Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Three-Week Projects

So the grand project of mending my life marches on, in three-week sub-projects. There's something a little surreal about it, something a little pompous and overdone feeling, and I wonder if it will eventually reveal itself to be bogus. But so far, it marches.

I set my three-week goals with absurd precision. Be in bed by precisely 10:35. Ride my bike at least 28.4 miles each week. Buy the salad fixings before noon if there's only one salad's-worth left in the bowl at dawn.

But it has to be absurdly precise, because I have to know with no doubt whatsoever that I have either failed or succeeded. There must be no doubt. As soon as I fail, I need to chuck the project and reformulate it, usually (though not always) by halving the effort involved, or relaxing the “time tension” on it. Sometimes the revisions are absurdly small. “No eating after 7:30” becomes “No eating after 7:45.” That sort of thing. And it all gets written down and tracked in its own color on my Google calendar.

The idea is that the commodity in really short supply, the one I must hoard and deploy carefully, is what people commonly call will-power, and I call oomph. As things become habitual, they require less oomph, and typically – as with cleaning the kitchen daily – they can be moved into the less oomphy parts of the day (which for me are afternoons and evenings), leaving the high-oomph mornings for working on the hard things.

And things that are established do, really, require much less oomph as time goes by. When we had first moved into the new house, even things that had been automatic for years – flossing my teeth, for instance – had turned into things I had to force myself to do, with huge efforts of will. It helps a lot to know that every time I successfully do something like this, I make the next time easier, I free a tiny bit of oomph for the next project.

The increments are small. It will take a year or two to get to where I want to be food, for example, so that I'm mostly eating fresh food that I've prepared myself, and drastically curtailing the refined carbs. But since I've been struggling with it all my life, I'm willing for it to take a couple years. I've had enough experience of flinging myself at the whole problem and utterly failing, sliding clear back to zero (and under zero, to new lows). I don't know if I'll ever get there, but I know by now that I can't a) establish new habits of cooking and cleaning, b) establish new habits of eating, and c) forgo most of my favorite foods, all at once. It's too much, and it all crashes, and there I end up, as discouraged as bloody hell, gorging on potato chips and cookies because – since I'm going to be fat and disgusting and die young – I want at least to have some chips and cookies first.

So I'm going in increments, and actually refraining from certain foods comes dead last in the process. I may not ever get there, and if not, then that's just the way it is: but at least I'll be eating good food as well as bad food.

All this focus on myself makes me uneasy, but I tell myself it's not really just in service of my own vanity. I'm going to be a burden to other people, not a help to them, if my health breaks down: and I've already had more good luck that way than I deserve. I may have a tough, sturdy Norwegian frame that can carry seventy extra pounds with a shrug, and guts that absorb anything that faintly resembles food without complaining, but I'm not really indestructible.


Zhoen said...

First rule of water safety, make sure you are safe first, otherwise there are TWO stiffs in the water.

JMartin said...

So v. glad for update on project care, as posited alternative is unthinkable.

You've articulated perhaps the best definition of adulthood: to assume the burden of not unnecessarily becoming a burden.

Is it 50 that convinces those of us in undeserved good health that we aren't indestructible, and luck doesn't hold? I trust that 60 holds similar lessons, and yet: don't rush, 60.

marly youmans said...

Little increments. Like that, seems very sensible. I think I just like lists. Because I also like Benjamin Franklin and his list, starting off with that hilarious or serious line (which?), "Imitate Jesus and Socrates."

Lucy said...

A good tip from somewhere: start your list with something already accomplished or which you're in the process of accomplishing, then cross it off straight away. Gets you off to a positive start. Though I'm not sure Marly's Franklin item would be a good example...

Beth said...

Isn't it funny how something really big, like moving, makes it feel monumental to do the small things? I applaud your efforts and wish you lots of luck, though first I wrote "love" - a Freudian slip because I was thinking how much we need to forgive and love ourselves,and make allowances for many new beginnings.