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Perseverance

December 28, 2011

I was thinking the other day of how we trick ourselves into doing things we don’t really want to do. I’ll give two examples from my life.

As you may have gathered from some posts on here, I sometimes jog. Or perhaps waddle is more appropriate. I’m not particularly fond of the outdoors or of physical activity but realized I had to start doing something. I’m sure "just eat less" works for plenty of people, but it does not work for me. I had to think about changes to my life that I was capable of making. Yes I would rather get myself out there 4 days a week sweating and shuffling than to say no to a reeses cup. Many runners will know there are good days and there are bad days. Most of my days are in between. Our there shuffling trying to make my x miles goal for the day and trying to keep myself shuffling forward. I have to play all these little tricks on myself. Firstly I listen to podcasts rather than music. I find it more distracting. Of course one doesn’t want to be too distracted or stressed but a podcast seems to be a good balance. Then there’s all the "I can keep going until that post" or "until that tree". Or sometimes I count backwards in seconds how long I have until a particular milestone. I tend to count slower in my head than time actually passes, so it keeps me distracted (yes in addition to listening to the podcasts) and also makes me feel like I’m accomplishing something when I’ve gone a quarter mile farther than I actually counted for.

But in the end I can go to those bigger truths. Like how it’s nice to be healthy enough to be able to be out there doing what I am doing. How it is a nice day, or there is a nice view. How jogging any day is probably better than working. How I know when I’m done I can add my miles to my spreadsheet and be proud of it. My boss isn’t going to sneak in and somehow take credit for the miles I just ran. The miles I just ran don’t go into someone else’s presentation to an executive who may never know the amount of effort I put in that contributed to the whole. I’ll never get a phone call that running those miles isn’t my priority and I should be doing jumping jacks instead. No one will ever be upset (except maybe myself) that I didn’t run the miles faster or encourage me that running miles and lifting weights are of equal priority and that given hours in the day I am expected to do both simultaneously.

Which brings me to my second example: my job. I don’t dislike my job. Most days it gives me some level of satisfaction. Not a "I just ate a whole cake" level of satisfaction, but still. There is something to be said towards suffering a little, getting that paycheck and knowing you earned it. Stopping at the local fast food joint on your way home and being, as usual, the only professionally dressed person in your hometown. There is some pride in "I am gainfully employed as a professional". It is not bad when once a month your boss slips up and actually thanks you, meaningfully, for getting something done that was difficult to do. But sometimes, for the best of your intentions, you are just phoning it in. You are trying to think of what mind games you can play to get yourself to finish filling out some spreadsheet, or to get through some other odious task that’s been growing mold on your to-do list. Do you listen to music as your reward? Tell yourself you can take a break and do something after when you’re done? There are a lot of perks to a nice job: the paycheck, the benefits, having an office job itself is its own brand of privilege. But there are all those sour moments too where your work is unappreciated or others take credit for it, or where you start to function more like a secretary and less like an engineer. So what mind games do you play to get yourself through?

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. December 28, 2011 5:21 pm

    Music gets me through a lot…both at work and when jogging. Funny how I almost never have to push myself when biking, though.

    At some point, I started becoming a fan of the “I can’t go home until I get this done” club. That way, finishing turns into a reward, even when I really don’t want to.

  2. December 28, 2011 9:22 pm

    I second Cherish’s take on music — I play music especially when doing really mundane stuff, like dishes/cleaning the kitchen.

    At work, for better or worse I have a lot of flexibility in scheduling my work and no boss, so there’s a fair bit of procrastination/binging with the mundane.

    Btw, I am quite embarrassed to admit that I don’t exercise at all right now and haven’t in a few years. I played sports when I was younger, so it’s really hard to get motivated (and find time) to do a solitary activity, but that’s the only thing I can theoretically do now…

  3. December 31, 2011 3:52 pm

    I listen to a lot of music at work, to get myself through writing boring reports or doing things I don’t otherwise want to do. The music kind of hijacks my emotions, so I don’t feel the hate for the tasks while I’m hooked into my ipod.

    When I ran my best-ever 5K race, I had two motivators. First, they had divided the race into runners and walkers, with the walkers on a completely different course — meaning that I (the world’s slowest runner) was at the very back of the race, and behind me was the police escort for the race. I couldn’t stop running — it would be embarrassing in front of the police! Second, I counted my breaths. And I would get to some milestone number and convince myself that I could get to the next. I ran the entire race (except when I got the water — I didn’t want to choke on the water).

  4. January 4, 2012 10:36 am

    When I used to run, I would count the steps. On the way out, I’d still have enough energy that my feet had their own rhythm, without much effort on my part, and counting steps was meditative. On my way back, when I was tired, the steps gave me a goal to work for. I can push for the next X steps, etc.

    Last term was a miserable stressful term. What kept me going was knowing that much of the misery was for my family, and that I get to go home and spend a couple hours with Epsilon. I’d set goals of a certain numbers of applications to get through, or a certain number of pages to edit, etc. Normally I intersperse fun tasks with hated ones. Last term had a paucity of the former.

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