Monday, July 25, 2005


There are two things I've been trying to accomplish for all of my adult life -- establish a regular exercise routine, and change my eating habits. I ordinarily see myself as failing repeatedly at both of them.

I've decided I have to treat these two projects the way I'd treat any project at work -- set measureable goals and milestones, and set criteria for success. Because I'm realizing the cost of having these perpetual projects -- to wit, that I'm always failing. I'm always failing, but I have never failed. If I failed I could just move on, and make room for other projects. But I've made failure unthinkable in my mind. I have to change that. To fail at a couple of things is tolerable. To fail at the same things, over and over, all my life, is just intolerable. And unnecessary.

I've always made these projects open-ended in some way. The change of diet has never had a deadline, and the exercise has never had a distinct end-goal. So I've set a deadline for the one and a goal for the other.

If I can't observe the dietary restrictions I've set myself for four weeks -- I've made them mild, and allowed for treats -- then I'm simply going to acknowledge that I've failed, and stop mucking with it. So I don't eat right. Most Americans don't. It isn't a disaster. I'll take it off the goal list and put it on the wish list, things I might take on after I've retired. And then, if I make the four-week goal, I'll monitor it for a year. If I can't then keep it up for the year, barring the typical Christmas-time spinout and one other contained collapse, then, again, I've simply failed, and I'm done.

It's difficult to make this thinkable, after it's been so long unthinkable. But I'm just sick of it. Not going to live there anymore.

The exercise is a slightly different. I've actually been fairly successful at this, but I always fail eventually, in my own mind, because I've always set up systems -- generally detailed and elaborate ones, because that's the kind of man I am -- that have me doing progressively more and more. More reps. Longer walks. More laps. Faster cycling times. Which is fine -- it is the way to improve one's physical condition -- but the problem is that eventually I get sick or injured, and then I can't keep up the progression. And since these progressions have had no terminus ad quem, I spin out at those points. My goals keep getting ahead of me, till they eventually vanish out of sight. So I fail perpetually at that, too.

So I've set end goals this time around. This is what I intend to do, and no more. When I get there, that's enough. I'm done. I don't try to get a little stronger, a little further, a little faster. The open-ended programs have all really rested on a denial of mortality, a denial of limitations. The fantasy of becoming extraordinary somehow has always whispered there -- usually, just out of range of my explicit awareness, but it's always been there. Gradually, secretly, I would achieve more and more until finally everyone would realize my greatness. I have to let that go.

These changes of view and expectation sound minor, but they are actually a serious insurrection against my ordinary habits of mind. As such, we can expect a counter-insurgency. Stay tuned.

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