2012-10-17

The Wisdom Of Perspective

I didn't get much sleep on Monday night, so when I woke up yesterday, I was extremely tired. I felt tired all day long, and my condition didn't improve until this morning, after a good night's sleep.

I was tired, and thus not looking forward to my daily seven-mile run. So what did I do? I could have taken the day off, sure, but I didn't want to lose the good fitness-momentum I have been generating for myself lately. Instead, I opted to have an easy day! My easy day consisted of replacing my seven-mile run with a four-mile run at about the same pace.

This is significant because, when you put in fewer miles of running per day, you reach a point at which having an "easy day" isn't an option.

Think about it. Let's say you run three miles a day. When you get tired, you could theoretically go for a one-mile run, but hardly anyone feels that going for a six-to-ten-minute run is worthwhile. You don't get much bang for your buck with a run like that. It's an option, just not a particularly useful one. A runner who puts in three miles per day is far more likely to take a day off than to go for a comparatively easy run.

When you rack up a few more daily miles, you wind up with two options (a day off or an easy run) instead of one (just a day off). This is part of the perspective one gains from pushing oneself up to the next level.

One gains a certain perspective when one gets accustomed to a more ambitious way of looking at things. This is precisely what I mean when I encourage people to adopt a longer cognitive time-horizon.

We can see this from another angle, too. Training for a big race, or undertaking to get in shape in general, requires that a person maintain a persistent long-range vision. If you can't commit to daily exercise for months on end, then you can't change your overall fitness level in a meaningful way. Through every step of the process, you will feel like a beginner. Every workout you do will be painful and difficult.

It is only by stretching your perspective across the months required to get in shape that you begin to feel that your workouts are pleasant and refreshing. Part of this is simply remembering how much a given workout used to hurt, and this requires a long-term sensory memory. An additional part of this is knowing what you have to look forward to in the future, and this requires a good sense of what you're working for, i.e. a goal.

And It's Not Just About Running
We gain perspective any time we challenge ourselves to think or act bigger than what we're doing. If, for example, one were to commit to saying something kind to coworker or family member every single day, then before long, one will find giving compliments incredibly easy. More than that, one will discover many new and important ways one appreciates the people around him/her. Before long, such a person will hold an entirely new perspective - or, even if not an entirely new one, a much more optimistic one.

Any commitment we make toward the improvement of our lives provides a correspondingly significant improvement in our own perspective. It seems a bit obvious when I put it that way, but still - it's true.

The key to actually pulling this off is:

First, choosing an idea that is unambiguously positive. Really this isn't a necessity, because any idea to which you commit will impact your perspective. However, most people agree that committing to a bad idea is unambiguously negative. You can certainly diminish the positivity of your perspective by committing to a bad idea, but this is horrible advice. So choose something good, for heaven's sake.

Second, once you've chosen an idea, you have to really commit to it. It isn't sufficient to simply declare that you want to climb Mount Everest. If you want to do it, you have to commit to that idea. And if you'd rather commit to eating out less, or cleaning the house more, then that's fine, too. But you must commit. You must take regular, forward strides toward achieving your goal; then and only then have you committed. (Otherwise, what does "commitment" even mean?)

Try it out. Write it down somewhere, commit to a happy or positive idea and take regular steps toward achieving it, whatever it is. In three months, ask yourself how your perspective has changed. Did your workouts get easier? Did your house get cleaner? Did you start to feel happier and more relaxed?