The New Year is almost upon us. The next year of The Jerx is less than two weeks away.
What are your resolutions? Mine are to eat more fudge and smoke more Old Golds. I like to start the year off with some quick wins.
If you have more traditional resolutions, here is a mental framework that may help you achieve them.
Ultimately, every resolution comes down to self-discipline. The most ingenious plans to lose weight or stop smoking or do whatever will still require you to exert self control. There's really no way around it.
Here is the way I frame self-discipline to make it a more attractive choice, rather than just the "good" or "proper" choice. It starts off by thinking of the concepts of free will and determinism. Are we literally making choices as we go through life? Or is everything we think, feel, and do the result of a chain of events that came before? Is our free will just an illusion?
I find these questions neither interesting nor helpful. But they do form the foundation of how I imagine the universe operates that is useful for me.
I imagine that both things are true. I imagine that everything is predetermined and that, via effort, we can exercise our free will.
I imagine life like sledding down an endless hill. If you don't exert yourself you will just continue along the path that's been laid out before you. But you don't have to do that. You can shift your weight to alter your direction. Or you can put your feet out to flip the whole fucking thing over and start walking back up the hill.
Now, this technique presupposes that you believe having free will is the preferred situation. For me, at least, that's the more romantic notion than that we are just acting out roles that have already been predetermined. So I frame self-discipline as an expression of free will. That makes it the more attractive choice for me.
So, for example, I may think what I want to do for the next couple of hours. My natural inclination might be to watch Netflix and eat a tray of brownies. But I know I should go out and get some exercise. Instead of trying to force myself to go exercise by rationalizing it as the "better" choice or the more productive choice or the right choice, I just imagine laying around and watching Netflix as the pre-determined path. It's what I would do if I was just floating through life and not utilizing my free will. It's what I would do on automatic pilot. So now making myself exercise (or socialize, or work on a project, or complete any other task requiring self-discipline) is not an act of austerity, but an act of defiance. It's an F-you to the gods, or fate, or the universe, or quantum mechanics, or whatever you want to see as the entity behind the determinism. Try it yourself. When you feel like playing Super Mario Run for another hour even though there are a dozen other more fulfilling pursuits you could be doing, just say, "Aha! That's just what they want me to do. Sorry. You'll have to find yourself some other puppet." Then go work on your novel or whatever.
I'm not saying you need to be 100% productive and you can't coast sometimes. I coast a lot. But if you find yourself not doing the things you want, and only following an easy, unfulfilling path, it might help to think of things this way.
No exercise of self-discipline is too small for me to not see it as a triumph of self-determination over fate.
In My Mind: I'm the hero of a dystopian teen novel. The sentries of Factory Ward 8 are wondering, "What's to be done with this 'Andy' character? Multiple times a day he leaves the post he's assigned to—with the other drones, manually turning the giant turbine that generates the power for Luna Sector—and goes off his pre-determined path. Perhaps he needs to be reprogrammed." As they discuss this I have, once again, left my station and I'm attempting to wake up the other glassy-eyed captives to join me in my rebellion. I've rerouted the current to blow the doors off the factory prison! Wake up, you fools! An explosion is heard and the sentries turn just in time to see me flick them off as I, and the others I've managed to rouse, make our escape. "Choke on shit, motherfuckers!" I scream as we go.
In Reality: I've motivated myself to remove the empty Burger King bag from the backseat of my car rather than leave it there to be dealt with later (my natural impulse).
You might think only an idiot would find any motivation in imaging self-discipline in this way—as an expression of free will. And that's fair, maybe I'm an idiot. But if you're an idiot too, maybe it will work for you. And if it does work you'll find yourself actually enjoying practicing self-discipline. If you're like me, you'll feel more tuned into life when you are steering the ship rather than letting it be tossed about on the waves of your basest instincts. It feels good to imagine you're exercising your free will. And it feels good in a way that taking sensible, mature actions usually doesn't. Perhaps it even gives you a dopamine hit similar to fucking or eating a doughnut (or fucking a doughnut).
And after a little while, it doesn't matter if you actively think this way or not, because eventually you just become this person. You will have effectively trained yourself to appreciate the exertion of self-discipline in the moment. You won't just be engaging in discipline for some future reward.
At least that's been my experience.
Happy New Year, everyone. See you in 2017.