Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Why Matters

Way back in the olden days (2006) Malcolm Gladwell wrote a piece on his blog about racism.  In it, he proposes three criteria to define the severity of (and response to) a racist action or event:  Content, Intention and Conviction.  I agree with his breakdown (although I think Impact should have consideration as well), I can see why some of the commenters found it to be so challenging.  After all, two of the three criteria are all about why someone did something, rather than what they did. 

The Why is important, because so many outcomes of daily decisions and actions are dependent on it.   Do I do a thing because I should or because I want to?  Is it an accident, the result of my strong emotion, or a reflection of what I really think?  Do I do it to impress someone, to learn something, to help someone?  This all affects my approach to a task, my state of mind while working on it, and the satisfaction I take from it. 

This argument could easily lead to horribly saccharine Pollyanna behaviour and the alienation of everyone I know.  But if I don't take it to extremes it has the potential to really impact my happiness, health, work effectiveness and relationships. 

For example:  If I exercise to lose weight, I will not maintain it.  The Why in this case is distant and probably impossible. When I fail to reach or maintain that unrealistic goal I will become discouraged and my motivation will disappear. Why bother if it isn't going to get me what I want? Because I'm exercising to change my body the effect is to pit my mind and body against each other as enemies instead of allies.  This increases my chances of experiencing pain and injury while exercising and puts it into the category of punishment. 

I'm so used to operating like this that any exercise at all comes complete with a full matched set of baggage.  If I even start an exercise routine I feel I have to ramp it all the way up as quickly as possible so that I can get maximum benefit before I lose interest.  I then burn out or injure myself and give up (with all the accompanying stigma of failure).  It's hard for me to just enjoy an exercise without placing all kinds of extra expectations on what I'm doing.  I need a goal to work towards, and if I don't make progress I will give up. 

 The generic "for my health" why doesn't work either.  It's too vague, and not in any way guaranteed.  Yes, cardiovascular fitness is a much better indicator of long-term health and longevity.  But my brain can always reason away the motivation.  I could be at a perfect level of cardiovascular fitness and be hit by a bus, or be diagnosed with any of the dozens of cancers that stream through both sides of my family.  When that happens, won't I have been better off enjoying those moments instead of sweating?

 But for the last two weeks I've been walking 1 to 2 moderately brisk miles a day, every day.  Not for my health, or to lose weight, or even because I enjoy the exhaust fumes from the passing cars (it's too dark in the morning yet to walk anywhere without street lights).  I'm walking for my happiness.  See, last summer I went hiking with my partner in the Smoky Mountains, and once in Hocking Hills, Ohio.  Both times we were prevented from tackling certain trails because I wasn't physically up to it.  The day after a steep four mile hike my entire body would be so stiff I could barely hobble to the bathrooms.  But this year I want to go places and see things.  I want to get to the top of Clingman's Dome without stopping for a breather at every bench.  I want to do the full-day tour of Mammoth Cave.  I want to do the Grandma Gatewood trail at Hocking Hills, complete with little side trips up gullies to look for waterfalls. 

But to do all that I have to be able to comfortably hike 5+ miles in a day and still be able to bend my knees the next morning. 

Yeah, ok so I won't be climbing Everest or running a triathalon.  But then I don't really want to do those things so why train as if I did?  Abrams and Rainbow Falls in one weekend motivates me.  It's possible (5 miles each), tangible, and short-term.  The anticipation of hiking in the mountains brings pleasure to the exercise instead of punishment. Maybe after that I'll build up to something more strenuous.  Then again I may decide that I have time in my life for this level of exercise and no more.  For now, this Why works for me. 


Anonymous said...

The Why is important. And yes, one of my major Whys is so that I am ABLE to keep up with the man of the house and various friends ;)

JennyRose said...

Intent is helpful but some times that isn't even enough for me. I want to improve my posture and have greater cardio fitness and strength for daily living.

Outside motivators such as contests at the gym help. Yes - I go for the "visit x times for the next 3 months and win a t-shirt." I probably won't wear the t-shirt but somehow it helps. I have started running again and am slowly working up to a 5k. I have an app for my iPhone that is helpful.

I also hope it will help my mood.

The biggest thing of course is that I have completely given up on weight loss. Completely giving up on weight loss has helped in many areas of my life. Now I need to work on not hating my body and exercise is supposed to help with that as well.

Ligeda said...

I think the hike is a great reason to walk. One year my back was hurting so bad for so long that I decided I was just going to walk everyday in hopes it would help in some way. For about a year I walked about 4 days a week, and really only about 25 minutes. Then I went on one of my self hatred fueled diets and exercise regimes. I joined a gym and the first day I climbed on the treadmill I really wanted to run. I thought that it would be really hard and I could totally punish myself. To my surprise I could run and run and run. The walking had really made me fit. And it didn't have to hurt. What a moment of enlightenment. Good luck.

Dave Sailer said...

Hiya. Totally randomly I stumbled on this post. Thank you. It's nice to read something so nicely thought out.

Also randomly tonight I found another, different story, but it sort of relates to some of what you said, also dealing with appearances. You'll have to decide for yourself: "Unusual Encounters"

Another good writer I found recently, though not all joy and flowers: Amanda "Guatemala" Glenn

And if you really do like cats and haven't seen it, then there's "Simon's Cat":

TanteTerri said...

I agree the "why" is the thing.

I am very competitive, so that can be a motivatin why for me; and there are upcoming plans that I need to be ready for (less challenging than yours).

What I have noticed especially, is that since I started school, and as a consequence, stopped doing theater, I have not kept in as good of shape. Doing theater motivates me to keep flexible and in better shape.

Danny said...

Yes the why is important and depending on the situation the degree of importance can vary. I find that many people are too quick to dismiss the why as irrelevant and that's not always the case.

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