A: I went to the gym and I feel fucking incredible. I did a few big compound exercises until I started to feel my body kinda entering the slightly queasy “I’m almost pushing myself too hard” zone, had the wisdom to stop. Bought a protein shake and a chicken burger, and then had fish&chips (slightly overkill, but hey, train hard, eat big) and then shipped something for work. And I’m done, and it’s just midnight, and I’m going to write this word vomit and I’m going to bed.
B: Nice. What did you learn?
A: Wait, before that I have to remind myself of something. I usually have this habit of waxing all lyrical about something after I have a nice first experience with it, but the real important thing for me is to focus on the next instance. Like– sometimes when something good happens, I get so excited and happy about the good thing, that it feels like I spend all my happiness and joy on that moment and then I don’t have another moment like it until far too late.
A: I need to commit to my next gym session. I should train about 3 times a week– I think when I’m starting out I’ll go every three days. Today was Thursday. So I’ll go next on Sunday.
B: How do you know you won’t end up skipping it?
A: It feels like the dominant thing on my mind. I’ll be reminding myself of it constantly. Also I’m definitely going to be aching. And we’re going to have this conversation. Every day. Until I go again.
B: Heh. That could work. We’ll see. So–
A: What did I learn? Oh man. The act of going to the gym actually reminded me of when I cooked chicken a while ago, for the first time.
A: Yeah– in both cases I was putting off something that intellectually I knew would be a good thing to do.
B: Why were you putting it off?
A: Well… for the chicken, I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know how to prepare. I didn’t know how to cut it. I didn’t know what cutting board to use. It’s not that the answers to these questions are particularly difficult, it’s just that– people who know how to do something, they have a set of neat and tidy questions in their head, lined up in a neat row, and then they just ask themselves those questions. Like– as adults we know, if you lose something in your house, you can start by looking for it one room at a time. You go through each drawers in a cabinet, check under the bed, be thorough as possible. You cross out each thing as you go, so you don’t need to double check this. As a child, this might not be so obvious. You lose something and you have no idea where it is, where to look, what to do.
B: A little hard to remember what it’s like to be a child with no real sense of logical deduction…
A: Hrm, there has to be a better example. The problem is, when you’re good at something, you don’t really know what the questions you’re asking– because you’ve internalized them. Unconscious competence. Right? So like, when… (I’m actually struggling to think of a particular thing here… okay, video games). When you play Grand Theft Auto, for example, or when you play a first person shooter for the first time, there are a whole bunch of things you take for granted. You know that moving the mouse moves the scope, you expect that you click a button to fire, you expect a menu screen, some sort of reloading, so on and so forth.
Now a smart person who picks up a video game console for the first time– and lets imagine they live in this hypothetical parallel world where they’ve never really closely observed anybody playing video games before, never played any games themselves– if they don’t know what to expect, they’re going to be very confused. It will take a while to figure out how all the parts work together. Even things like, put in the CD into the CD drive. Suppose they’ve never seen a CD or Playstation before, and they’ve never seen a controller, that sort of thing.
B: So you’re saying that, you’re like that person who’s never played a video game…?
A: Exactly. I’m a person who’s never cooked, and never really been particularly independent. I typically just follow people who know what they’re doing. I order the same things over and over again in public. I stick to these familiar, simple patterns and try not to expose myself too much because then I’ll screw up terribly. Imagine being on a football pitch in the middle of a professional soccer game, and you have no idea what the rules of soccer are, and you’ve never kicked a ball in your life. It’ll take you some time to figure out what’s going on, and it’ll get messy.
B: I’m still not quite sure what you’re getting at here.
A: Right– so what do you do when you’re thrown into the deep end of the pool? Or rather– if you don’t know how to swim, what should you do? You start by dipping your toes in the water, get your hands wet, rub the water all over your body, then get into the water and walk around in it, hold your breath under it, get comfortable in it. I’ve done some of this but not nearly as systematically as I’d like. The early stages of escalation are fairly straightforward, but at some point you reach the end of your comfort zone, and then it’s hard.
B: What was out of your comfort zone with the gym? You’ve been to the gym before.
A: Yes. If a gym magically was available either right in front of my house, or a short bus ride away, or somewhere near work, etc, then I would’ve done it. But the closest gym to my house is a long walk away, and I didn’t know what the optimal walking path to it was.
B: You could’ve found out.
A: Yeah. Also there’s this Active.SG thing where they don’t quite just let you pay for entry, you have to signup for all sorts of really creepy invasive stuff where the government tracks your fitness habits.
A: Point is, the more steps there are between me and something I want to do, and the less clear or obvious what each of these steps are, the likelier it is that I want do it, even if I know it needs to be done. I’m incredibly, incredibly bad at breaking things down and doing things one step at a time. My game plan for things is to sort of throw everything up in the air and hope it all comes together beautifully by itself. I do the workings in my head. This works for like, simple maths sums in primary school. It has completely failed me for most important things since JC, but it’s worked well in some things– like improvising responses on social media, or arguing with people.
B: I see. So you’re… averse to doing things in a step-by-step fashion?
A: I’m not sure if I’d use the word averse. I lack practice. I’m unskilled.
B: That’s excellent. Then all you need to do is practice breaking things down into their components and doing them one by one.
A: That’s true.