Monday, March 31, 2008

Work backwards from the result you want

Someone I know was telling me about her "diet failure" for the day.

"I just got really frustrated working on something and before I knew it I'd eaten a box of Teddy Grahams."

By way of atonement, she was going to subject herself to some sort of high-fiber, low calorie vegetarian food regimen. All well and good for colonic health and general well-being, but too low a levee to hold back the tide of grease waiting to engulf anyone who holds still too long on low ground.

She knows better, and usually does better. But it reminded me that you have to work backward from the result you want, not forward one halting step at a time. Envision the physical condition you want. You want to be lean and muscular? You do not get that way by depriving yourself of calories.

I know that whenever I get anxious, bored or depressed, I snack. I don't apologize for this, and I don't expect to be able to change it. Knowing that about myself, I knew I had to burn it faster to keep up with my intellectual and emotional slumps. I had to find a way to put exercise directly in my path.

Bicycling was the perfect way to make physical exertion a beneficial constant in my life. While the rest of America forgot about the "ten-speed" in the 1980s and devoted itself to greed and consumption, I was out there like an idiot, getting in the way of traffic.

I was just turning a negative into a positive. I lack food discipline. I did the math and developed what some people view as exercise discipline instead. The thing is, getting yourself around without a car is fun more often than not. Discipline sounds so negative, giving up things you like. Screw that! Before you know it you're dead. Have fun now.

I make no claim to be a morally superior person. Quite the contrary. I'm just saying that if a lump like me can do it, anyone can do it. In the process, you can't help becoming a leaner, fitter lump.

I got myself into the Nordic ski business as I explored as many forms of human-powered transportation as I could. When we've got the snow, that's where I spend my time. Change the weather and I'll change activities. I can't ski to work, it's too far. But I have incorporated several miles of kayaking into the warm(ish) weather commute before.

It might be harder to get away with these antics if I had an important job. That's another reason I don't insist everyone do things the way I do. But the basic principle remains solid: think about convenient ways you can add a little exercise, rather than automatically taking the route that avoids all exertion except lifting a car-door handle and turning a key.

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