Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

19 Aug 2012, 7:55 a.m.

Getting A Habit Into My Muscle Memory

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2012 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

There is no substitute for personal experience. I know now, in my arms and torso and legs, that I feel better when I do a bunch of goal-oriented vigorous outdoor physical activity every day. And I can sense in my skull that I feel better when I see other people's faces and use face-to-face conversation to socialize and solve problems. And conversely, I can see how it doesn't do my mental well-being any good to be indoors, looking at a little screen for most of the day, trying to fix problems by pressing buttons to make the pattern of lights change. It's not my job or my marriage or my inherent lack of virtue causing sadness and anxiety, it's the means of production. That used to be my way of life, for years. But I need to change it, or suffer what I now know are the consequences. And that change isn't going to come for free.

I got to see Mel again last night because she was passing through New York. We spent practically every hour together for over two weeks and then suddenly she was gone, so I deeply appreciated having a respite from missing her. She reads very fast, so I brought her Kim Stanley Robinson's "The Blind Geometer" because I knew she'd like it. She read it after dinner and I was right.

Mel is many good things, and one of them she shares with my boss Rob: she is good at recognizing that something she's doing isn't working, overcoming her own inertia, and making the change she knows she ought to make. I am getting better at inculcating this attitude in myself, especially with these strong examples around me.

There's something funny about this stance, this meta-habit of changing habits, how it seems to work better for me if I don't associate it with the scientific ideology at all, because that carries too much weight and I'll fight it out of spite. When I helped my colleague Roan move, this spring, he would look at new paperwork or logistics tasks and say "oh, ok" and just do them efficiently. It's another way of being, no emotional attachments or connotations around Productivity and Self-Improvement (neither positive nor negative), no moral valence.

From Adaptation:

"Adaptation is a profound process. Means you figure out how to thrive in the world."
"Yeah, but it's easier for plants. I mean, they have no memory. They just move on to whatever's next. With a person, though, adapting is almost shameful. It's like running away."

Once we become conscious of our change, once we're adapting deliberately, it's not Darwinian anymore; it's not the "non-random survival of randomly varying replicators," it's intelligent design and it's a decision to abandon a local maximum. And for me it requires a kind of faith that I'm in charge and that my decisions will, on the whole, be good ones; that I'm not just running away, I'm running towards something better; and that it's legitimate for me to decide that the old way is no longer good enough.

But it's best if I can trick myself into making changes quickly. Writer's block is the fear of making a decision, the saying goes, and so is procrastination: procrastination is the hothouse of second thoughts. And physical activity is enormously effective at giving me practice at acting this way. I had to adapt during the Coast-to-Coast walk, ASAP, or I wouldn't make it.

I self-indulgently imagine that I have uncovered the secret of jocks.


phil hood
19 Aug 2012, 17:19 p.m.

Hi sumana,<br/>Glad to see you managed to get back home. It seems from your post that you are suffering a touch of the luddites. clearly walking through a landscape that long ago gave up any idea of being industrial has been jogging long hidden parts of the old grey matter.