Don’t ask me why, but this quote on the mind kinda blew mine the other day:
“Whatever you’re doing, right now, you’re physically altering the structure of your brain to become better at it.”
It seems simple. And I shouldn’t have been that wowed by it. But, as a habit-hacking seeker who constantly gets trapped by my own tedious tendencies, it grabbed me on more than one level. Whatever you do, you’re creating an actual, non-abstract, new connection in your head to improve on that. What’s so exciting about that? Well, I suppose it’s that, for the first time, the same thing I always knew was said in a way that made me consider the flip-side of that – the bad side – on multiple levels. Sure, we know that if you practice the piano or paint obsessively, you’re probably gonna morph into Yanni or Pollock at some point. But what about everything else? Not just our bad habits? But even just our mediocre habits? How about our bad or mediocre thought habits? Do those count in that rewiring too?
I was contemplating this, as I jogged a treacherous hill yesterday.
Yes, just like that – except completely the opposite.
Think sloth meets schoolgirl playing awkwardest game of hopscotch on an ascending drawbridge made of earth and roots. And that’s where we were. Why, though? Don’t I do this every day? For some reason, I always start to get distracted around the same point. And it’s not ‘cause that’s when my body tires out, either, because on another similar uphiller, it takes longer for that to happen. So what is that then? I got frustrated – thinking – “So much for getting better the more I practice something; I still suck at this hill.” Then, yesterday, it hit me in the face (along with a giant airborne bug). First, I realized that my thoughts, when I really looked at them, were quietly and negatively narrating the entirety of my escalated trek from my subconscious’ depths, like some anti-cheerleader golf commentator. The tone’s easy-going and unnoticeable as a yoga instructor, but negative nonetheless:
“Now’s the point where we usually make the mistake of looking uphill (yes, just like that) and suddenly feeling overwhelmed enough that our shoulders tighten, our breath shortens (yep, that’s the way) and we tell ourselves ‘Maybe we’ll just walk for half a minute…’ (There ya go, failure).”
Then, after I pointed out my pessimistic intrinsic narrator, I realized a big yes-and to that.
Of course I wasn’t getting any better at going uphill.
I was getting better at being fatalistic about going uphill.
Because of my activity-adjacent thoughts.
And if – whenever we do a thing, including thinking – we rewire our brains to get better at that, the only thing I’m improving every day is a poor uphill outlook. This means that practice potentially turns every other task in my day to a metaphorical uphill struggle too ‘cause I’ve inadvertently rewired my brain to handle all challenge that way. Suddenly, I’m plagued by the thought that I’m accidentally setting a shitty or could-be-better life-approach thought-habit just sitting here right now. (Which is a habit-ception, because that means I’m practicing worrying. “Abort! Abort thought train! Everybody off!”)
The solution? ‘s’hard, man. But totes possible. Because, while you can’t do something like slap a hoagie or box of See’s candies outta your mind the moment it starts acting the fool, I’ve noticed you generally can feel it in your body. Ya get uncomfortable and call it anxiety. But, for me, when I look at what the symptoms of that nervousness are, I realize that it starts with shallow breathing, then tight shoulders, then a spasm in my neck scruff (where my mother used to carry me in her mouth when I was little). You’d think this’d come natch for me (because: yoga), to breathe deep and actively relax, but it doesn’t. I suppose the motivation for me’s become that when you begin to loathe stagnation, you begin to get the itch for self-improvement. Because you realize it’s the only vaccine against turning into a human swamp. And you’ve gotta administer it daily. Espesh now that I’ve got this god forsaken quote knocking around in my skull. ’cause now I realize that every second of my life, I’m either paving the way for improvement habits or banging nails in my regression coffin. That or picking out my pretty pine pre-regression casket by not improving. Every second we’re setting indelible habit maps in our mind. That’s a lot to consider, but – as we don’t wanna practice feeling hopeless – the best bet, I suppose, is to just try your best every moment. “How, though? How do we remember when we remember with the same organ we’re poisoning with bad habits?! Do I need to set an alarm with a “do your best” label in five minute increments?” Maybe. But I suppose you could just start with something small, like mayhaps your fitness technique, and hope to hell it catches like a forest fire to the rest of your brain.
And if I’m wrong?
Well, then at least we’ll still be badass at sprinting inclined trails.
(Which’ll be convenient for an expedient escape if the forest ever does literally catch fire.)