I despise the word “should”. When someone tells me I “should” do something I immediately start deciding I “won’t”. If you think you need to tell me what I “should” do, you better start by making sure I want what you’re selling.
When I was about twelve years old I thought seatbelts were stupid. In my own defense, this was several years before they made us watch “Blood On The Asphalt” in high school, so the consequences of being in a wreck were pretty abstract. At the time all I knew was that I didn’t want to have to wear a stupid seatbelt when I rode in the car. I wanted my freedom to move around and we’d never have a wreck anyway. After all, my father was the best driver I knew – actually he was a great driver and teacher – which is amazing in itself. And on the seatbelt issue, fortunately, my father was wiser than I and installed them before it was even the law. And eventually my brain realized that it would rather stay where it was than be spread over all the windshield, and we did have to share the road with idiots.
Here’s another example. In the sixties and seventies, when I smoked, I knew I “should” quit. I knew before I started. But I can pretty much say “should” had almost zero and maybe even a negative impact on my efforts to quit. Or maybe “should” did get me to make the initial effort to quit. I don’t remember, but I do remember that I would quit long enough, several days, that I was conscious of how a couple of cigarettes made me feel like I was coming down with a cold when I started again. That was finally what got me to stop. I don’t know how many times I went through that cycle over about four years, but finally how I felt trumped how much I wanted a cigarette. And now, unlike a lot of people I know who did manage to quit because they “should”, the thought of lighting up a cigarette makes me feel a little ill. Don’t get me wrong, it’s sad that I never would have been able to quit because of threats to my health, but there it is. The important thing is I quit.
I won’t say I pity the fool who smokes, but I will say I pity the fool who starts, including me 47 years ago.
But let’s review. I wear my seatbelt because I know I feel a lot better with my brains inside my head where they belong, so I want to increase the odds they stay there. As it happens, I’m the best driver I know, having taken over the title from my father, but I have to share the road with even more idiots than he did, so you do the math.
I don’t smoke cigarettes because my subconscious finally realized I feel better when I don’t smoke than when I do smoke; to the degree that I feel sick when I think about doing it.
No “shoulds” there. Pure self-interest resulting in more pleasure in the here and now.
So why do I exercise? Not because I “should”; that usually doesn’t work for me even when it’s something I need to do to get what I want. As far back as the early sixties when I was twelve or thirteen I wanted to be in shape. I got a set of bar bells from the Sears. I started using them and never looked back. Wait … that’s not what happened. That’s what I expected to happen. I knew if I wanted to be like Charles Atlas and stop the hypothetical bullies from kicking hypothetical sand in my hypothetical face I “should” lift weights on a regular schedule.
But guess what. You don’t get fit in a day, a week, or even six weeks. You may start seeing results in a month to six weeks, but you’re just getting started, and then of course there are plateaus where you seem to be stuck and don’t see any results at all, even the imaginary ones. So my weight sessions were sporadic and pretty ineffective. And then there was the time when my best friend and I actually measured, with a tape measure I think, the distance around several blocks starting in front of our houses. We were going to run that route at least once every day and probably several times. That happened once – one time on one day.
Then of course came the army and basic training, which was my first clue that exercise could actually make you feel good. That’s nice, but it didn’t seem to have much effect, because I weighed 237 pounds when I got out two years later, with proably less muscle than when I got drafted. Sitting around in Germany eating wurst and pastry when you’re not in the field and C-Rations when you are can really pork you up; fitting, as pork in gravy was one of the most coveted C-Rations – resulting in pork in the radio hut.
So now I’m out of the army and it’s September of 1971, meaning I had nearly wasted almost the first year of the greatest decade in the history of decades; the greatest largely because of Steely Dan, The Eagles, and Pink Floyd, to name a few, but mostly because I was out of the army and still young. So now Richard needs women, so Richard needs to get in shape; Richard joins a gym. And what a gym – Not Jack La Lanne’s; Jack La Lanne’s was the only “consumer gym” and it was just getting started; it was like a million dollars for a non-revocable fifty year membership. Or something like that. Too much for me anyway. So I joined Vince Gironda’s gym on the crummier part of Ventura Boulevard. What a dump. Dirt parking lot that turned to mud when it rained. The whole place, especially the locker room I never used, reeked of stale sweat and mildew.
But Vince Gironda was a real body building champion, and real body builders came to the gym. Also actors – I saw Robert Blake and the sidekick guy from One Adam Twelve there. That impressed my family more than any of my other accomplishments to date as I recall.
The first day I stared working out there I hit it really hard, went home, threw up, and was too sore to work out again for about a week, which is a cautionary tale in itself. But I did go back, and when I did I really did make an effort, but eventually it was just too much effort and drudgery for too little apparent progress, so I gave it up. I knew I “should” keep it up if I wanted those hot women – damn, what the hell was wrong with me!!! I guess I just didn’t really “believe”, which is the other problem with “should”. If you’re going to keep it up with “should” you have to “believe” that doing what you “should”, will get you what you “want”. Which I didn’t apparently.
The sad thing is, I had clues all along that exercise could make you feel really good. There was the time in basic training when I spent the whole afternoon thinking I had it knocked because endrophins after PT had me in such a good mood. There was breakfast after morning runs, when I felt great in spite of being in the army, facing a day of basic training; and the food tasted great in spite of being choked down in seven minutes and being army food.
After I got out of the army and would be sitting around all listless and bored, thinking I should work out, I would wish a drill instructor could make me exercise and then leave me alone the rest of the time, so I guess I did know exercise would make me feel good. I just felt powerless to do anything about it. If I exercise today, what good will that do, then I have to exercise tomorrow, and the next day, and the next – aieeee!!!!
I was so close. All I had to do was be my own drill instructor that demanded I start but let me quit as soon as I wanted, and just keep it up. As noted fitness expert Woody Allen said, more or less, “Eighty percent of success is just showing up”. Eight years wasted.
And after I finished workouts at the gym I would feel great, and I would alway think that the next time it would be easy to start because I felt so good. But the next time I would be facing the same old drudgery and it would be just as hard. Which finally got so old and tiresome and induced so much guilt when I didn’t workout that I quit. Besides, I had moved over the hill from the Valley to West L.A., so I had the ideal excuse.
Fortunately, a few years later I finally ran into a situation where I was motivated just by the desire to burn off the day because I needed to study in the evening, which I found pretty much impossible given how drained I felt after work. I never really realized that, because I would always come home and watch TV or read a book. But when I needed to do something that actually required focus I just wasn’t up for it. That was when all those expericnces over the years made me realize I could do something about it. And even then nothing worked until I came up with the idea of taking away all the pressure except for just “starting” a ride on the exercise bike, every day without exception after work. Even that was dicey, but I was able to shame myself into it long enough to start feeling the difference.
Now here’s the really funny part. My plan was to get into riding the bike every night until I finished computer school, then go back to chillaxing after work every day. I just didn’t get how much better I felt after a workout. I had to experience it over and over again until finally I didn’t want to give it up. You don’t just feel able to focus, you feel good, really good. And when you make that comparison enough times it finally sinks into the subconscious and thereby to the id, and once you convince the id, your golden. I still didn’t want to start that bike ride, but I also didn’t want to have to endure how it felt if I didn’t, which is pretty much the id at work. “Wah wah wah, I don’t want to feel like this”. Instead of trying to keep me off the bike it was demanding that I ride.
So for years of working at jobs far more stressful than anything I did before I got into computers; after commutes, sometimes over an hour each way; instead of just being home for a sleep break before going back to the grind, I would jump on that bike first thing and actually have part of a day to enjoy. My evening didn’t begin until I got off that bike.
The rest is history. I tolerated the exercise bike for twenty-five years, at least once a day, for the reward of feeling great afterwards. Then I discovered jump rope, and now I have JumpRock. So at 65, the thing I have the most fun doing is the thing that keeps me in shape, and I still haven’t peaked. What could be better than that?
And that’s what this whole site is about. How to develop a craving for how exercise makes you feel so it actually becomes more distressing to not be able to exercise; as compared to the feeling of relief I used to have when I had a good excuse to not exercise. It’s as simple as repetition, but it’s as hard as actually having to do it. Fortunately actually having to do it means getting on the bike, turning the pedals a few times, and getting off again. Hopefully you’ll do more, but you don’t have to. And if you keep it up, unless I’m some kind of freak, it will work. I pity the fool who thinks I’m some kind of freak. You don’t even have to believe. I was totally skeptical when I came up with the idea. But it just doesn’t matter. I also like saying “It just doesn’t matter”, because I like to imitate Bill Murray whenever possible. I’m a complex guy.