Exercise and the Just Do It attitude

As a child I used to swim at the pool—a lot. I can still remember the way my vision would gradually go cloudy and gray from (I assume) the chlorine in the water and my habit of swimming with my eyes open. But I always had a hard time getting into the water. I’d usually have to ask someone to count “1… 2… 3!”, with the idea that I’d jump in on “3!” (although I didn’t always and would sometimes have to ask again). And if I couldn’t bring myself to jump in, I’d slowly lower myself into the water, requiring a new count every time the submersion passed another critical region (knees, groin, armpits, face). Friends, this is a part of my childhood of which I am not proud.

But how I felt about swimming is the way I still feel about many activities: the pain of starting is often greater than the pain of doing, a natural breeding ground for procrastination. Fortunately, I’ve gotten a lot of practice at getting started since my childhood swimming self. (I can now even silently count to three for myself when I’m getting in the pool, which is much less embarrassing.) And a lot of this practice has come from other forms of physical exercise. Clara and I got into bouldering in the last few months that we were living in Leiden, and sometimes a big component of completing a climbing route is just wholeheartedly going for the next hold, even though you may not make it.

Even weightlifting, with which I’ve had a lot more experience than bouldering, contains a mental “Just Do It” component: eventually you get to the point where you have to attempt a lift you know you very well may fail to complete, which thought you must put out of your mind so that you can try as if you will succeed. If I hadn’t been practicing this skill around the time Clara and I started dating, I don’t think I would have been able to bring myself to ask her out.

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This is my favorite picture from that day.

I’m thinking about all this now because I’m finding it difficult again to “Just Do” anything. It takes enormous amounts of willpower to make sure the basics of life are getting taken care of—eating, sleeping, shopping, washing—and several of the habits I’ve cultivated over the last few years are starting to crumble. I am starting to realize that no habit in my life is so deeply entrenched that I can take it for granted, and I’m going to have to fight for the ones I want to keep. I am hoping that by concentrating my effort in those areas that yield dividends across my whole life, like exercise, I can turn this trend around. Wish me luck.


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