Time is nature’s way of keeping everything from happening at once – Woody Allen
The British have a saying I love: “The world is a funny old thing” or I thought they did. Just looked it up on Wikipedia and apparently everyone else thinks the expression is “Life is a funny old thing” so I guess I have a saying I love, because that’s what I’ve been saying, for years. And it messes up the idea of a connection between crackerbarrel philosophers saying “The world is a funny old thing” to Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington (1882 – 1944) saying “Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it’s far stranger than we can imagine.” Strangely – and something I never would have imagined – Werner Heisenberg (1901 – 1976) said “Not only is the Universe stranger than we think, it is stranger than we can think”. Or so sayeth the Internet.
No matter I guess, because right now I want to say “Time is a funny old thing”. Our whole lives consist of a non-stop sequence of “instantaneous” instants that somehow add up so you actually make it through that endless afternoon at work and then the endless commute afterwards. Then zoom-zoom, the alarm is going off and another endless work day begins and then zoom-zoom-zoom it’s another weekend. Let me stop there because I’m scaring myself.
I think Ian Anderson expressed it best in Locomotive Breath:
God stole the handle and the train won’t stop going, no way to slow down
For over forty years I thought it was “but it could slow down”. Actually, I’d be happy if it would just stop speeding up, or not speed up so fast.
God stole the handle and the train won’t stop going, but it could slow down or at least slow the rate of acceleration.
Yep, I can see problems with that and I didn’t even get to the part about not speeding up so fast.
But I digress. Here’s the deal. Every instant you live is instantly gone. (See what I did there?) So it doesn’t really matter what you’re doing at any given instant, it just matters whether you’re happy or not. Now I don’t want to get into what constitutes happiness, so let’s just say it’s relative. At any given moment in time you could be more happy than you are or you could be less happy than you are. If you’re satisfied with your current level of happiness as the instants flow by then everything is groovy. If you’re not, then obviously you want to change things so you’re happier.
Now for me, there are two times when I definitely want to be happier than I am. The first is immediately after I’ve been behind a desk all day so I’m mentally and physically burned out. Physically burned out because my body has had a day of inactivity while my brain has been churning away, burning that oxygen and pumping stress-generated waste products into my bloodstream; or something like that. What am I, a person who does research? Well, maybe if I have to, and only up to the point where it serves my purpose; you saw how I got burned on that whole ‘funny old thing’ due diligence. Nope; for this I’m just winging it. It meets my new standard of “it stands to reason”, universally accepted by English seamen under Captain James Aubrey, and those guys beat Napoleon. Whatever. when I’ve been behind a desk all day, I usually feel exhausted and discontent with the world in general.
So that’s the first time. The second time is in the morning when I’ve eaten too much or drank too much coffee or stayed up too late or all three the night before so when it’s time to get to work (I’m lucky enough to be working at home now) I feel lethargic and discontent with the world in general.
Lucky for me I have the key to shape reality. (Nod to John Prine) A workout fixes that problem each and every time. The only exception is that it won’t really work if you’re suffering from a heavy meal within the last couple of hours. But other than that it’s infallible. And the difference in how I feel before and after still just floors me. How could I have felt so bad and now I feel so good?
Now there was a time I couldn’t have done that. I would have just endured through my misery because the feeling of exhaustion would have trumped any thought of exercise. There would always be some rationalization as to why I couldn’t exercise – maybe tomorrow, but not today because (insert rationalization here). But really it was just because I felt so exhausted and/or angst-ridden that facing thirty minutes on a stationary bike was unthinkable.
And that’s the key. I mechanically created a habit by not facing thirty minutes on a stationary bike. I only faced getting on the bike, turning the pedal a few times, and then getting off the bike. Anything more was strictly optional. Now I’ll tell you right now this is a trick to get your body moving, because once you start riding you’ll nearly always get past just a few turns. But even knowing that you’ll still have days where you’ll try to rationalize that it’s a waste of time to even do the getting on the bike and back off routine. Silly, stupid, won’t work, anything you can think of to remain inert.
On those days you really have to lean on the idea that “Yeah, maybe all those other days I got on the bike and actually rode for a good while, but today I’m just really too exhausted so I really am going to get on the bike, pedal a few times, and get off”. If you make the commitment to do that, even on those days, and actually fulfill it, you will be successful. If you don’t, you won’t. It’s as simple as that.
And obviously you can do it. If you’re a competent human being over the age of twelve, you can certainly make yourself essentially go through the motions. It requires almost no investment in time and effort. On the other hand, facing thirty minutes of strenuous physical effort when it’s the last thing you want to do is tough. It was too tough for me.
Look at it like this. Life can be blah. Sometimes it’s because you’re stuck in a boring situation. But often it’s because you have fallen victim to the unnatural sedentary life style with way too much rich food available that so many of us find ourselves in. You’re doomed to a few hours of blah-ness because you don’t have enough oxygen in your blood and probably do have stress-related chemicals that are dragging you down. So you’re just marking time anyway. Why not use that time to make life better? Yes, I know, you have to drag yourself over to the stationary bike, and sit there, and push those pedals, but is that really any worse than what you’re already going through? And if you don’t, you’re going to keep feeling that way, whereas if you do, you’re going to feel a whole lot better.
Life is about, or maybe I should say one of the things life is about, using current instants (instances of instants) to improve future instants, which essentially comes down to improving how you’re going to feel during those future instants. Exercise is a tool to do that, and if you follow my method for creating an exercise habit, it becomes increasingly easy to use.