Several years ago I got into running. I needed to, because my brain was being difficult and sending all sorts of bad vibes into me. I used an app. I set goals. (One was a sub-20 minute 5K. I managed 20:23.) I joined a group at work who ran at lunch. And I ran a half marathon on the hottest day of the year where people threw up and passed out on the route.
After the half I looked for a full marathon. I thought about Berlin, the fabled home to personal bests thanks to a relatively flat route. But then I left my job. I visited Berlin for a month. When I got back, I didn’t feel like running a marathon, and because I didn’t feel like running a marathon I didn’t feel like running at all. Without a big goal there wasn’t a point.
I’d been looking for a gym. I had the sense my body wasn’t as awake as it should be, and I wanted a place to liven it up. But I don’t like gyms. I don’t like the people in gyms. The ones that looked right cost a small ransom. I started to feel bad about myself, like I was making excuses. Like my real problem was motivation and not money or time or that gyms are terrible, terrible places.
When it became clear we were going to be inside for awhile I pulled out the yoga mat I’d bought for unclear purposes and did 50 burpies. Not continuously. Ten burpies, then seven, then twelve, then two. Until I’d done 50. The next day I put a belt on a kettlebell I’d been using as a doorstop, slid in a wood dowel I had from when I broke my shoulder and needed to stretch, and did some bicep curls. I called this my prison workout. (I’m not totally clear that isn’t offensive, if not a bit insensitive. Let me know if you have a better name.)
Anything is better than nothing. This is really not true of some things, but it’s mostly true for a lot of things. A bit of writing is better than not writing if you’re trying to write. Jason Kottke tells me it’s called “greasing the groove”, doing exercise pretty much whenever it occurs to you. It’s less daunting and a lot more fun than setting big goals and not achieving them. It’s playful. Remember play? And since we’re indoors so much it makes sense to just do things when the mood strikes.
Ten pushups here. Five squats there. Keeping the body moving, waking it up, feeling it stretch and lift and pull.
And then I started running again. No app. No goals. I put on a podcast and run for the length of the podcast. Got half an hour? It’s Hello From the Magic Tavern. Feeling like I have an hour in me? Strong Songs or Do By Friday
It’s creeping into all my activities. I draw when I feel like drawing. Right now it’s these album covers. I write songs if there’s a song to be written. And I eat when I’m hungry, which isn’t at 8am, 12pm, 6pm, but at 11:32am and 3:45pm and sometimes once a day and sometimes six. Because it turns out our lives have a rhythm utterly divorced from capitalism. (Is it alright if I leave my soapbox here?)
Goals are good. They give you something to aim for. But not everything needs a goal. Some things just are. Some things, a great many things, are good in and of themselves for the duration for which they last. Most activities have some kind of inherent good to them outside of even the barest outcomes. If this were a motivational poster, it’d say something about how it’s the journey not the destination.
But motivational posters are for sociopaths.
So instead it’d say whatever it is you want to do more of but can’t, do the smallest amount of that thing to still be that thing.
(Or, and I can’t stress this enough, let go of everything if you need to and exist as the version of yourself that exists right now.)
(You know how when someone tells you to ‘relax your shoulders’, and the first time you were like what are you even talking about, and then you did it and were like whoa wtf why are my shoulders so high all the time? And then someone said relax your jaw and you were like, hang on, and then the same whoa and it was like is my whole body just a clenched fist constantly ready to strike?)
(Yeah, like that.)
Whatever gets you to the other side, take care of that boat. It’s going to see you through these hard waters and I’ll be on the shore waiting to secure the line.
Amazingly, this has been translated into Arabic.