One of the major advantages of aging is that more of life becomes predictable. Twenty years ago, I would have been horrified at myself for feeling this way. Now I understand that so much of life’s drama and fuss and bother can be avoided. If I go to Costco on Saturday afternoon, I can predict that it will be much busier than a weekday evening. If I stay up until 2 AM, I can predict that I will be exhausted and out of sorts the next day. X behavior generates X results. When we get into trouble is when we keep indulging in X behavior and anticipating Y results. “This time I will eat the entire two-pound chimichanga and not feel like a beluga.” “This time I will get back with my ex and it will finally work out.” What we haven’t tried is giving half the chimichanga to the ex in return for his promise not to call anymore. We really want the Y results but we don’t really know the corresponding Y behaviors to get them.
X behavior is the default. This is the way we always act, because it’s what we were taught, it’s what everyone else we know does, and it’s what comes naturally. We may not even realize there are other ways to do things. This is why travel can be so mind-blowing. (Did you know Cadbury eggs are sold year-round in New Zealand?) Generally, when we see people who are getting Y results, it feels unfair. They are gifted. They have all the luck. It’s genetic.
The other reaction we have when we encounter Y results is repulsion. “I could never do that.” “That’s not me.” “I don’t want to be one of Those People.” We make all sorts of unwarranted assumptions about the inner lives of people who act in these unnatural ways. Grinds who study too hard. Wet blankets who won’t have a drink or party with us. Narcissists who go to the gym. Obsessives who clean too much. Thin people who have fast metabolisms or anorexia. We don’t really have a sense of people who are exactly like us but simply do different things with their time. We prefer friends we can relate to, who act like we do.
Live the Standard American Lifestyle, get standard American results. That would be: consumer debt, a cluttered house, a 69% chance of being an overweight adult, a 70% chance of being on prescription medication, and a 50% chance of chronic illness. These are X results.
Y behaviors are simple. Track your spending and live beneath your means. Buy only what you need, and have a place to put it. Be active and eat healthy food. Basically, Y behaviors involve being proactive, planning, preventing issues before they start, and doing things that have been modeled successfully by other people.
Y behaviors are also easier than X behaviors. The transition requires an extra level of focus, attention, and effort, so making a change can feel difficult. Then the payoffs start to reveal themselves. Being debt-free means no interest payments, fines, or fees. A clutter-free house is 40% easier to clean, and everything is easy to find. Being fit means having a higher energy level and greater ability to do daily tasks, from opening windows to climbing stairs to carrying laundry and groceries. Preventing chronic health conditions is probably a thousand times easier than trying to manage them.
I spend about 40 minutes each weekday doing housework and putting away laundry. I haven’t had to spend a weekend cleaning house in years. Most days I walk for 30 minutes and do one pull-up and 15 leg lifts. (The other days I do nothing). I spend about two minutes updating my food log. My bills are on auto-pay. These are Y behaviors. I know my Past Self would look at my Y results (clean and organized house, defined abs) and form a lot of baseless opinions and inflated time estimates. I look back at Past Self and wish I could share how much harder life is in default mode.
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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.