As you can see if you go to "The Latest" section of this site, I had the intention of posting at least something on here every day. I'd stay on top of my actual paid writing work, and in my plethora of spare time I'd make sure to write on The Abell Cable. I wanted to keep positive momentum going and get into a routine. All it would take was a little self-discipline and effort.
It's been two and a half months since my last post.
A similar occurrence: In order to trim some belly fat for my wedding last month, I hired a personal trainer who would see me twice a week to guide my workouts and track my progress. I knew she was watching and judging, and so I did my part. I stuck to a great routine of healthy eating and regular exercise. Perhaps most importantly, I also resolved to keep up the healthy habits once I got married and the trainer and I split ways.
I got married a month ago, and the belly is roaring back.
One more. Throughout college and grad school
I lived with various roommates. I was (um, usually) pretty diligent about trying leave a mess in common areas. I'd do my dishes and pick up my trash, but my own personal space? My room? It was an absolute war zone. Pants piled up like accordions and dozens of used cups and crumpled blankets and sheets papers all over the place. Even now, in the apartment I share with my wife (yes, I was looking for an excuse to say “my wife”), I find that my motivation to stay neat is less about having a clean apartment and higher quality of life and than it is about pleasing her and avoiding confrontation.
So I've figured one thing out for sure: If someone else holds me accountable, I deliver. I'm not totally lazy. When my employer gives me a deadline, I work diligently and meet it. I offer to do dishes and take out the trash and cook dinner. Etc. Congratulations to me. It's the whole working-to-achieve-my-goals thing that seems to trip me up. If I want to write one post on my own blog, even though I want the blog to grow and flourish, and even if I have absolutely nothing else to do, I have the hardest damn time actually doing it. Same thing with exercise and my desire to be chiseled and extremely sexy, and I can't tell you how many times I've decided to start journaling, or learn some basic French, or teach myself a few songs on the piano. I can tell you that I remain the slightly flabby owner of a blank journal who speaks only English and plays zero instruments.
I know I'm not alone here, and of course some goals like learning a language or an instrument are a little ambitious. I'm not trying to be hard on myself for the sake of being hard on myself (let's note here that I just used "hard on" twice in one sentence). But to be honest, I absolutely have the time to do those things, and they'd be good for me. And I know that. So why do I spend so much more time reading dumb stuff on the internet than on relatively easy self-improvement? Why do I have such a hard time mustering up the self-discipline to write on this blog—or, for that matter, to take the dry-clean-only sweater that's been sitting on top of my laundry for six months to the dry cleaner ACROSS THE STREET—when it's clear that it behooves me to do so? Why can't I hold myself accountable?
Of course, I Googled it, and explanations abound. Let's air a couple out:
- I'm a people-pleaser who wants to be liked, and avoiding confrontation is a big motivator for me. So I think so little of myself that I don't want to please ME?
- I have less energy left for productive endeavors because I exert so much of it in my internal battle with OCD. Poor me.
- I crave immediate gratification and don't place appropriate value on potential long-term benefit. I’d fail that famous marshmallow test. I can't really argue much here. I just don't know why that's the way I am, unless it's because...
- I have a hard-wired disposition toward "laziness" because more dopamine is released into the anterior insula of my brain instead of the striatum or the blah blah blah blah. Seems sad to just look at it and say, "Well, I'm a pre-determined underachiever. I guess I'll just go watch TV."
It's that last one that really interests me. It's scary and sad, because it implies there's no hope; I'm an underachiever because that's the way my brain works, physically. (It's also convenient, because it says it's not my fault.) HOWEVER, I came across something interesting as I was asking Google why I was on the couch instead of blasting my biceps up to 22 inches: Science says I can physically rewire my brain if I so please.
The concept is called neuroplasticity. I like to think of it in terms of strength training: It's difficult, but if we exercise the healthy parts of our brains enough, if we repeatedly make the proper neural pathways fire away, we can rewire them to default to those healthy neural pathways instead of unhealthy ones. Of course, it's a massive catch-22, because rewiring your brain to make yourself more self-disciplined takes...self-discipline. That's a puzzle I need to figure out. Books like Willpower, The Power of Habit, and Mindset are good places to start; they point out obvious but profound truths such as the fact that we don't need to wait until we feel like doing something like exercise to do it. It doesn't need to feel perfect or productive. We just need to start.
The philosophical implications of neuroplasticity are momentous as well, and not just in terms of improving self-discipline. It's bigger than that: WE MIGHT BE ABLE TO FIX OUR OWN BRAINS. Scientists know this because they've done before-and-after brain imaging; while the concept of improving symptoms of mental issues through practice isn't that new, physical evidence is.As OCD expert Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz, who helped Leonardo DiCaprio understand the disorder for his role as Howard Hughes in The Aviator, neuroplasticity is a victory for free will. Even if we are biologically built with certain temperaments or dispositions, we can choose to change biologically. That is massive.
But again, the question is how to get ourselves to start. Thoughts, anyone?