Friday, January 16, 2015

Don't Kid Yourself, Push Yourself

I just got back from the pool again, but instead of swimming for two hours, I only swam one. 2,100m in an hour, breast stroke, isn't too shabby for a brain damaged old fart like me, but I would rather have been swimming lengths for twice as long without pause.

Alas, it is a sunny day and right in the midst of resolution season, so at noon the pool filled up. I've mentioned before that I become extremely intolerant in the pool, and that does not seem to be something that is changing. I'm not trying to change it, either. I spent much of the hour I did manage to swim dodging the pair having a leisurely chat while ambling up and down the pool, mostly keeping out of the way of the guy who swam, turned and repeated (me).

In the middle of this, ungenerous thoughts filled my mind, often along the lines of "get out of my damn way," with a sprinkling of "your screw kick is horrible" for good measure. One thought is applicable to anyone gripped by resolution fervor but feeling the drudgery of slow progress, or the gradual sapping of their will, and it was exemplified by the slow pair in the pool: "stop kidding yourself!"

The duo were maintaining a steady and unfettered chat throughout their 'exercise.' They were not short of breath (they were nattering for England), and if they were warm at all, it was because the pool is too hot. They might as well have been having a cup of coffee instead. They certainly don't deserve any plaudits for working.

It's an easy trap to fall into: "it used to be difficult, but is easy now, it must be enough". Complacency is a surefire way to stop making any progress, though. If you have enough breath to maintain a conversation while swimming you are either phenomenally fit or you are deluded and doing it wrong.

As we get fitter, what was once hard becomes easier. Great! That means we have to work harder to get the same effect. It should never be trivial, it will always be hard work. Deal.

Friday, January 2, 2015

'Bad Luck' Math Fail

Most cancers are just bad luck, scream the headlines today, in typically irresponsible and ignorant fashion. The emphasis, of course, is on the entropic reality of genetics, and the implication is that you shouldn't care about the known bad things, because you might just be lucky (or unlucky) anyway.

This is bunk. It's stupid bunk, too, that preys on the human brain's aptitude for seeing patterns and reducing entropy.

We are all going to die*. We have very little control over what's going to kill us**. What we can control, if we survive long enough, is the extent to which life will suck as we get older. That suck includes, but is not limited to, cancers whose risks can be reduced, forms of diabetes, joint pain, difficulty walking, difficulty breathing and the sundry joys of an aging body.

Bad things happen. Bad things happen to good and bad people alike. Bad things happen anyway, no matter what. There is no way to prevent many bad things.

What you can do is reduce the risks of the bad things that you can prevent, and increase the odds of surviving the bad things you can't prevent. That's tricky, of course, because your mind's got to recognize the long term benefit to being healthier, and override the brain's desire for the shorter term benefit of spending less energy now.

You can choose not to get healthier, not to lose weight, not to stop smoking or whatever it is you're not doing, but for your own sake, and the sake of those around you, make a conscious choice. If you want to choose a miserable senescence or a terrible death, go for it. Don't kid yourself, however, that you're not choosing death when you are just taking the easy route.

At this time of year, resolutions abound. In a few weeks, resolve falters, and in a month or so, old habits prevail. Challenge yourself to choose to live longer, less painfully and more consciously, and when that resolve falters, remember why you made that resolution in the first place, and keep going.

* Probably.
** Excluding suicides.