Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Doing the Thing I Don't Want to Do

I did something I hate today. But the not-flair morphed into the flair. Let me explain.

Several things tempted to destroy flair possibility today: cleaning dishes, dressing reluctant children, driving to the gym to meet my nemesis (the arc trainer machine), and figuring out what to make for dinner. I don't enjoy these things. Couldn't I just do what I want to do today? My impulse tells me to sit on the couch all day, eat chocolate bunnies (have you tried the peanut butter ones?), and play Ms. Pacman.

But I remembered something a wise doctor once told me. You can tame the part of the brain that demands its own way. You don't have to respond to your impulses. Neuroscience suggests that if we practice doing something we don't want to do everyday, we can essentially diminish the power of the brain's pleasure center. We actually feel better, over time, when we do this. By starting with small decisions to do one thing I didn't want to do, I could gradually become less impulse-driven.

Everyday, I can embrace some not-flair. I could make the bed when I don't want to. I could do some push-ups. I could scrub a toilet. And in that genius irony that is most of life, the thing I hate could become a source of energy and pleasure. Funny, that brain.

Runners know this. My sister runs miles before I'm even awake; she can run for an hour while I eat at the same pace. That's some flair (I mean the running, not my eating). My sister always understood the mind game of running. Sure, the body resists. Sure, you don't want to do it. But then you choose to tie your shoes, greet the day, and run around the block. And before too long, you experience, ironically, pleasure beyond pleasure.

Today I chose to exercise on "the beast." The arc trainer terrifies me. If you've never been on one, it's an improved, more demanding version of an elliptical machine. 30 minutes on the arc trainer, and I think I'm going to die. I start mentally planning my funeral. I start writing out my will. But today, I remember my doctor's words. Do one thing you don't want to do. Suddenly, I'm happy and full of energy. I finish the workout by saying "no" to the impulse to get the heck off that machine and run far, far away from that gym, never to return.

Living with flair today means I do some things I don't want to do. And I enjoy them because I recognize the value in being less impulse-driven. I know that scrubbing my toilet can be flair. . . if I choose for it to be.

2 comments:

Jennifer Dowlin-Kelly said...

Yay, toilet flair! Reframing at its best! Thank you for the reminder of life's acquired taste: self-control. Makes me think of that Galatians verse about the fruits of God's love.

Meg McGinty said...

This is EXACTLY why I love exercise and might be slightly addicted to it. In terms of exercising, humans have a serious mind-body conflict... we have a body that's built to perfom but a brain that is always looking for efficiency. Our brain is our bargain shopper muscle. When you push through the pain and conquer something you don't want to do though, even the bargain shopper muscle exults in ecstasy. It makes me think of this quote from "born to run" by christopher mcdougall: "Running unites our two most primal impulses: fear and pleasure. We run when we're scared, when we're ecstatic, we run from our problems and run around for a good time." Also: "beyond the very extreme of fatigue and distress, we may find amounts of ease and power we never dreamed of ourselves owning; sources of strength never taxed at all because we never push throuhg the obstruction." These are among many other fantastic flairish quotes in Born to Run. You can think about these words next time you try to conquer "the beast." :)