I have more than 1/2 left. That includes about 25 years of an athletic body, endurance, a sharp memory, and maybe if I’m lucky, a bit of sex appeal. Nearing 40, it’s nice to remember in our youth-oriented culture that it’s not just a death march from here on out. I’m excited for the next 40 actually, but it will be very different. What do I need to prepare myself?
Right now, my answer is habits. I like to think it is futile and painful in life to fight your nature. This is true at a surface level. If you’re careless, don’t buy nice stuff, If you’re late, don’t schedule a lot of stuff. If you’re messy, don’t try to be a neat freak for others, just clean the toilet. Happiness is purely the acceptance of one’s circumstances, not the circumstances themselves. However, there is a natural flow of the world, not towards or away from anything, but change is braided with time and therefore carries on and fills the gaps around us. Without changing ourselves, without becoming more fluid and flexible and able to dance around time, we are in essence planning to become its victim.
So a life living by one's “nature” needs to be balanced by a healthy distaste and distrust for the concept of having a nature. After all, what is one’s nature except the story we’ve made ourselves to believe about how we are? Surely this is always a fungible thing.
I like to make the analogy to a rubber band. If you are constantly trying to fight against its shape, it will snap back to its original shape, probably frustrating you and hurting you in the process. There is a certain shape of behaviors, patterns, biases, and the like we’ve built up to make navigating the world possible. This is like that piece of rubber, it’s nearly impossible to change the shape of, even at the young age of 36.
A habit is not a change in one’s nature. A habit is a behavior which is repeated through the force of will until the willpower required to execute it is imperceivable. At that point it crosses over from an activity, to simply part of the amorphous concept of your “nature.” In the rubber band analogy, a habit is perhaps something fixed that the band stretches around, and changes its shape. Over time the band loosens to accommodate it.
For example, it requires no will to brush my teeth at night because I’ve done it since I was 3, but I only floss for a few weeks after getting a root canal. I also don’t particularly enjoy brushing, but I don’t even question it and it requires no willpower to do.
I need to prepare for the onslaught of a teenage daughter, college tuitions, old parents, failing joints and a string of likely existential crises. And my current hunch is that my willpower isn’t going to increase dramatically, so real lasting changes are going to require the establishment of new habits, slowly, stubbornly and persistently.
My latest is journaling every weekend morning, of which you are now reading the fruits of.
What habit are you working on adding to your life?