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Thursday, July 28, 2005

Self-Transformation and You 

I suspect I've made it clear at one point or another on Wired Cola, but I'm a reasonably fit, pretty serious competitive cyclist. That was not true as recently as 2002, when I was no more than a guy who rode a bike to work sometimes.

More notably, until the Fall of 2001 I was pretty much a guy who didn't do any regular exercise, and who had never been really fit. Sometime in 1996 I managed to be less overweight than usual, but that was it.

How did this happen? The short answer is that I found a way to make exercise a habit, and all good flowed from there.

The real trick is making exercise -- or anything else -- a habit. I'm not done with making good habits, not by a long shot. My current goal is to get into the habit of finishing things, or to put it another way, of getting things done. I have a lot of personal fixes I want to make, but they come slowly.

I am fascinated by self-transformation, both in myself and in others. From the number of personal-improvement books out there, I'd say many people are the same way. Here's my consolidated, underinformed, simplified view of the literature:

Most self-improvement books are junk: if I could express the single bad idea I see existing in most self-improvement plans, be they diets, time-management, two-minute management, or winning friends and influencing people, it's their obtuse assertions that this book has a canonical answer. One of the reasons there are so many self-improvement books is because there are so many paths to self-improvement. Not only is any one book-based plan right or wrong, it's my guess that most of them will be wrong for you.

But most self-improvement books are worthwhile: yep. Because except in the case of outright charlatans, they are mostly the product of self-improvement specialists, be they Richard Simmons, Anthony Robbins, or David Allen, who have succeeded to some extent.

I think the contradiction arises because people vary in how they are motivated, and what they will find habit forming.

In my own case, let's just look at one problem. In 2000, I was clearly eating too much and working out hardly at all. I was not in great shape.

By the end of 2001, I was a lot lighter, mostly because my eating habits had changed: The Lovely One started feeding me healthier food, and I dropped around 15 pounds in a year. The big transformation there was just eating what she served, and thus keeping portions in check (somewhat) and reducing the amount of crummy food I ate.

The next step was starting to exercise. In my case, I sort of stumbled onto riding my bike to work. I was motivated by a small desire to save some money, and a large desire to get some regular exercise. But I stayed with bike commuting like no other exercise before.

Why? Bike commuting had a few elements that suited me perfectly:

The lesson here is not that cycling is a panacea: The Lovely One has never really enjoyed it, and many people I know look at one aspect or another of my workout and just shake their heads. The point is that cycling was a solution especially suited to my needs and my weaknesses. That last thing is important: cycling worked around the things I was bad at.

In comparison, The Lovely One walks our new, very energetic dog. She does this about 45 minutes a day. That activity works superbly for her, because it suits her personality and needs in a way that cycling does not.

Don't worry, I'll come back to this topic later.

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