Friday, March 01, 2013

The Accidental Life

A friend posted an older oped piece by David Brooks from the New York Times about the differences between the Well-Planned Life and the Summoned Life.  I thought this article was interesting in light of Brooks' recent book,The Social Animal, which was published about six months after the op-ed, so it must have been mostly done at that point. 

The reason I think it's interesting is that the op-ed piece seems to imply we can or do make a choice between a planned life and a life that is more experiential.  His own book would argue that we don't really choose either, but follow a path that is created by our context (physical, emotional and otherwise) and our learned pattern.  What I liked about his book was that it lays out an argument that if you want to change your behavior then you need to change your context.  And, of course, choices are rarely around polarities.  We plan, we experience, we change (or we don't) in various measure.

I wonder about these ideas...the idea of choice...when I think about the attribute of being disciplined.  I have people around me who are disciplined; who choose this action or that because it is wise or desirable and then maintain a long-term practice of behavior along that path.  It appears to me that they do this because they are disciplined...because they make a choice.  About myself I know that this is not something that I can do.  Unless a specific intrinsic motivation exists to engage in a particular behavior, that behavior will not occur with any regularity at all.  I might do it once...or twice even...but with discipline?  Not a chance.  In other words, if I don't like something, I don't usually do it. 

So, in order to do things that are good for me I need to put in place external forces that overcome that reluctance to act.  They can be hard to find.

One amusing version of this that I stumbled on this past winter is an app for my phone named GymPact.  You make a pledge to exercise a particular number of times per week, and then you pledge a dollar amount for each time you do it (for instance, $5 per session).  Then, your phone keeps track of whether you are exercising.  If you don't make your pact, it costs you.

It's interesting how much avoiding exercise is worth.  ;-)  The bottom line is that I have managed to exercise three times per week most of the past month or so.  My pact is for three times per week.  However, to demonstrate how avoidant I am of fulfilling this pledge, my exercise is always on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  This isn't because the weekend is an easier time to do it; it's because the pact week runs Monday through Sunday, so the last three days of the pact are Friday, Saturday, Sunday.  On Monday through Thursday I intend to exercise, but don't because I can fulfill the pact even if I wait until Friday. 

I'm tempted to set my weekly pact to five times and see if I start on Wednesday.

It's to the gym.

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