts (I’m looking at you, accidentallyinspired.wordpress.com). It’s why you can always find workout equipment on craigslist and ebay for super-cheap. People make a change, but they can’t escape the gravity of the old way, and before you know it, their momentum peters out and they fall back to earth.

The funny thing, though? That point where gravity pulls you the hardest, where you feel you just can’t find the strength to stick to your plan? That’s the breaking point. When you can find the way to make it past that last stage, find the heart to stay with your plan for just a little bit longer, that’s when you can achieve escape velocity.

Space Shuttle, Liftoff, Atlantis, Rocket, Boosters

Because the thing about the momentum that’s keeping us to our old ways is: it cuts both ways. That moment we can embrace the positive momentum we’ve established and use it to catapult ourselves forward rather than allowing the negative momentum to pull us backwards is the moment where the change is no longer change; it’s a new normal.

Five years ago, I didn’t exercise, I was eating like crap, I hadn’t written anything in years. I went to work, I came home, I chilled with my wife, watched some TV, and that was life. These days, I feel antsy and horribly unproductive if I don’t write at least a little something every day. I get grouchy and irritable if I don’t go for a run. I get up at the crack of dawn basically every day (though I have my kids to thank for that). And … well, I still eat like crap. Nobody’s perfect, but we’ll keep trying anyway. But I still go to work. I still chill with my wife. I still watch some TV. But I get all of it done in the same twenty-four hours I’ve always had in every day. This is something I can’t really explain, and I’m not sure I want to look at it too closely. I fear that, like the mirage glimpsed out of the side of the eye, it’ll vanish if I try to focus on it.

I’m not an expert in psychology. I’m not a life-coach. But I know this: We are powerful. We can achieve great things, even if those things are only great in our tiny spheres of influence.

If only we have the heart to seize our potential and take control of our momentum.

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.


The Weekly Remotivator: The Mission


We all suck starting out.
There’s an old saying about nothing worth doing being easy. That may be true, but I’d wager that a lot of people trying something new for the first time never get far enough to find out just how difficult the thing is. You pick up a guitar, plunk out a few discordant notes, maybe plug away for a week or two until your fingers get sore; then you listen to Freebird, realize you’ll never shred like that, and suddenly the guitar is gathering spiders in the attic. You lace up your shoes to give running a try, and you manage to power through some really painful stumbling outings; then it’s a few weeks later and you just can’t bring yourself to head out in the eighty-degree heat, and once you miss a workout, missing the next is easy.
You set out to write a novel, thinking (rightly) that anybody can do it.  You pound the keys for a good solid month before you realize that your characters are boring, your setting makes no sense, and your plot is as dead as a shark that doesn’t swim. Then your manuscript goes into the abyss of unfinished novels and you maybe start over, or you maybe just quit.
When you start something new, people say you should have a goal. Something to work toward, something achievable. And that’s well and good: you should have a goal. But there comes a point, when you’re up against that wall where the thing goes from hard to STUPID hard, when you need something even more than a goal.
You need a mission.
The difference is subtle.
A goal is something clearly defined that you want to accomplish.
A mission is something clearly defined that you MUST accomplish.
With a mission, failure is not an option. With a mission, obstacles are unable to stop you; they can only delay you. With a mission, it’s success or death.
The Blues Brothers were on a “mission from God.” NASA’s headquarters for space missions is called, unsurprisingly, Mission Control. Failure is not an option.
So, the next time you try something new, don’t set a goal.
Set a mission.

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.


The Speed of Write


Everything is relative. Right?

It’s so easy to look at the body of work being produced by, oh, let’s just say anybody who has a body of work to speak of, and be intimidated. It’s so easy, as a writer, to think, “my writing is horrible. I’m horrible. Who would read this? Why should I bother? Why does it even matter?” And, from there, it’s a small hop, skip, and jump (maybe more like a trip, lurch, and fall) to quitting altogether.

And it’s not just writing, right? It could be exercising: “It’s too hard. Look at how much weight that guy is lifting / how far that girl is running / how much more flexible she is. I’ll never get there. I might as well give up.” Or knitting: “I’m awful. Look at this awful tea cozy / dog sweater / who-the-hell-knows-I’ll-just-call-it-a-scarf that I made. Who would ever want this? I’ll just buy one at the store and be less embarrassed.” Giving up is easy. Practicing, getting better, learning how to do the thing you wanted to do back on January 1st or whenever you decided to do the thing… it’s HARD. And those people who are doing it — and being successful — are just so DonDraper’ed visible, and so successful, and GOD they make it look so easy. They make it look so easy, that as hard as it is for me, I might as well quit. Right?

No. Fargo that. That’s the Howler Monkey of Doubt screeching in your ear and throwing its feces at your eyes. The monkey wants you to quit, because if you quit, then he gets to watch reruns of The Bachelor through your eyes and eat a tub of chocolate chips through your mouth and sleep the day away through your backside on your bed.

But that way madness lies. The Howler Monkey doesn’t know sharknado about hard work because it’s only concerned with taking the easy way out. The truth is, it’s pointless to compare yourself to the people writing bestselling novels, or bench-pressing small imported cars, or running marathons, or knitting afghans for the Queen. Because the person doing that incredible thing has been practicing his or her craft for countless hours to make it look that easy. You don’t see the failures. You don’t see the miles and miles of smoldering wreckage of his crashed and awful manuscripts leading up to the good ones, you don’t see the painful mornings and hours and hours of training she put in to work up to running that marathon, you don’t see the hundreds of horrible golf-club covers she made to practice up for Queen afghan-making.

The point is, we are all points on a continuum. Yes, you may suck now. I may suck now. I probably do. But if I go back and compare myself to the poor schlub who started this journey almost a year ago, I’m pretty confident that I’m at least a little better off. A little more comfortable with the virtual pen in my virtual hands. So a bestselling novel is maybe not in my immediate future; doesn’t matter a whole lot, it’s closer now than it was a year ago. So you’re not going to run a marathon next month — but last month, you couldn’t even run a mile, and now look at you. Last month you nearly put the dog’s eye out with your knitting needles, and now you almost know which end makes the scarf.

The only person worth comparing yourself to is other versions of yourself. Compare your current self to a past version of yourself and make sure you’re moving in the right direction, and if not, FIX IT. Compare your current self to a potential self and see if you like where you’re headed. If not? FIX IT.

Even the slowest marathoner is miles ahead of the guy who never gets off the couch. Even the worst writer in the world is pages and pages ahead of the girl who dreams of writing a novel but never quite gets around to it. Even the most unfortunate knitter… you get the idea.

Somehow we got the idea that if we’re going to do something, that it has to be perfect. That there’s some absolute standard out there for any given endeavor, and if we can’t reach that standard, we might as well not bother. Bollocks. The standard for personal success should be relative success. Am I writing as much, or better, or more creatively, or more comfortably, than I was a year ago? Then I’m doing all right. Am I running farther, or faster, or with less injury, than I was when I started? Then it’s all good. Am I… okay, I’ll be honest, I don’t know anything about knitting, let’s just assume I had something clever to say about the relative improvement and progression of a career in knitting, and call it a day, yeah?

Focus not on that faraway, nigh-unreachable goal that feels so intimidating. Focus on small victories, tiny relative leaps, and just keep pushing the needle.

Now it’s time to get some sleep so that I can go back to work on my slightly-less-than-awful novel.

This post is part of SoCS.


Some Unsolicited Advice for Anybody Making a Life Change (a reflection on 100 posts)


About a month ago I saw a video on YouTube from Numberphile (okay, the secret is out, I’m a nerd and I sometimes watch videos about math on YouTube when I have nothing better to do).  It’s a fascinating little examinaton of the methods we use for counting and it explores what our everyday interactions would be like if we had twelve fingers instead of ten.  (Spoiler alert — counterintuitively, numbers and computations and especially measurements and conversions get simpler by factors of oh-my-god-numbers-hurt-my-brain.)  You can check it out below if you’re so inclined.  They make some fascinating videos if, like me, you’re fascinated withthe way math impacts us even if we’d like to pretend it doesn’t.

But this isn’t a post about math, not really.  It’s just a little reflection.   Now, in the scheme of things, even though one hundred seems like a big deal, it’s an arbitrary number, which becomes incredibly obvious after watching a video like the one I linked above.  Nevertheless, it’s a significant number because we’ve all agreed that it is; we measure years in decades and centuries, we have the metric system (which nobody uses, PFF, SILLY REST OF THE WORLD), and our currency is nothing without hundreds.  Ultimately, however, it’s just one way out of many to count stuff, and as we all know, everything is relative and there is no best anything.

I’m hung up on one hundred today, though, because I recently passed the 100 post mark here at Pavorisms.  I’m pointing it out, not to toot my own horn or to massage my ego, but honestly just so that I can have another landmark to look back at.  Landmarks matter because they show us where we’ve been, but perhaps more importantly, so that we can tell other people where they’re going.  This particular landmark is a pretty monstrous one for me.

I started the blarg here the very week I decided I was going to finally get around to writing a novel.  It wasn’t meant to be a major undertaking; just a spot for me to reflect on the writing I was doing on the novel and to stretch my legs on writing some non-level fiction vis-a-vis my short pieces.  It wasn’t a big deal, but I committed to it just like I committed to writing the novel.  Now it’s four months later, and I’ve nearly finished the novel and I have made over a hundred posts here at the blarg.

That’s one hundred times I’ve sat down to write outside of working on the novel.  That’s one hundred times I’ve found something to say even on those days when I started out thinking I didn’t really have anything to say.  (Spoiler alert: I still don’t have much to say, but I do have fun saying it.)  The point is, I found ways to write even when I didn’t think I could.  I kept writing even when I was exhausted from writing.  I kept writing even when I was sick to death from the thought of writing.

My dad told me many, many years ago — and it’s a piece of wisdom that I’ve repeated many times throughout the years to myself and others — that you can do just about anything for a few weeks.  And I’ve found that to be pretty much true.  Anything you end up doing — however unpleasant, taxing, difficult or challenging it might be — you can muscle through it for a few weeks.  You can force yourself to get up at three in the morning for a terrible job and not crash for a few weeks.  You can try out a new diet and not hate it for a few weeks.  You can give up beer, chocolate, sex, or whatever other guilty pleasure you might have for a few weeks.  But there comes a point beyond which muscling through it cannot carry you.  A point that, for better or worse, you have to find a deeper drive to get past.  You can keep working the job that gets you up at three AM, but you’ll have to give up staying up to watch late night TV.  You can stay on your diet, but you’ll have to find replacements for the food you’re giving up, and make lifestyle adjustments so that you don’t keep craving the old stuff.  You can stay off your vices but you have to really know why you’re staying off — giving them up for Lent isn’t going to keep you clean.

My point is, muscling through can get you to the brink.  It can get you through the salty first days of something and show you what life is like with this new change you’re trying out.  But muscling through won’t get you through the days when you’re so exhausted you can’t bear to think about your three AM job, your diet, or your sudden lack of cigarettes.  What gets you through then?  For me, it’s an eye on the prize.

I tried running three different times in my life.  Twice I did it for a few months and then gave it up — it was too hard.  Two years ago I started it up again (for the last time) because my son had just been born and I wanted to work to stay healthy for him, and I am still going strong two years later, despite some serious setbacks of late.

Now, I’m writing because I have always felt that I could tell a decent story but never tested myself.  Well, I may still be in the muscling through stage, but I have a hundred blarg posts and almost ninety thousand words banked on the novel that say this is a habit I just might be able to stick with.

Jeez.  I start off talking about math and then I get all preachy.  Could I meander any more?  The point is this (and I write this, both for anybody thinking of trying out writing or trying out anything new as well as for myself when I lose gumption somewhere down the line, as I know I will): Making a change is about two major turning points.  The first is when you decide to do the thing.  People think that’s the hard part, but I don’t think so.  Look at the numbers for gym membership sales in January for your evidence: making the commitment is — I don’t want to say easy — not the hard part.  The hard part comes when you’re no longer riding the high of just having started, you no longer have the accolades of people clapping you on the back and saying “good for you.” When you find yourself in the trenches, covered in mud and blood and tears and sweat, clinging to your rifle like it’s the only good thing left in the world and you’re faced with deciding whether to press on through even more mud and blood and heartache and pain or to cash in your chips and go back to the easier life you were leading before.

So pick a milestone.  Shoot for it.  “900 words today.”  And write it.  “Run three miles today.”  And run them.  And then go for a bigger milestone.  “6000 words this week.”  And write it.  “Run twenty miles this week.”  And run them. And grow and evolve and improve and keep changing and don’t get comfortable and keep setting new milestones and enjoy the landmarks as you sail past them and leave them in the rearview.

If I can do it, you can do it.

I’m talking to you, Future Me.

 


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