One More Step
Add New Orleans, Austin, Tahoe, Riverside, San Francisco, San Diego, Vicksburg, Dallas, Tombstone, Tucson, Joshua Tree, Phoenix, Vegas to cities I’ve run in during the last year. Add some of the cities multiple times on multiple trips. In the rain. When I was sick. With a weight vest. On the beach, on treadmills, hopelessly lost, in the snow, in the middle of the night, twice in one day.
I wrote a version of that for the first time in 2008. But it was a shorter list for sure. When I look back on that period and partially on this one, what strikes me despite the differences in locations is the sameness of it. It was always about the same distance, at the same speed and usually around the same time at night. I realize now how unnatural that is, unproductive in a way. Periods of lots of activity can still be a stasis. In fact, the body gets used to this and settles itself into handling it.
People with energy cannot not use it. It pours out of them. There’s no question of whether they have time to do this or that, it just happens. They take one more step because they are compelled to. You rack up a history this way. The problem is when it begins such a unconscious part of your decision making process, it starts to not be enough. It ceases to mean anything if it is a routine, physically and in significance. What the body needs is unpredictability and contrast and challenges.
For me that has meant adding in new things like sprinting. Or using a weight vest. And swimming or biking occasionally. It’s less about the cities—I can trust myself now to get up and do it anywhere—and more about the diversity. The evolution of self-discipline ultimately comes to include regulating the discipline itself. To do the same thing over and over takes nothing. To do something different, exhausting, and new each time takes a robust creativity that you can be proud of.
We are creatures of habit, and I’m no exception. I hate being uncomfortable, and who doesn’t? So I sign up for events to push myself out of my comfort zone. All it takes a few minutes and a few dollars, and then suddenly, a few weeks later, you find yourself running up 49 flights of stairs in a tower race.
Have you ever read ‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running’ by Haruki Murakami? I think you would love it.
I believe so…
Is it really necessary to be pushing those boundaries for no reason, though? Habit is useful, and manipulating yourself to get into the right habits – tricking your brain into using its unwillingness to change for your benefit – is an undervalued skill.
I suppose it depends on why you run. If you’re doing it in the aim of becoming a fantastic runner – like, a competition-level runner – then yeah, constantly pushing the boundaries and avoiding complacency is definitely necessary. But if it’s just something you do to work out stress, as I think you’ve indicated in the past, then why is it bad to find a pattern that works and stick to it?
Trying to discipline your own discipline is counter-productive if it means forcing yourself to do things that don’t align with your goals.
I think the important difference between habit and hobby isn’t forcing variety into the system, but incorporating goals into the system–I’m seconding Simbera here. Variety might just be keeping you entertained enough to go through what are essentially the same motions. As you dodge obvious patterns, insidious ones can form. The more obscure the pattern you learn to avoid, the deeper go the roots of the one you overlooked.
In my time in gyms I have seen some personalities for which there is a lot of overlap between physical conditioning and operant conditioning. The paths people take to the endorphin reward are shot through the prism of personality before they turn into movement. Crossfit is a perfect example. Nearly endless variety, but high repetition and lots of til-you-break type workouts. It even has goals built in. But it is still an empty-headed blowing-off of energy by following rules someone else laid out: the cognitive equivalent of compulsive jogging. At different times in my history of exercising I have been guilty of both.
I’m disagreeing with this point: “The evolution of self-discipline ultimately comes to include regulating the discipline itself.” This is a logical rabbit-hole, particularly if regulation just means increased diversity. There is really no end to the amount of discipline/diversity you can impose on your discipline. The ultimate discipline is to regulate only where it is necessary and where you can be most effective. The lion’s share of discipline is learning when to productively neglect and when to radically alter: two things that can look a lot like lack of discipline.
No doubt you know the Emerson quote:
“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”
I think it fits the spirit of your blog post well. I would just add that inserting minor variations into a consistent trend is not banishing the hobgoblin, but moving him deeper by one level.
Was just listening to the song Letter Home by moe., for some reason thought about a few of your posts. Anyway, thanks for writing.
Nassim Taleb would probably rephrase that last sentence by saying that “to do something different, exhausting, and new each time takes an antifragile creativity that you can be proud of.”
Cool that you actually found out through trial & error. It seems to you came to the point where your one-sided act of running became fragile and you came up with ways to make it antifragile – again. Art De Vany writes a lot about this necessesity of unexpectedness in our physical endeavors.
Liked the post, reading your archives has been enriching. Thanks.