Monday, April 17, 2017

Thrive


One of the popular concepts over in the Nerd Fitness community is that of the "respawn". Putting the "nerd" in Nerd Fitness, it means that if you fall off the wagon, you don't just get back on it, but come back to life at the beginning of a level, just like a character in a video game.
People in that group are always respawning all over the place, and I'm no different.

I'm currently in the process of a respawn, after allowing myself a couple of weeks months to make sure I was well settled into my new home and back from my latest adventures. Think of it as a belated New Year's. The great thing about a respawn though is that it can happen whenever you damn well please, though if I am being completely honest, I've had a bit of a hard time getting back into the groove of things. This should have been a warning.

See, the important thing about a respawn is to learn from the ways that didn't work before, which is challenging for me because I always end up convinced that it is a lack of stubbornness that made me fail, while in fact the opposite is true. I fail because I always end up treating life like some kind of boot camp, where my goals are lists of things ordered by my drill sergeant at 5 am every morning, leading to the vexation of those close to me because they can't grasp why I would need to be so continuously impressed with myself in order to not feel like a loser. This is, of course, exhausting.
If I didn't want the promise not to do that anymore to be an empty one, though, I would have to take a long hard look at why I have goals at all, and why they are what they are.




If you're one of the handful of friends who have been following my online writing since before 2010, you might remember a long and convoluted post about the concept of entelecheia, invented by Aristotle and butchered by me in many attempts to explain it properly and without comparing myself to a tree. I keep circling back to it though, and when I did this time around, it felt like the perfect answer to the question of how to determine and pursue my goals.

(please scroll past this if you don't care for me murdering classical philosophy and just read the article on Wikipedia, if you want)

Because I am a thing that exists, there is some unique way for me to exist that makes me, me. That way of existing is doing something, some action, that a thing like me would typically do. "Oh, it is just like that thing to do that thing," you might say.
According to Aristotle, both living and nonliving things have potential that can be actualized, and being busy actualising that potential is the most thing-like thing a thing can do, because by engaging in whatever activity that helps it do that, it is making itself even more like the thing it is, while, of course already being super thing-like just by doing the thing. (someone please shoot me now)
A quite boring example of this is that when an axe is busy chopping, it is also busy becoming more like an axe, as opposed to when it is just lying around somewhere where it could be mistaken for nothing but a stick with a sharp bit attached to the end.


This would mean that my entire notion of a "goal" as some milestone to reach at a far away point in the future is wrong, which is great news for a thing person like me, because as an utter marshmallow test failure, the future doesn't motivate me, like, at all (and remember that post I did about how external motivation actually makes you enjoy things less, so it's not just me?). Besides, the future is uncertain, and you can pretty much count on shit happening and moving either you or your arbitrary goal post all the way over there, which is what has been going wrong all of these times, I think.

If I think of a goal as just me, functioning well in the present, there isn't really any way such a disconnect could happen, because what "functioning well" is, can vary depending on circumstances. (I just realize I'm advocating for the exact opposite of S.M.A.R.T. goal setting here, radical that I am.)

If I try to think about it in this way it seems that a lot of the pressure and nervousness kind of instantly dissolves. Instead of like some kind of boot camp, it feels more like something, a plan that unfolds, and the something is me. And instead of trying to adhere to some arbitrary standard that has nothing to do with me, all I am doing is unfolding and becoming more like me by doing the things that are natural to what a thing like me would do, and is best at.

Some of these things take work, yes, but because the reward is no longer external but lies in the doing itself, they only get included if I actually want to do them. The flip-side of that is that while I am obviously a natural at playing video games and eating junk food all day, it's pretty self-evident that this isn't me functioning at the best of my unique abilities (ahem.).

There is another word for this that takes a lot less headachey explaining, and that word is "thrive". I'm making it my word of the year.

Somewhere last year (probably at New Year's, duh) the Bloggess did a post about how, instead of making a whole bunch of resolutions, a cool other thing you could do was to just pick one word, and have that be the theme of the year. A couple of months later, as I was working in the garden of our cohousing project, I dug up this tiny glass bottle that still had the cap on it, and figured it would be fun to put my word in it for safe keeping (I sometimes do weird things and don't know why). The word I picked then was "YES", which was definitely what I needed at the time. I feel like I've put this word to good use. It has led me to a number of strange and unexpected places. I got a tattoo, and then another one that is still a work in progress only becoming more and more awesome (it's actually finished now - this post has been in my drafts folder for ages as I tried to remember how to make words go). I met a whole bunch of new people (probably more than in the previous 5 years combined!) and travelled to see them. Most of all, I got to try out a great number of things to see if they were "me".



This year, though, I'm a bit done with saying yes to all kinds of outside things. I'm not going to stop completely, but maybe just turn it down a little bit to make room for the things I have discovered matter most to me. Already the best part of this year is that I am now in a position where I have everything in place for me to do that. Being on my own means that I have as close as perfect control over my priorities as I could reasonably wish for. It means that I can say "no" again because with every year that passes since I was on that cliff edge staring down into the abyss it becomes easier for me to know who I am and what my needs are.




This is why I still don't regret my choice to let the word "YES" carry me out to sea a little bit. Especially when you are so unsure about who you are and what you want as I have been, it's never a bad move to just go out and try something. Even if it ends up being a disaster, at least you will find out stuff about yourself. I have found out that my belief that people-people are somehow better, and so I should try to mold myself into one, is idiotic and futile. It's not that I'm an introvert (like, at all), but I still get pretty fucking drained by the amount of energy it takes to try and be liked by a large number of people who, at the end of the day, are, at best, acquaintances. And since it is hard to suppress my instinct to be such a pleaser all the damn time, it's so much better for me to live alone so that I can at least exhale at the end of the day and not hear myself talk for a while.



Maybe I am a childish and petty person for the amount of joy it brings me to open up my tiny new fridge and look at all the food in there that is all mine and will still be there when I want to eat it, but if a simple thing can make me so happy, why should I care? Maybe I am a neurotic control freak and instead of trying my best not to be that way it would be better to learn to be just a little bit patient with myself. And maybe it is 100% ok to be a little bit like a hermit because for the past months, this house has mostly felt like a blanket fort and every day I wake up giddy that "I can do whatever I want!", as if that somehow wasn't the case before, but there you go.

My needs are not like anyone else's, and neither are yours. The very best thing is just to find out what they are. I'm hoping that this year, we can all find what it takes for us to thrive.