Sunday, 27 October 2013

Putting the cart before the horse

Our bodies are funny things really. We'd like to think that they're rational, easy to understand things but they're really not. Or maybe they rhythms they obey are still a whole level of understanding beyond our current reach. Either way, it's continually fascinating how certain processes work. 

Maybe our minds are too enslaved to the concept of causality. For example, if a person is smiling, you'd naturally assume that they were feeling particularly joyous at that moment. In other words smiling is just an external symptom that is simply expresses an internal state :

Happiness ----> Smiling

So naturally  the concept of Laughter Clubs sounded ludicrous to me initially. Like why would you randomly start laughing if you really didn't feel like it? And even more confusing, how could this forced, "artificial" laughter succeed in triggering actual happiness? But then you read about laughter clubs and not only do the participants report leaving the events feeling elated, but then you have lists of studies that suggests there might actually be benefits to the practice.

It would appear that the reaction goes both ways :

Happiness <----> Smiling

This then got me thinking about the process of trying to consciously improve oneself. Mostly everyone is on this journey, in some form or another, but this process is fraught with frustration, whether you're trying to give up smoking, lose weight or be more productive.

For me, the most irritating part of the whole thing is that generally, the different aspects of your life kind of tie into one another. So maybe you want to eat more healthily but your job is really demanding and you don't get time to cook properly. Or maybe you want to sleep more but you also have to a lot of work in your spare time for a hobby. Either way, the problems can begin to seem intractable because it looks like you'd have to overhaul your entire life in a one massive swoop.

In a sense, you wind up stuck in a phase of constantly "trying" to change instead of actually making progress and "being" that new thing. And after a while the "trying" phase itself can become entrenched which means it's now comfortable to be uncomfortable, if that makes sense.

Anyway, it strikes me that there might be another way to approach the problem. Instead of only planning out the steps between you and your goal, it might be possible to also pick out some marker that describes your future self and then start doing that thing immediately. Nevermind that you've not achieved the new state yet, this should work exactly like the laughter club thing. By doing the new, symbolic behaviour, you're no longer "trying" to change and instead you've already kind of changed, in a sense. 

And it doesn't really matter how arbitrary the marker is, it's more important that it's something physical and tangible and externally visible. These are important because if the marker is something intagible like "in the future i will always be happy", then that's just a thought. And thoughts have a way of feeding in on themselves and chasing their own tails and not getting you anywhere. Having something physical is easier because our bodies are physical and because an external thing would be easier to evaluate to know for yourself if you're doing that thing or not.

So here's my plan, I've been trying several things over the months to be more productive so for the next month I'm planning to change it up a bit. For the next month, I will endeavor to be clean shaven for the entire 30 days. I think shaving will be a good, yet sufficiently arbitrary marker for several reasons. Firstly it's a nice, physical thing that is easy to evaluate. Also, from personal experience over the past few months, it's generally the easiest thing to let slip if things start getting hectic which then has me roaming around like Mr. Crusoe. 

Also there's no need to get fanatical about it, as such I think it's okay if i don't go more than three days without a shave. The marker is chosen more for how integrated it is into the rest of your life and how much of a change it will cause if habits surrounding the marker are altered in any way. Not to mention that my particular shaving habits require almost half an hour to get a good shave.

I'll count this as my first official experiment on this blog, in the style of David Cain of the Raptitude blog. The experiment will commence on the 1st of November and I'll post the results after the end of the month. 

Lemme know if this makes sense to anyone and if you're trying your own versions of the experiment then leave me a comment. :)

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