Forward motion

It didn't start out to be a Thing; it's not like I sat down and said “I will now Work On Improving Myself.” But at some point last month I realized there was a pattern, that in the previous few months I had started making progress on some things that I'd been blocked on.

I'm not sure it makes sense to lump all these things together; some of them are steps toward becoming a closer approximation of who I want to be, some are just dealing with some tasks I've been putting off for a long time. But to me, they all feel like steps forward.

Here are some of the things I've been doing. Half of these are things I want to write full entries on at some point, but for now I'm just going to list them:

  • Sorting and putting away vast stacks of papers.
  • Walking more often. (Some walking on treadmill, some walking to work.)
  • Eating less meat.
  • Flossing almost every night.
  • Learning some Spanish.
  • Asking for help when I need it. (In particular, help with a task that I'd spent years being unable to push myself to move forward on, for no clear reason.)
  • Finally making some long-delayed purchases (beds, speaker for my TV, etc).
  • Working on my will. (Don't worry, this is just a general-principles thing; I don't have any plans to need it anytime soon.)
  • Getting back some mistakenly lost vacation time at work—which is on this list because I spent a year and a half putting off dealing with it.
  • Trying anti-anxiety meds.
  • Going to the doctor for an annual physical. (I unintentionally skipped last year's.)
  • Getting my taxes done two months early.
  • Spending less time on Facebook.

(There was another thing on the original version of this list, a month ago, that I was starting to do but have been backsliding on: Doing more fiction writing. We'll see if I can get back to that. A couple of the above items are also too new to tell whether they'll persist, but I'm listing them anyway. But this paragraph is a good reminder to myself that none of this stuff is linear or binary; it's an ongoing process, and it's easy to revert to old habits.)

And here are a couple of things I haven't done yet, but am contemplating in a semi-serious way (not just a vague sometime-in-the-future to-do list):

  • Going through more boxes of unsorted papers.
  • Getting my house cleaned regularly.
  • Hosting writing days again.

There are, of course, many many other things that I would like to do or start doing, but most of those are on my vague-future list, rather than likely to happen soon.

What about you? In your comments on this post, I recommend avoiding fretting or self-criticism about things you haven't done but would like to; instead, I'm more interested in hearing about what positive steps you've taken lately, or are about to take, toward becoming more like who you want to be or getting unblocked. And if the answer is “none” (as it might've been for me a year ago), are there any such steps that you'd like to take?

There don't have to be any such steps; I couldn't have done any of the above stuff until I was somehow ready to do it, and people pushing me wouldn't have helped. Somehow the time has just been right in the past couple months for me to work on some of this stuff. So I certainly don't mean this post to be one of those “Everyone must go out and improve themselves, and you're a loser if you don't!” kinds of things. I know very well the feeling of wanting to move forward but not being able to; and reading stuff that tells me to just get over the inertia and start doing stuff is always more annoying than helpful.

But if you do find yourself moving forward, even in small ways, I'd be interested in hearing about it.

I'm also interested in hearing about what's different, if anything, that's letting you make progress that you couldn't make before. For me, it's been a confluence of a bunch of factors—the proximate causes have been things like discussions with friends, helping friends deal with some hard times, and watching a particular movie—but I think none of that would've made a difference if it hadn't just somehow been the right time for changes.

I'm reminded obliquely of a bit from a 2000 Salon article about quitting smoking:

But somewhere in the middle of the addiction [...] my body just gives me an escape clause, a ladder is lowered, and if I take it, then quitting is fairly easy. If I don't quit then, I'm trapped again. Eventually, weeks—maybe months—later, another ladder is lowered. I wonder if everybody's body gives them these little escape hatches, times when quitting is so much easier and more imaginable.

I wonder if something like that is true for other kinds of changes as well.

(Thanks to Addiction Is for the quote from the Salon article.)

4 Responses to “Forward motion”

  1. jacob

    First of all: cool to hear that things are moving.

    I had an interesting moment a couple of months ago, where I was feeling bad about the fact that I never floss (despite having not very good teeth). When this has come up before, I’ve always said to myself “yes, I really should, I’m a bad person, etc.”. But this time, I said “you know, I really hate to floss. It sucks. I don’t like the way it feels, I’m not good at it, it takes me a long time, I hate it.”

    And at that moment it became much easier. I’ve been flossing much more (for a few weeks I flossed every day, though that hasn’t lasted). I think it really just helped a lot to call it out for what it was: I don’t floss because I don’t like it.

    Current project: For about a week I’ve been counting the calories I eat using; I would like to lose about 15-20 pounds. So far it’s working very well. My wife started doing it and I liked how it sounded so I started too. I’m not trying to go too fast but I think I can lose the weight I want in 2-3 months.

    Next big project: sitting down with a financial adviser to talk about retirement, college accounts for the kids, etc.

  2. eclectic-boy

    I’m fascinated to hear this, because I’m also in the middle of an unexpected, acausal (so far as I can tell) period of health-related new behaviors.

    I blame flossing, which had long been something I did only a few days after (and a few days before) visits to the dentist. A year and a bit ago, I managed to ritualize it: it became what I do right before reaching for my toothbrush each night. (Well, not quite each. I still skip it if I’m particularly tired. But flossing is now the norm, not the exception.)

    And then six months ago or so I got into a regular habit of going to the fitness center. It’s always been easy in theory since I live a block away and it’s free since I’m an alum, but only recently did I make it a regular activity, about three times a week. And while I believe it’s resulted in my getting stronger and a little bit staminer, the main result has been that I usually enjoy it – not so much the cycling and nautilusing itself, but the feel for the rest of the day, increased alertness.

    And in the shortest term, just for the past eight days I’ve experimented with cutting down a lot on what I eat. My intention isn’t really to start some major weight-loss program, just to convince myself that I could. I feel addiction is too strong a word for the internal “of course you can eat some ___; it’ll be yummy” that I usually operate on, but it’s in that direction. And this experiment–which has been a success–is further proof that it isn’t an irresistible force. After a couple of days, the craving faded away, and has stayed faint.

    There’s more to do, of course, and thank you for reminding me of it. I really should have a will, and I really really should get my taxes done. More for the to-do list…

    Note: staminer is not a word; it just ought to be.

    • Jed

      Neat! And especially fascinating because flossing was essentially the start of things for me, too. After years of the dentist (well, hygienist) telling me I needed to floss more often, and my almost never doing it, suddenly in the middle of this past November I started doing it every night. I think the proximate cause was an upcoming appointment in which I didn’t want to admit how little I’d been flossing.

      And then I made myself keep doing it every night, and now it’s a regular thing. Although it hasn’t yet become habit; even after four months, if I don’t consciously remind myself to do it, I’ll forget. But that’s only happened maybe half a dozen times.

      So now I wonder: is flossing a gateway drug to forward motion and/or starting better habits? Or is it that we were in the right space to make changes and flossing was the first and easiest change to make?

      (The less-meat thing was something I started several months before the flossing, but that felt like an isolated instance rather than part of a pattern. The flossing was when it started to feel like I was making changes.)

      Anyway: go, you!

  3. eclectic-boy

    I remember thinking at the time that flossing was a very simple but meaningful daily reminder that I could change my habits, but that being said I don’t think it’s a ‘miracle gateway drug’. We both happened to have that be the first step, but I think there are tons of others that might have been. The main thing is that it’s small, hence easy, but it helps build a mindset for tackling bigger things.


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