We talk ourselves out of making changes because we are pretty sure they aren’t really all they’re cracked up to be. There is a certain pride to be found in taking a contrarian position. For instance, I think Pop Tarts are gross. I didn’t like The Fifth Element, and I wasn’t all that impressed by Firefly, either. Yeah, yeah, go ahead and quit reading. Obviously I have nothing else worthwhile to say! All I was going to talk about was that the insight almost always comes after the experience. We sit around waiting to “feel like” doing certain things, and guess what? We never “feel like it” because that isn’t how it works. What happens is that we try stuff, realize things about it that we wouldn’t have guessed, and then we see what all the fuss is about. Or not. I mean, Pop Tarts? Whatevs.
My resistance to something is usually proportionate to how important that thing later becomes in my life. I used to openly mock runners who jogged in place at intersections. I used to go off on lengthy rants about how people on dating sites always talk about how much they love hiking, but I actually hated hiking and thought they were lying to make themselves look good. I used to talk about LA and how it was a cesspit that symbolized everything bad about humanity. Now I live in that region, which I find delightful, and running and backpacking are two of my favorite things. I used to loathe mornings and considered myself a total night owl. Now I wake up around 7 AM, even on weekends, and it’s one of my favorite times of day. Past Self would think we had completely lost our mind.
Many of the positive changes in my life have come about completely by accident. Part of this is because historically I have moved a lot. The next time I move will be my 29th time since 1993. What happens is that all the patterns of my life get shaken up. How I arrange my house, where I buy groceries, what I do for exercise, how often I go to the library or park or movie theater, and how much I sleep have a surprising amount to do with where I am living at the time. (Upstairs Crackhead Neighbor from 2007, you suck. Get help). I’ve been able to look back at different times in my life and whatever random distribution of habits I was following, and spot patterns that were positive, negative, or turned out not to matter as much as I would have guessed. Of course, I can also compare my results to whatever results other people seem to be getting, but the only way I can get solid information about that is by asking. My assessment of other people’s motivations is probably about as poor as my assessment of my own.
Working out is a great example of this. All my life, I thought athletes were dumb and mean. I thought going to the gym was for vain people who had nothing better to do. The first inclination I had that there might be more to it was when I bought a bike. My intention was to save money, because I am a tightwad, and perhaps do something positive for the environment as well. I was determined to get the best possible value out of this $400 retroactive pay increase I got at work. That meant I had to skip enough months of bus passes to at least amortize the $400 cost of the bike. I didn’t frame it as exercise. At first I really struggled. I had to push the bike up every hill, and at the top of the bridge I would have to catch my breath for nearly five minutes. But I am FREAKING STUBBORN, so I kept going. I started to notice that I was beating the bus home, and that added to my determination. Within a couple of months, not only was my route easy, but I started having actual fun. Riding my bike became one of my favorite activities, giving me emotions I didn’t know it was possible to feel. I didn’t really even notice what everyone else saw, which was that my body composition had dramatically changed, until one day I realized there was visible muscle definition in my quads. What’s this? Body pride? Then it turned out that my cheapskate bicycle commute may have saved my life. Like I said: unexpected side benefits.
What are some other unexpected side benefits?
Walking: I find a lot of money. I have a jar with all the money I’ve found since 2005, and it has nearly $40 in it, much of it from pennies. Twice, I’ve been first on the scene when someone had a stroke and collapsed in the street, and I was able to help. I see a lot of interesting stuff, much of which I photograph for later enjoyment. My feet are really tough, and I can walk, run, or hike for many miles without getting blisters, which is nice on vacation.
Wearing a small clothing size: My clothes are tiny, which means fewer loads of laundry. I can pack a ridiculous amount of outfits into a suitcase that fits under a plane seat. In stores that carry my size, I’ve been more likely to find awesome stuff on the clearance rack. I can fit comfortably in the middle seat. A backpack with the same days’ worth of supplies weighs less.
Getting married: My husband can pop my back. My wedding ring is like a magical force field that I can use to wave off unwanted male attention. I have someone to talk me out of buying clothes that don’t look good on me. There is someone to watch my stuff and hold our place in line. I only have to cook or wash dishes on alternate nights. He keeps me warm on cold nights, when I used to wear a hat, shawl, and knee socks to bed.
Having a parrot: Someone always notices when you wear new earrings. Surprise cheek kissing, complete with smoochy sound effects. Instant accessory for pirate costume. Always prepared to entertain small children. Makes random fart sounds. Showering is no longer a mundane activity. Someone appreciates your singing, no matter what.
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I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.