On Not Going Through The Motions

Here's a comment I left at Marginal Revolution
Right, just like reading a book confers no knowledge. You have to do more than just get through the book. You have to pay attention to what it says and think about it. Same deal with exercise. I know people who have been running 10-minute miles for 30 years. Imagine running for 30 years and never once breaking a 6-minute mile. They're putting in the time, but not mindfully
Now, the wrong conclusion to draw from that is "Exercise doesn't help most people." The right conclusion to draw is, "Don't just go through the motions when you're living your life. Do things deliberately." But do you think the average person even wants to become aware of the difference? Inevitability is the mental inertia that drives all other psychological defense mechanisms.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to re-blog this comment... 
If I had a nickel for every time someone said to be, "But Ryan, not everyone wants to be a fast runner!" I would be a multi-millionaire. This level of whining has always missed the point. I'd like to take a moment to explain why.

I know people who have cooked almost every single day of their adult lives, but who have never put forth any effort into becoming a better cook. On one level, I understand this, because I usually have to cook dinner for everyone in my house, and that daily task quite often becomes a chore and a time-suck that I'd rather trade for the chance to practice my guitar for an hour or get a bonus workout in.

But on another level, I think it's crazy. How can you do something that you have to do pretty much every day of your life, and not make some minimal effort to turn it into a more pleasant task? How can you steam vegetables every day of your life, and never wonder what it might be like to saute something in garlic and olive oil for a change? One does not require a cooking class to sprinkle some rosemary on a sprig of broccoli.

It's not from a lack of talent, skill, or knowledge that people wind up in a situation in which they are completely incapable of substantive life-improvements. It's a mental block preventing them from making a change, and most likely a defense mechanism belying an unwillingness to change.

In order to make your life better -- better in any way whatsoever -- you have to identify a problem that needs to be solved, along with specific steps that will solve the problem.

If you date someone for another year and don't end up getting any closer to marrying that person, you're not dating them correctly. If you dedicate yourself to diet and exercise for a year and don't feel healthier, then you're not working out correctly, or you're not eating correctly. If you run every day and never get any faster, then you're not running correctly. If you study Spanish for a year and can't carry on a simple conversation with a Spanish-speaker, then you're not studying Spanish correctly.

This is not an attack on you. This is not my proclamation of moral or didactic superiority. This is a simple set of facts. If you engage in a skill that never improves, then you are not building that skill the right way. You are merely going through the motions.

But, you protest, why does it have to be about improvement? Why can't I just be happy with where I am? The simple answer is this: You can be, but you're just going through the motions.

Imagine being married for twenty years and you never get any better at pleasing your partner in bed. Wouldn't your partner have a legitimate grievance? Couldn't he or she say that you just go through the motions and never spend time on your partner's needs? Well, I'm here to tell you that everything is like that. Running, cooking, learning, parenting, being a better friend, whatever it is. Any skill that can be honed must be honed, and if you're not honing it, then you're going through the motions.

Is it bad to just go through the motions? Not necessarily. I'm not very good when it comes to playing Settlers of Catan, and I don't have any desire to be very good at it. When we play that game, I go through the motions, I enjoy it for what it is, and I leave it at that. One cannot hone every imaginable skill. One must prioritize.

But, if you're not prioritizing some of your skills, chores, relationships, or etc., then you're living your entire life by going through the motions. That's your right, but it won't make you happy in the long run.

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