knowing, but not really
I have a weird relationship with habits and discipline. I never learn. I know, but I don’t really know. I often remember my wife reading a book I recommended to her and going, “You know all this? You don’t act like it.”
Do I really know if I don’t act on that knowledge? That might be worse than not knowing. In a way, I am betraying myself — thinking one thing (I should do this) and doing the opposite (not doing the thing).
Passivity might be my biggest vice. It’s very simple — I just don’t do anything. But doing nothing usually comes with a price. After a while, I turn into a person I didn’t want to become. I become like a frog in a pot that didn’t notice the water was slowly boiling.
Recently: I stopped waking up early, stopped the long distance cycling, stopped the cold showers. It’s easy to find the excuses: I have to get enough sleep; it’s humid outside; hot water is cozy. Instead of the good habits, I’ve been practicing the bad ones: consuming a lot of news and endlessly scrolling Twitter.
I’ve started sleepwalking through days, which became weeks. But what woke me up is realizing that I’ve become more negative, more anxious. The news reported that “the flooding danger is over, but there is a new danger now — mosquitoes.” The perfect demonstration of how the news works — spinning even the rare instances of positive news into something negative, something to worry about. I had enough.
Now: I wake up early, go on long bike rides even if the weather forecast predicts 3rd ring of hell (I start early to avoid it), take a cold shower. The other day, I sang Yellow Submarine to myself as I biked an unpaved road deep in the woods full of hunting blinds with no signal on my phone, hoping I was on the right track. I was in the middle of nowhere, all alone. The sound of bike tires on macadam the only background music. Crows flying overhead. The sense of unease increased as I went into a thick fog. And then: asphalt road, village sign, civilization. I appreciated even the things that usually annoy me: dogs running after me as I pass by the houses. I’m glad I rode that day. I just regret not riding more often.
Chesterton: “The telescope makes the world smaller; it is only the microscope that makes it larger.” The bicycle also makes it bigger, while the car makes it smaller. Only after riding through the vast unpopulated areas do I realize how small the populated areas are. You can’t really get a good sense of an area when you’re passing by quickly in the car. You have to focus on the road so you can’t notice the surroundings.
I also know, but don’t really know this: conflict avoidance is not a recipe for long-lasting relationships. You end up censoring yourself to not hurt anybody. You end up lying to yourself and other people. You strengthen the false self. Conflict avoidance reminds me of Taleb’s claims that volatility reduction increases fragility. He says that modernity is systematic suppression of the world’s volatility and randomness which makes systems more prone to shocks later. It happens in education, finance, politics, medicine. I don’t want to go too much into the details here, but I want to share one example: antibiotics. Taleb: “Every time you take an antibiotic, you help, to some degree, the mutation of germs into antibiotic-resistant strains”. By trying to make relationships smooth and by never arguing we make them more fragile and prone to disasters later. Also: if you don’t speak up about what’s on your mind, how do you expect people to change their behavior? No one can read your mind.
Over time, I’ve become more individualistic. I realized that I was going to wait for a long time if I waited for someone to start a sport habit with. I tried getting friends to go to the gym with me, but that didn’t work. I had to start going alone. Similarly, if I want to ride a bike more regularly, I have to do it alone. I no longer wait for anyone when I start something. If I really want a bike or gym companion, it’s easier to find him after starting the habit, not before.
I’m trying to be less of a proverbial frog in a boiling pot. What that looks like: being more deliberate with my choices, realizing when I’m too passive, saying what I think, and thinking less if something will offend someone. Having the courage to be disliked. Knowing when I’m right and that my opinions are valid and reasonable.