Hello. My back hurts cause I biked after not biking for weeks. I’m an idiot who always forgets that activities aren’t interchangeable. Turns out you can’t just swap skiing for biking and biking for running and expect your body to not notice!
This is not an auspicious start to 2021, since my resolution this year is to exercise for 45 minutes every day.
I will now insert some anti-exercise quotes so I can make fun of myself.
Mark Greif describing exercise as “punishment for our liberation” in his essay “Against Exercise.”
Byung-Chul Han describing how neoliberalism encourages us to optimize our bodies.
Kristin Dombek describing how she does yoga to manufacture unconditional love but also “not coincidentally, [to work] on the quality of [her] ass".”
Back to scheduled programming
My goals are always very modest: in 2019 my resolution was to not cut my hair (I didn’t). For 2020, I wanted to write 500 words every day (I did). I have stretch goals, of course: for instance, this year I have plans for this Substack. But those are nice-to-haves, not necessary things.
A couple years ago I thought that if I set easy repetitive goals and always achieved them, I could trick myself into believing I’m really good at achieving goals. I arrived that this conclusion partially because I read… a fair number of self-help books.
I’ve, uh, probably read literally every corny self-help book you’ve ever heard of. How to Win Friends and Influence People? Yes. The Game? Yes. Models? Yes. The Power of Now? Yes. The Untethered Soul? Yes. Women Who Love Too Much? Yes. Can’t Stop Me? Yes. Big Magic? Yes. Daring Greatly? Yes. Quiet? I’m not, but I still read it. (Whenever some dude on Twitter is like you should read Mark Manson, I’m like lol actually I have).I’ve read books about spirituality, self-sabotage, attachment styles, alcoholism, social anxiety, how to pick up women (?)… I do admit that there’s high variability in how useful they are, and most of the books aren’t exactly offering groundbreaking information. But self-help books are like platitudes (and in fact most of them contain many platitudes): they’re easy to understand but almost impossible to apply.
Example: almost every self-help book about breakups will tell you to respect yourself and forget the guy. This is golden advice. It is, in fact, right 100% of the time. But how many people who are in the throes of a terrible breakup read this and forget the guy/girl? Probably 0%. Maaaaybe 0.01%.
However, once in a while you read a self-help book at exactly the right time and you’re actually able to implement it. This is the magic moment that makes reading all these banal fucking platitudes worth it.
For me, the magic moment was when I realized that I’m the kind of person who needs to make rules in order to get anything done. I don’t like repetition, but I can’t function without it.
Let’s take a moment to quote the author of a beloved-by-Silicon-Valley-book, Angela Duckworth, on the mundanity of excellence (i.e. most Olympic athletes are Olympic athletes because they conveniently had parents who could drive them to the pool six times a week when they were three years old). At this point we might as well throw in Malcolm Gladwell. Actually, why not Atomic Habits as well? The trifecta. Basically, every self-help books explains that in order to be good at something you have to do it again and again and again.
I read that and was like, “This seems pretty reasonable.” So now all my resolutions are about doing a small task every single day.
This is not an advice column, but if you’re looking to set some kind of resolution this year, I highly recommend choosing an easy behavioral thing. Just do it every day and prepare for it to be really disappointing on some days, like if you have a workout where you’re really weak and have trouble properly calibrating your smart trainer and end up shouting at an inanimate object and walk away with lower back pain. 🤷🏻♀️
Personally, I picked exercise as my resolution because I thought it would keep me sane. See, my resolution last year was all about writing, and it worked—I actually do write a lot these days—but writing makes me want to stab myself in the face quite often, so I feel like it’ll be good for me to have something physical: something to smooth out my brain and leave it all blank and mushy.
Even though my goals open and not target-oriented (i.e. I’m not really working out to have a better mile time or look better or whatever), they usually cumulate in some fun results. I wrote a draft of a book last year. This year I’m hoping to look like Noi from Dorohedoro by the end of 2021.
I’ll let you know how it goes.
I’m going to turn on paid subscriptions in a week. It’ll be $5 a month. I’ll still be writing free posts, but want to experiment with doing 1) more personal, diaristic posts 2) more community discussions (like us reading a book together every month!) and 3) more in-depth essays on topics like immigration in tech, psychedelics, and how emotions are affected by neoliberalism. I think doing paid subscriptions will help motivate me to produce writing that you’ll enjoy.
So, this week I’ll be slightly more active than usual (2-3 posts) to give you a sample of what I want to do over the next year. Please consider supporting my writing if you enjoy it.
Also, if you have ideas for what you’d like to see more of, please email me! Feedback is good. Self-help taught me that 🤷🏻♀️