I have a couple of quotes/rules of mine I made quite a bit back. They are the result of a lot of agony. No disrespect is intended for anyone who has struggled with these issues – or struggled because they love someone with them. Over the weekend, one of the coolest actors to grace the screen, Michael K. Williams, aka Omar from The Wire, died as a result of his struggle with addiction. Don’t make the mistake of confusing addiction with intelligence, willpower, or environment. Once it gets its claws in, there are often no lengths those suffering won’t go to in order to feel something – or to feel nothing. That escalation scrapes everyone around them. If you’re in the periphery trying to get closer, you get entrapped in the ever-tightening spiral.
Here they are:
The M.T. Rule:The surest way to cause yourself heartache and anxiety is to interfere with someone who is racing to rock bottom.
The M.T. Rule Addendum: NOT doing so results in identical heartache and anxiety.
Covid has worsened people’s ability to cope. It’s largely hidden until the spiral does enough damage to draw attention.
For karma, I tip each time I buy lottery tickets. It’s given me so many interesting moments with random clerks at convenience stores. If I have a winning ticket, I try to donate a bit more. The lottery is a fool’s game, one which tricks us into miscalculating the realistic odds of winning. That’s part of the reason I like it. In my heart, there’s not a day that passes that I don’t consider how many against-the-odds things I’ve experienced. It not only amplifies my gratefulness for still being here, but it also reminds me that almost everything that turns out to be magical sounds ridiculous to the reasonable mind. Harry Potter? Not publishable. Haruki Murakami? He had a moment like I did, except in his, he realized he was going to be a writer. Demetri Martin? On his way to being one of the best legal minds in the world and just decided that comedy was his passion.
I sometimes find myself contemplating writing a book based solely on the stories that clerks share with me after I tip them and share my karma theory with them. Most of them realize that I will follow through on my promise to give them a million dollars if I hit the jackpot.
A couple of places in Springdale had clerks who knew me and knew I was going to tip them. I miss the surprised looks on their faces when they saw me walking in. I’m certain they are wondering what happened to the tip-for-karma guy.
Springdale feels like another country to me now. I miss it, especially after having walked 1,000 miles on its streets in the last year. I know Jim at the produce stand is wondering what happened to me. As is Güino, my tuxedo cat.
Lately, I’ve mentioned a couple of times that there’s a clerk here near my apartment in Fayetteville who resisted accepting tips. Now, she smiles, knowing I’m going to leave the money on the counter, whether she accepts it or not.
The last time I went in, I said, “tee-me lie kas-to chaw.” I don’t speak Nepali. But I spoke enough, that day.
As I left her the tip, she smiled.
I’m not sure there’s a value in knowing that I made a human connection.
We all miss the place we call home in our hearts.
A few words of memorization for me. And a gong in her head hearing the words.
The Law of Increments is such a revelation. A couple Fridays ago I did a thousand push-ups. I used anxiety as a trigger to do each set. It occurred to me Saturday that I could also try to pace myself, using an incremental response. I got up at 3:30 today. If I stay up 18 hours, I only have to do 55 push-ups an hour to hit a thousand. Since I know I can easily do that, I can trick my mind into doing twice that per hour. 110 an hour seems stupid to me now after 10 weeks of pushups. So I’m using today as a test. I’ve got nine hours of incremental sets of push-ups to reach a thousand. 12:30. And If you’re reading this, keep in mind that craziness is contagious. The takeaway is that we can accomplish a hell of a lot if we don’t let our goal wear us out before we even start. I don’t have to do a thousand push-ups. Just 110 an hour.
“If you’re going to worry, put a saddle on it and ride it out of the barn and into the sunlight. Most worry melts away with activity and exposure. If you’re not riding worry, it’s certainly riding you.” – X
I can’t thrive in the present moment and think about the past or worry about the future. Each of us has a finite amount of time, a limited amount of focus, and each of us probably suffers from the illusion that somehow we’re differently immune to negative thinking. I learned the hard way that intelligence in no way affects these things, other than perhaps to add window dressing to the rationalizations and justifications that people always use to excuse away what they’re thinking or what they’re doing.
Intelligence is both a kaleidoscope and magnifier to our excuses. Creativity grants us further ability to pull the wool over our own eyes. Worse, we push people around us into becoming co-conspirators to our unhelpful thinking.
Every couple of weeks, I find myself able to break my previous pushup record. I started doing them on June 1st, a few at a time, as many times a day I could manage. I’ve experimented with different triggers to do another set: bathroom trips, specific words, times. Friday, I incorporated something I learned in counseling. I started doing a set every time I found myself in a loop of fearful or negative thinking. Though it may reflect poorly on me, I beat my previous record so badly that I know there is no way I will ever do that many again in a single day. I did a lot again Saturday, a normal amount, whatever that is. But for Friday, I committed myself to no excuses. I knew already that I’m like most people and succumb to fearful and negative thinking, probably more than I usually realize. Doing pushups every time I realized I was in a thought loop was an excessive and forceful way to remind myself that I need to continue to do the work to stop fearful thinking sooner. Thinking of the worst possible outcome or scenario is a guaranteed way to rob yourself of happiness.
By taking control and action each time I realized I was doing it, I also learned that my pushup “limit” was as imaginary as a “safe life” is.
And so, despite writing the above yesterday morning, I eclipsed Friday’s record later yesterday. Someone commented to me, “You don’t seem to have done your usual number of pushups today.” I laughed. “I did two hundred just while walking this morning.” Those happened while I trudged through a massive rainstorm and flooded streets. I do hope people saw me and wondered, “What in tarnation is he doing pushups in the thunderstorm for?” Had anyone asked me, I would have jokingly replied, “To demonstrate that nothing will stop you if you’re either motivated. Or crazy.” I doubt saying, “I do pushups for exercise – and I do a set each time I find myself thinking negatively as a means to control my mind” would fall easily into people’s ears.
Likewise, when I finished the day Sunday, I laughed. Goals and records exist to be broken. (Just like the heads of obstinate people who won’t try a different way of thinking to see if it results in a better life for themselves.)
Every time I think I’ve reached my limit, I should assume it’s vanity and simply beat it.
Even though work today was strenuous, I got intrigued by the question, “Can I do this again today and break yesterday’s record?” The answer is yes. And I did.
Friday, I did an unbeatable number of pushups. I did it again Sunday. I woke up with no idea that I’d do it again today. But I did—a Monday.
Friday will stick with me because I channeled unhealthy thinking into a positive outcome. I haven’t mentioned a specific number. It isn’t 1,000. But I realized today that it could be if I wanted to. Now it’s stuck in my head that my pushup curve is congruent with the exact angle of my weight loss.
If you see me doing pushups, you didn’t catch me doing them any more than me putting on my shirt inside out by accident or wearing mismatched shoes. If people can stand outside and do crazy things such as smoke, dip, and ride recumbent bicycles, watching someone exercise shouldn’t be a shock to the delicate eyes of people observing me.
P.S. Not related to the above… today’s prank was that I used a roll of yellow CAUTION tape to make a massive X across someone’s doorway and prevent entry into same without ripping the tape down. No one has mentioned it on social media or to me. I can’t imagine they went inside through the back door. I think not knowing how the prank was received is most of the fun. You can blame the Fayetteville Walmart for reminding me that I needed to do this prank.
Someone smart asked me in all seriousness, “If life is so short, why do you persist in doing so many things you don’t like? Is it that you don’t like life or that you don’t like yourself? You’re losing a little bit of both each time you do it.” Of course, I pithily answered back and received this barb: “An occasional compromise is totally normal, of course, because so much of life is doing exactly that, but why would you let another person frequently put you in the position of using the finite minutes you’ve been given doing things you don’t like to do.? That’s not their issue – it is yours. And the longer you wait to learn how to get out of this sort of thing is more of your life flying past. It’s gone forever.”
A few people hit me over the head about the ‘no exercise’ component of my weight loss over the last few months.
Naturally, I never advocated a ‘no exercise’ mantra for myself – or others. What I said was, “No additional exercise,” as in no gym, no weights, no byzantine series of micro-exercises that I wasn’t already doing. Part of my system was to avoid doing anything that I might not be able to do for the rest of my life. Having a long history of yo-yo weight loss behind me, I knew this would be a critical component to still be under 175 in a year. Not that I planned on it, but I also developed an alternate plan to take into consideration additional weight if I were to surprise myself and start weight training. Muscle weighs a lot more on your body, but it also burns more calories. It’s folly to compare all body types and exercise components as equal where weight is involved.
In my case, my job is very physical: lifting, walking a lot, and a wide variety of motions.
It’s true that I walk for pleasure. Given that the majority of my weight loss happened when I was not walking for fun, it’s a moot point. When I set out on my weight loss journey, I was experiencing a new foot pain that sidelined me. I could still work, but it wasn’t comfortable. The same is true for the intermittent shoulder pain and back pain that has accumulated. Weight loss has largely reduced all those pains. I try to be grateful that I woke up before my back or knees worsened. It’s a certainty I was headed for something terrible had I not.
Given the warmer weather, I have been walking more. It’s been fun this year, especially since I’ve done a lot of urban walking and seeing the places around me with new eyes. I walked a lot last year, it’s true, but I walked around with 65 extra pounds saddling me. It’s a substantially different experience and at times I feel like I’m walking on clouds. The difference is that striking.
The science is clear: walking is ALMOST as good long-term as running. You can also walk in bursts throughout the day. Science also tells us that doing bursts of exercise cumulatively yields the same health benefits as walking in a single, longer bout. This is also true for other forms of exercise. It’s a shame that most of us are hoodwinked into believing that exercise must be a long session in an artificial setting.
You don’t have to set aside an artificial amount of time for exercise, much less travel to a gym to do so. If you’re creative and committed, you’ll get results, even if you do a series of exercise bouts during your day. If “gyming” works for you, do it. I’m just reminding people that there is another way, one that won’t rob you of your time.
Another thing that always gets stretched when I mention it is that people try to say that I believe that exercise isn’t important. I don’t. It is. What I said over and over is that exercise isn’t viable as the primary component of weight loss and weight maintenance. Exercise has a lot of benefits, socially, physically, and psychologically.
IF you can do so, you can maintain your weight solely by consuming fewer calories than you burn. It’s simple math.
I don’t recommend it. I recommend that you be active. Were my job not intensely physical, I’d have to incorporate other ways to stay active. If I had an office job, I would walk in increments throughout the day. I’d do pushups or resistance exercises. Working from home, I’d do step exercises, walk on a treadmill, or get an exercise bike if that helped my knees and back.
Speaking out of privilege, I know that many people can’t simply eat well and exercise. Economics and social issues affect a lot of people, as do medical issues that make being healthy or weigh less a lot more difficult. One of the knee-jerk reactions I get on the internet is that people insist that I’m talking to everyone, or that my generalizations are for everyone. They’re not.
For those who aren’t restricted by those issues, all that is missing is for you to open your mind a little and recognize that your attitude is a lot of the problem. You don’t ‘need’ a gym, a lot of equipment, or even an hour a few times a week. You need a commitment and a change upstairs. You can walk a few times a day, or ride an exercise bike, one suited for your conditioning. You can eat less, or at least learn new eating habits. You can confide in a friend or family member, in hopes that you can work with someone needing to make a change like you.
You can choose supplements, energy drinks, or any of the thousands of systems out there to help you lose weight. You don’t need any of them, though, not if a commitment gongs in your head. I’m living proof. If a system helps you, use it. While you’re figuring it out, follow the literature and simplify your efforts. You’ll probably see that you’re going to have to choose a path that you can sustain without spending a fortune or spending a lot of hours that you could otherwise live differently.
You can achieve a lot through incremental effort. A word a day. One snack less. Choosing things you love that are also better choices. All of them hinge on something changing in your head. Once that happens, excuses stop being nooses.
“It’s not about intelligence. Think about it. How many intelligent people have chosen drugs or alcohol? Or had an affair? Or ran their careers into the ground? Or became fat? Or smoke? Make a list of all the pitfalls you’ve done or watched other people do. Intelligence helps us in unimaginable ways. But it also arms us with rationalizations and ways to convince ourselves that everything is fine, we’re not wrong, or that we’re somehow strong enough to handle it or react differently. Look at lawyers who embezzle, bribe, or commit fraud. Doctors? They succumb to the same drugs they are prescribing – and hurt or kill people in the process. Teachers sleep with their students or teach intolerance. Therapists who commit suicide or become addicts? Spouses, who forego a relationship for excitement? Or, conversely, those who stay when they shouldn’t. If you think they’re stupid, you’re wrong. If you can ever figure out the alchemy of the human mind, you’re going to be the salvation of humanity. We all do it – questioning someone’s intelligence for stupidity or misbehavior. In almost every case, the person doing the stupidity has an entirely different narrative running in his or her head. Knowing this, we attribute weakness or folly to others while telling ourselves that it is for a good reason when we do it. Human minds are incredibly complex and simultaneously very basic. A parting note is to remember that no matter what people tell you was going on their heads and hearts when they were doing whatever it is that looks questionable, they mostly either don’t know or aren’t going to tell you the right answer. We all want meaningful lives, great relationships, and health. And we commit the same mistakes over and over, all around the world. We are hard-wired to be both intelligent and stupid. If you can understand your mind, you’re way ahead of the rest of the crowd. And if you can translate that understanding into better and more satisfying and honest behaviors, I will ask you to do my job for me. Instead of labeling misbehavior from others, give them a pass so that you can ask for one for yourself when you do something equally stupid. Let time be a big part of your solution. If you can hesitate before speaking, before acting, before reacting, you have a better chance at being happy or at least comfortable.”