Harness your compulsions

Every year the writers on this blog each recommend a product or gift. My recommendation for gifts to others remains the same: buy them two hours. But what about yourself?

My advice for you is this: what are the things you are compelled to do that runs against the preferences of your past and future selves? Make that list in your head or on paper. Okay, now make a second list of the things your past and future selves wish that present you would do more often? Great.

Are there activities on that list that you can bundle together into a single activity?

For example, and directly from my personal life, I am a middle-aged man who can get wrapped up in video games to the detriment of the rest of his life. I’m pretty sure that 10 hours in a given week would never make the grade of “video game addiction”, where whole lives are left to erode into dust while a soul spends every waking our gaming. But 10 hours is really costly in my current life.

Like, I don’t know, very nearly every middle-aged American, I should exercise more. We all know this, that’s why we pay for memberships in gyms we never use and buy exercise equipment that finds greater use drying our clothes.

Rather than purge my house of video games, I have instead located them strategically in a room with no chairs save an exercise bike and no TV save a one in an elevated position. I have two choices: I can either stand while I play or sit on the bike. Once on the bike, I have two choices: I can pedal or sit there stewing in my own sloth.

I bike 3-4 hours a week now.

Now, let’s be clear. I’m not telling you to buy a Playstation, TV, wallmount, and an exercise bike as the solution to your deficiency of exercise.* That’s a pretty privleged set of advice to give, especially the presumption you have the living space for all of that. What I am saying, however, is that if you already have a video game system that you know you use too much and an exercise bike you know you use too little, you may find a benefit in bundling the two together in a manner that your future self cannot easily un-bundle. [Sidenote: if you’re only short the bike, stationary bikes are (relative to my expectations), shockingly cheap. If you’re short on space, get one that folds so you can lean it against a wall while you are not using it.]

We all have our compulsions, the activities we can’t resist. Most of us also have the beneficial activities that we know will improve our lives, we can’t just through that initial inertia. Bundle them together. Draw in your sketchbook at an easel set up where you watch crappy reality TV. Keep the good whiskey and glasses wehre you write your weekly blog entries. Rack up 100 hours of Civilization 6 while doing those lying on a yoga mat doing those boring exercises your physical therapist prescribed.

Managing ourselves is often a tug of war between who we wish we wanted to be and who we actually want to be. If there is an opportunity to align the two a little better, that’s worth investing in. Now if you any of you know of a way I can harness my tragi-comic addiction to Cheetos into greater research productivity and physical strength, I’m all ears.

*I’m also not not telling you to buy those exact things.

3 thoughts on “Harness your compulsions

  1. StickerShockTrooper October 31, 2022 / 12:11 pm

    I don’t have quite enough manual dexterity to handle a controller and ride a bike at the same time. However, I have a queue of Netflix series I can only watch while on the elliptical, and podcasts that are reserved for gym time. It’s working for me so far.
    I would love to connect my exercise machine to my Roku to keep me honest, and restrict my Spotify playlist by location. Maybe the future of AI automation will include forcing us to be our better selves?

    Liked by 1 person

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