Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Don't waste your time on guilt

I overheard two people talking earlier today.

One asked the other if she had gone running yesterday. The woman replied with an elaborate story about how she'd had to do a bunch of errands, giving excruciating detail about each errand. She said that by the time she got to the park to run, it was cold and dark, and - with much hand-wringing - decided not to run.

The only reason I can think of that her reply was anything other than a simple "no" is that she felt guilty about not having run.

Guilt is utterly pointless.

My friend Vadim asked me recently why guilt existed if it was such a useless emotion. It's an evolutionary trait. Guilt, and other negative emotions, helped our ancestors survive. When they did something that helped their survival, like eating food, they felt good. When they did something that hurt their survival, they felt bad.

Of course, back then, pretty much everything was a matter of survival. If you were lucky, you got to do a little procreating too (ahem). Today, survival is mostly a given. We don't run to help us evade sabertooth tigers. And if we flake on a run, we can get the good feelings we crave in other ways. We can get validation from our "friends" online, who tell us, "oh hunny, don't run in the dark. That's scary!" Or we just eat a giant chocolate cake and go to bed.

Running is a hobby. It's a great hobby, and a very healthful one. But we don't have to run. We can just take a bunch of pills for our diabetes and go about our day. We feel guilty for not exercising, but then we get our "fix" by complaining to our friends while eating chicken wings.

Don't waste your time on guilt. Either do something, or don't do it. That's it.

Don't get derailed by guilt.... Get it? Har har.

If you believe that running is good for you, then run. If you can't run, because you're injured or your car exploded, then don't run. If you want to run but don't feel like it, then run anyway. Don't rely on guilt to swoop in for the rescue. Don't rely on pizza and beer to take the emotional pain away.

I mean, I love pizza and beer. But to me it's a reward for hard work.

If you're thinking, "well running in a park after dark actually is dangerous," you're missing the point. She could have run on a treadmill. "What if she doesn't have a gym membership, you fool?" You ask. She could have run in her neighborhood, or somewhere else. "But what about the vicious dogs?" You gasp. Ummmm, okay.

I've run in place before, in my bathrobe. The point is that there's always an option other than flaking out.

Refusing to surrender to guilt is liberating. Guilt is stressful. It sucks. And I don't mean that you should just do (or not do) whatever you want and just not ever feel bad. What I mean is that you should always do the things that matter to you. Just do them. And then you won't ever feel bad. You'll feel super great instead.

I love feeling super great.

But it takes a while to shift into that mindset. Guilt is a reflex. Most of us are used to feeling guilty. We just take it for granted. And we have all sorts of mechanisms for dealing with it. Television, social media, food, booze, puppies, whatever.

In the beginning you have to acknowledge the guilt. You have to catch yourself every time you fall into that old pattern. It takes active work to break a habit and build a new one. You have to be conscientious of it, and hold yourself accountable for how you feel. When you feel guilty, don't go for the substitute fixes.

For example if you slept in late and missed your morning run, don't reach for the dopamine-glazed doughnut. Instead, pack your gear and run at lunch during work. Or tell your SO to make dinner for the kids, because you're going to need an hour after work to run. Or run in place in your bathrobe while watching Jessica Jones before bed.

Once you ditch the guilt, your life becomes one of action. You make goals for yourself, and you achieve them. Failing is no longer an option.

"Life of action. That's me."

Many of us feel like victims of guilt, and other negativity. We feel that it's not something you control. You try something, you fail, and then you feel bad. We think that's just how it works.

It doesn't.

You can learn from those mistakes. You can acknowledge that they happened, but not dwell on them. You just make a different plan. If you make a plan to lift weights every morning, but it starts to affect your work or sleep or something, don't just give up. I was lifting every morning before work during my Deadlift Challenge. After I finished the challenge I intended to continue lifting every morning.

But for a combination of reasons I wasn't able to. I was running more in preparation for my spring marathon. The winter months were cold and dark and it affected my energy. Daylight Savings time really screwed me. And I've been sick for almost a month straight. As you can see I have a ton of excuses.

But I chose not to feel guilty about it. I did get negative feelings. I acknowledged that I felt them. But I wasn't interested in wallowing in them. I wanted to get back to a healthy and positive place. So I changed my plan. I still get up every day before 6am. But now I alternate between lifting, and doing an online Udemy course. And that's been working. And I feel good about moving towards my goals.

If I had simply given up, it would have been easy to get into a negative pattern. My goals would have started to seem less attainable. I would have gotten discouraged. And my routine would have suffered. It would have been easy to get into a downward spiral.

But I chose to stay on the upward spiral. To ever greater success.

Aaaah. Feel that success.
Photo Cr. Pixie

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