Being Better or Dying Trying

This paragraph completes this post; I wrote this paragraph after I wrote the rest of it. I write this to remind myself, and anyone else who stumbles on these words, that I have to write in order to know what I think. I started this post full of piss and vinegar, ready to take on the task of dramatically improving my self-discipline. As I typed, and as I thought things through, my thought processes changed and my perspective on my intended project changed. I can be my own most difficult stumbling block.

All right, here it is. The beginning…again. The hatching of the plan. The way I’m going to approach discipline, willpower, and self-control (all of which are one and the same, I suppose).

Here’s my reprise of (or replacement for) my “Doing Without” project, which I began in mid-2013. The idea at the time was to test the boundaries of my self-discipline. How far could I go in depriving myself of things I enjoy but that might have a deleterious impact on my physical or mental or intellectual health? Perhaps the question was not so much “how far could I go?” as it was “how much self-control am I willing to exert over myself?” Whatever the question, I did a reasonably good job of it, depending on how one measures success. That’s all I’ll say about that. But here I am again, doing something similar; but I’m modifying it to test my mettle in different ways.

I’ll “do without” a favorite activity for one month, then add another the following month, then yet another the third month and, finally, another the fourth month. The “doing without” will grow with the addition of one thing each month. Here’s what the plans looks like for now:

  • Month 1: No coffee; replacement: tea
  • Month 2: No coffee+no alcohol; replacements: tea + water
  • Month 3: No coffee and no alcohol+no meat; replacements: tea and water + high volume of vegetables
  • Month 4: No coffee and no alcohol and no meat+no television; replacements: tea and water and a high volume of vegetables + walking

This will translates into four months without coffee, three months without alcohol, two months without meat, and one month without television. That can only improve my health. Especially the removal of alcohol and meat. Perhaps I should switch coffee with meat so that I will have fewer clots of cholesterol pumping through my veins and arteries. Well, let’s leave well enough alone for the moment, shall we?

But, first, how do I establish the appropriate measures for the replacements? For example, how much walking will I need to do to replace the time I spend watching television? The problem as I see it is that watching television is an inconsistent thing for me; some days I watch three or four episodes of a favorite Netflix series and an hour of news, while other days I watch nothing. Oh, well, I’ll figure something out.

I have to ask myself whether replacing activities is a good idea. It’s as if I’m exchanging one dependency for another. I remember thinking that when I first started the project in 2013. My consumption of iced tea grew exponentially when I stopped drinking coffee. I seemed to need something to fill the void left by the removal.  I’ll give that some more thought.

The next question, of course, is when “Month 1” begins. Time will tell. And I may modify the plan before I begin.

It occurs to me that I might find it beneficial to either replace or supplement the plan with this one: Add something to my routine each month to enhance my intellectual or physical well-being. I could add daily exercise or modify my daily routine to ensure at least a hour or two of reading fiction (my consumption of fiction has declined considerably in recent years). Or I could begin a daily meditation practice. Or I could opt to learn something new, like how to play pickleball or how to build and fly radio-controlled model airplanes. I’m stretching here. I don’t want to test my discipline so much that I’m destined to fail; anything new has to hold at least a modicum of interest for me.

In the final analysis, the plan has to mean something. Why am I intent on doing this? What good will it do for me, or for others? Is this just an exercise in futility, or will it have a profound impact on how I look or feel or fit into the world? I have a feeling that I’m using the project as a way to trick myself into doing something I should have been doing all along without the drama of the project. Why don’t I just start walking and work on exercising more control over my diet and get more exercise? Because…self-discipline. Or the lack thereof. So the project may be trickery, but it’s trickery of the sort I guess I need. Setting goals is easy. Achieving them, not so much.

Obviously, I need to give this matter more thought. Yesterday, I thought all I needed to do would be to set out a plan and follow it. Today, as I conceive of a plan I find that my mind is disjointed; I question my own motives and I wonder whether the idea of “doing without” has any real, long-lasting merit. I think it does, but I can’t quite articulate what the merit might be.

Ultimately, I suspect this whole thing is about becoming a better person. That should be easy. I don’t need a plan or a project to do that. A change in behavior, here and there, and it would be “mission accomplished.” But that’s superficial. My interest is in change that’s deeper, life-altering; something that will improve me from the inside-out. I think everyone wants that. And I think most people who actually give it dedicated thought realize that we’re all trying to be better throughout our lives. We’re in pursuit of being better or dying trying.

I’m going to rethink this concept. I may move forward with it; I may not. Whatever I decide, though, I will decide after exploring the idea and myself much more thoroughly.



About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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