Because I Don’t Want to Get Sick

On the ferry this morning, I sat down at one of the galley tables next to a woman.

I’ve been dealing with allergies, I think, for the last week, which produce a large amount of mucus. During the night, it sinks down into my lungs and in the mornings, I cough it up. Pretty, I know.

So, I had a few coughs this morning sitting there and I could sense this woman squirming in her seat each time I do. Each time I cough, I’m careful to turn away from her and others, cough into the crook of my arm or into my handkerchief.

After a few coughs, she asks, “Are you getting over the flu or something?”

“No,” I say. “It’s allergies.”

“Because I do not want to get sick. I know there’s a lot of flu going around. I mean, I would just get up and move…”

“It’s not the flu,” I said. I wish I had thought to say, “Then you should get a flu shot.

No one wants to get sick, of course, but it was the imperiousness of her statement that struck me. I expect that the public will maintain a bubble of virus protection around me.

And, really, let’s say that I was infectious. Wasn’t she already exposed when she brought it up? We are constantly exposed to the public. Our immune systems are in constant negotiation. Have a little faith in evolution.

advice growth health personality


LeaveWriting in this blog used to be one of my habits and then it wasn’t. I would like to make it a habit again, so I’m thinking a lot about habits. Good habits, bad habits and the habits we don’t even know are habits.

I bought a coffee and a breakfast burrito in the galley of the M/V Wenatchee Thursday morning and waited behind a guy at the napkin dispenser as he took, one by one, 10 napkins.

I’m a three napkin guy. I wondered what he was going to do with all of those. Is he making papier-mâché?

As I took my napkins—swip, swip, swip—it did make me wonder why three? Why three paper towels in the restroom? I know why I do it now. It’s a habit. But how did it become a habit? How did I make it a habit?

I think of habits as actions you no longer decide to do. You once decided to do them and to do them in a certain way, but now as a habit it has a power, an inertia, all its own.

Habits Are Well-Worn Paths In Your Brain

It’s tempting to want to fill your life with new habits, to consciously decide you’re going to wake up and do 50 push-ups each morning. It’s never so easy.

So, what are the key elements of a habit?

  • There is little conscious input or control over a habit (which is why they’re hard to start and hard to break)
  • They are self-sustaining
  • They are swayed by subconscious impulses

When we think of the difference between “good” habits and “bad” habits, we judge them so in relation to our conscious desire. We know, however, that we have very little conscious input on our habits, and that our habits are easily affected by our subconscious selves.

Starting A New Good Habit

Given what I believe about habits, I will have to put a lot of work into overcoming the conscious impotence over this area of my life. That means that if I were to start doing push ups every day (or writing), I’m going to have to make a strong commitment. I’m going to have to keep pushing the bike up the hill until it starts to coast. This will wear that path in my brain and make it easier to do it without deciding to do it. The trick to getting there, though, is deciding to do it every day.

But I’m also going to have to resolve it with my subconscious desire. Why might my conscious desires and subconscious desires be in opposition? If I could figure that out, I would be rich. This will be tricky, but the only thing I can do is develop tools for detecting and resolving when this is the case.

Changing or Ending Bad Habits

I think this, generally, is the more difficult task. Bad habits are triggered by events—eating too much when stressed out, for example.

The first step is to identify the bad habit. What do I do that causes regret? What impulses do I give into?

Once you know the what, you can work on understanding triggers for those habits. When does it happen? When does it not happen? Why does it happen? No, really, why does it happen?

belief growth health productivity resolution time

Trusting the Method

“Enlightenment” by marirs

After I got out of the shower yesterday, I curled my arm to look at the size of my bicep. It had been a while since I had done this. I was impressed. It looked noticeably larger than the last time I checked. It looked like a tight ball under my skin with some definition of other muscle around it. When I checked it in the bathroom mirror this morning, though, it looked the same as it always had — sort of a round mass. Perhaps the gym has better lighting.

I’ve been going to the gym for four months now, lifting weights three days a week and doing cardio exercises five days a week. My intention was not to build a bigger bicep, although I hoped for it as a side benefit, along with losing weight (so far, not so much). If I did it for those reasons, I would have given up discouraged months ago.

My intention was merely to build a practice that would improve my health, mentally and physically. I resolved to focus not on the results, but on the method itself.

This is big change. I have always thought of practice solely as a path to improvement. You pick up a musical instrument or a foreign language so that you can play and converse, otherwise it’s a waste of time. That kind of thinking associates practice with wasted time. It longs for a machine or a pill or a shortcut.

A grudging practice must be continually justified. Am I learning fast enough? When will I be good enough to not make mistakes? Why do I even want to do something that requires so much practice? I quit.

If you learn to love the method, the results will arrive. I thought about this recently after a short but wonderful flight through space.

I’ve been adding all sorts of methods to my life — methods for cleaning my house, for writing, and most recently for flossing my teeth. My most cherished method is for meditation. I sit in my living room chair, wrap myself in a blanket, set a timer (first for 10 minutes, now for 20), close my eyes and focus repeatedly on one word that sets my intention for the day. I use every sound to reinforce the word. I breathe the word in and breathe the word out. My heart beats to the word. The clock ticks to the word. Sometimes my dog will bark the word or a loud car will drive the word up the street.

After months of daily meditation, I’ve had some “peak experiences.” Once I felt like I was outside my body. I often see colors and shapes. Mostly these experiences are in the form of a complete relaxation that straddles dreaming and waking.

But even more than those, meditation seems like a complete waste of time. I struggle with it. My nose starts to itch or I get distracted by something. I start to worry that I’m not doing it right.

But then I come back to my focus. That’s what meditation is all about — returning to your focus. You won’t get stronger by merely holding the weight, but by pumping it, bringing it back again and again in repetition, sets of repetition.

Meditation is teaching me to trust the method. Someday it will make flowers grow out of my pockets.

bicycle health politics

Bicycling is the Answer, Part II

I now buy the frozen, canned orange juice concentrate. It’s lighter and smaller than the gallon jug.

It’s taken me ten months, from the time I posted the first part until this week, to actually reduce my car trips and bicycle to town.

It’s 12 miles round trip with a few tough hills, but it’s mostly flat. The reason why it’s taken me so long to get around to actually riding my bike in a utilitarian way is because most of the trip is along the bike lane of the two-lane highway 305. Cars and trucks whiz by at plus or minus 55 mph. A couple of months ago I baby-stepped this fear by walking to town along the highway. It probably wasn’t any safer, but it seemed like it was a good idea at the time.

It’s not such a big deal. Any morning you can see dozens of bicycle commuters in the road’s luxuriously wide bike lane. But it did take mental leap to do for the first time this week.

I met a friend for coffee this morning and told him I rode to town. He bikes regularly around the island, but when it came out I took the highway, he blurted out, “Jesus! Don’t ever do that again!” He favors the longer, more hilly scenic route to town that has narrow or non-existant bike lanes but slower traffic.

At the risk of sounding righteous, I think biking down the highway is a political act. What let me take the risk was seeing others do it every day for years. When someone sees me huffing up a hill, I hope they think, “Damn, if that fat slob can do it, so can I.”

What I find surprising about biking to town this way is that it doesn’t really take that much more time. Driving to town takes 10 to 20 minutes, depending on traffic. Biking there takes a half hour.

Also surprising is what people cast out of their cars. I rode around a pair of knee-high tan leather boots in the bike lane.

I hope I can keep it up. It’s easy now. Lots of daylight, not too hot or too cold, not much rain.