Back when I was active in an online weightlifting forum, we used to talk about how this time of year always heralded the arrival of a certain unusual species of animal. We called these odd, abundant creatures “resolutionists.”
Every year at the beginning of January, resolutionists would descend upon each of our gyms by the hundreds, bright-eyed and determined to make a big change in their lives. We could see the focus in their eyes. The big gut? This year, it was going away and would never return. The high blood pressure, the type 2 diabetes? They were going to be kicked unapologetically to the curb. Women were determined to fit into swimsuits or skinny jeans. Men were determined to create giant arms and washboard abs. The resolutionists were focused. They came with their game faces on, with their fists up to do battle. They were ready.
And so each January, as the new year dawned, weight rooms that used to be quiet suddenly teemed with these fierce, determined faces. Suddenly, every bench was taken. Every treadmill and elliptical was in use. (And, predictably, some jackass was always using the squat rack to do biceps curls.)
But, mid-way through every February, the newly crowded gyms would begin to return to normal. Slowly, the new crowds would disappear, and things would return to how they had been in December. Slower, quieter… and peopled by the old faces, give or take a few.
That’s a statement about New Year’s resolutions, and it’s also a statement about the frailty of human commitment. So far, so good. Look around the blogosphere over the past few days and you’ll find a bunch of posts that go down those avenues, teaching those lessons.
But what’s more interesting to me is that it’s also a statement about homeostasis, about inertia, and maybe about entropy. Which is to say: Everything tends to always re-equilibrate right back where it started, slotting neatly into its established niche within the system. Things tend to a default path of least resistance, always traveling toward lack of control and disorder unless order is forcibly imposed upon them.
Or maybe it’s the other way around.
There’s another way to look at entropy in the metaphorical sense. Maybe unless a bit of chaos is introduced into the system, things always tend toward order. Toward clockwork. Toward a machine that ticks mindlessly and effortlessly along until time runs out.
So let’s get disorderly.
The Matrix has you.
Look, I realize this blog is kind of all over the place. It’s kind of about business. It’s kind of about entrepreneurship. It’s kind of about punk rock, nonconformity, and some foofy self-help-type things. I like to joke that it’s all over the place — and hence, that I’m all over the place as well — but this is one case where I’m kind of busting my own balls a little. I do actually know what I’m about, and it’s reflected in the fact that I absolutely detest the annual resolutionist phenomenon. I understand it. I sympathize with it, and with every person who wants to make a change. But the whole thing makes me annoyed, angry, frustrated. If there’s one thing I’d really like people to see me as standing for, it’s standing against the habits that underlie the cycle of resolution and resigned apathy.
I like the idea of being a shaker-upper. A questioner.
Let’s look at resolutions. A typical new year’s resolution says, “I’d like to lose ten pounds.” So you force yourself to exercise. You force yourself to eat better. So far, so good. To use a metaphor, you have a car that’s stuck in a rut that you’ve dug by spinning your wheels, and you’re applying some force to try to push yourself out of it.
Is there anything wrong with the rut? Are you sure? What’s wrong with it?
The land beyond the rut, where you’re trying to push the car… is that really where you want to be? Why? What’s so great about it?
Is the price (the force you’re going to need to apply) worth the reward (the benefits of the new destination)?
What will you lose by leaving the rut? Because, you know, you will lose something. So: are you cool with that?
Most people start pushing without knowing where they are, where they want to be, or why they want to move. They think, “I want to be skinnier.” Then they push, and soon something dawns on them, deep down: I like that rut. In the rut, I’m full and I don’t have to work hard. In the rut, I can watch more TV or tend to my stamp collection. In the rut, I get to quell my emotions with comfort food.
So they quit, because they just followed rote. Something said, “Skinnier is better” and so that’s all they ever considered. They thought they were breaking out of a pattern of control, but they were just following a different predictable path — a path that said, “try to change for this random reason, then fail.” It’s like in second Matrix movie, where Neo learns that his status as “The One” — supposedly an element of chaos that would bring down the system — was just another measure of control within the system.
What I hope this blog is about (as I do some introspection on the dawn of a new year) is mindfulness about choices. Consciousness. Awareness. Do whatever the hell you want, but know what it is that you’re doing and why you’re doing it — and do it through the force of your own volition instead of by default.
Take responsibility for where you end up. Blame nobody and nothing for any negatives that situation may bring with it.
In other words, it’s fine to stay in your rut. That’s as valid of a choice as moving out of it. What’s important is that you know where you are and why you’re there, and that you’re choosing to be there.
But what if you want to change? Well, then let’s not talk about bullshit resolutions. Resolutions are old hat. Bogus. Ephemeral.
Let’s talk about fucking up the system.
When you want to make a change, you have to shake things up. You have to knock yourself out of that rut so that you can decide if you’d like to move or settle back into it. You need a little bit of anarchy… and nothing is better at creating personal anarchy than awareness.
Stuck at a job you hate? Well, what are your options? You can stay at the job, get another job, strike out on your own, or move to Nepal and live under a blanket or something. What are the pros and cons of each? Be objective. Your job isn’t all bad. There is some good stuff, so see it. One question to consider will be whether you like having a paycheck more than you dislike your boss. And if you want to leave? Don’t look through rose-colored glasses. Quitting to do your own thing is a good option for some people, but be sure you see it for what it is. It’s tough, and it’s uncertain. I love it, but not everyone would. Question the assumption that “questioning the rules” by going solo is the right choice, too.
Want to quit smoking? Well, what’s your level of physical dependency on cigarettes? What emotional or habitual need do they fill for you? Because believe me, they’re doing something good for you. The question is whether you see where the cigarette path will take you versus where the non-cigarette path will take you, and if so, which you like better.
Want to get up earlier? Be more focused? Spend more time with your kids? Visit Sicily? Ask where you are, where you need to be to do those things, and if you’re okay with the trade. Then make a choice and for the love of God just do the damn thing with full knowledge of what might happen, and without apology.
Do enough introspection like this and you’ll get anarchy a-plenty.
I think of this like running a train on rails: You were on one path, and enough questions and questioning will lift the train off its track. You’ve got to put it back down onto one of the tracks below you, but at least now you’re free to put it onto any one of them.
Why the hell am I blathering on and on about this?
Fair question. I see it like this:
Moving in fifty directions at once only works for so long. I, like anyone, need to have a center — a singular, core purpose that drives everything that I do. And if you’re going to come along for this ride with me, you need to have a way to frame my various species of crazy shit, too.
For one, I’m a guy who’s in business. I’m going to have some stuff for sale this year. I want some of you — those of you who it’s right for — to buy it. (I don’t like it when the wrong people buy my wrong stuff and get pissed off. I also don’t like it when the right people can’t get off of their default track.)
I’m a coach and I have some big stuff brewing, so I’d like y’all to know what it is that I’m about… concretely, for once. So, you know… so that you’ll have an idea what I help people to do.
But I’m also doing some stuff this year that has nothing to do with business. If you’re a reader but have never been a customer, we still have a nice reciprocal relationship. I give you thoughts, and many of you tell me that those thoughts helped you out in some way. Or you go out there and pay it forward, making things better in your own small corner of the world. I want more of that. I want more people questioning. Living consciously. Making decisions by volition, not rote. So to do that, you’ve gotta know what this blog is about, too.
I’d like you to look for the common threads in your life. I can write about Dean Koontz, faith, tattoos, blog setups, and anarchy and somehow tie them all together because it’s all ultimately about living by choice. You’ve got something like that, too. What is it?
I want you to consider: What do you currently think you cannot do? And are you really, honestly sure you can’t do it? Because in just a few weeks, The Badass Project is going to go live. We have a sweet new site from Men With Pens that’s almost ready, and we have interviews lined up with people who you’d think should be able to do nothing if in fact you are actually unable to complete your novel because you fucking “don’t have enough time.”
A champion wrestler with no limbs.
An artist in a wheelchair.
A prolific music composer who can really only move his eyes.
Why am I doing the Badass Project? The whole notion of me spearheading a nonprofit venture around astonishing people that the world expects little from didn’t used to make sense, but now the answer should be obvious: I’m doing it because the Badasses’ stories introduce uncertainty and personal anarchy into the lives of people who truly listen to their messages. Didn’t think you could do that thing? Well, maybe you actually can.
See? It all fits.
Pretty soon here, I’ll tell you about my own new year’s resolution. I think it’s pretty interesting and fun, and I hope it’ll make you consider asking some more crazy, chaotic questions of your own. The more you step into uncertainty and anarchical decisions, the easier it gets. I speak from experience.
Happy New Year, everyone.