I’m not good at what I can only call a “tedious slog.” Short-term heroic effort? Hell yeah. Got that down and buddy it can be impressive.
There’s a downside to that. You’re either going all out, or you’re… Well, not. Going, that is.
What I am generally not good at, though I am trying very hard to learn, and getting better at, is patient dailyness. I can do the Big Huge Thing towards goals, but doing a little bit every day is much, much harder.
The problem is that over time, that little bit accomplishes much more than the periodic heroic efforts. The person who goes from no exercise at all to a marathon isn’t actually in better shape, long-term than the person who takes a walk every day. The person whose house goes from complete chaos to sparkling clean and staged for a real estate agent to show isn’t going to have a neater home, overall, than someone who does a little bit every day. The student who pulls the all-nighter doesn’t write a better paper than the student that breaks that up into increments, does a bit of writing every day and then goes on to do a bit of editing every day until the job is done.
I was in my late thirties before I really got started with the continual small effort thing v. Heroic Effort. It started with housework, which is really a fantastic place to start. I wanted a neat house, but nothing outrageous was really riding on it. Totally low-risk, which was perfect for this. I did a little bit every day, and forbade myself to put heroic effort into it. Over time, yes, my house is rarely more than fifteen minutes to a half an hour away from being okay with guests, and I wouldn’t die of embarrassment at any drop ins. When spaces get cluttered (a home is a dynamic process, not a showpiece, after all) I really do dedicate small amounts of time over a period of days to take care of them.
Where I am trying to apply this now is exercise. That’s a whole lot harder. For all that I am hardly slender, I do get interested gaining physical skills. You only have to look at a list of the physical things I’ve been into to realize that I’m all about the technical and easy to obsess about — dance, martial arts, swimming… They’re all activities that have a high level of technique, and experts at these activities really do dedicate hours a day to it.
But while the technical aspects are enough to keep me interested, my real goal isn’t mastering X skill. My real goal, as it pertains to exercise, is just to DO it for a half an hour to an hour a day five days a week. That’s IT.
I was thinking about it this morning when I was trying to decide if I wanted to swim today. I already did my M-F swims, but I was wondering what a mile would feel like and thinking, “Yeah, I have time today, I oughta try that!”
In reality? No, I shouldn’t. Not because it would be bad for me to swim a mile today. It totally wouldn’t. But it would be bad for me to give in to the obsession only to become tired of it next year. I need to be in the pool next year, too. This isn’t something like getting obsessed with Tudor history or lace knitting where I can put it down any time another shiny obsession takes my fancy. Working out can’t really be a hobby for me. For physical maintenance, I need to damn well be active for half an hour a day five days a week. I don’t even have to put Heroic Effort into it. I just have to show up and move.
Which circles back around to the consistent, daily effort. There is another thing that’s helping me learn that. You notice that I’m posting a lot more to my blog than I used to. I don’t post every day, but I do many days a week.
The reason I do is another small, daily practice. I write seven hundred fifty words a day as an exercise to keep my writing skills up. Some of those writing sessions are really more stream of consciousness pieces to write SOMETHING to get in my word count. But notice that as I do it consistently, the more valuable essays and stories actually happen.
It is the small, consistent, daily practice that builds up better into a lifetime of worthwhile work if you can make yourself do it.
Whoda thunk that it’d be harder than Heroic Effort?