Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Moving the Normal Needle

You know how you get into the mind-frame that everyone who does less than you do is lazy or ignorant, but everyone who does more than you is a nut or a zealot?

Okay, maybe you don't get into that mind-frame, but I do.  People who exercise less than I do, I'm all too ready to dismiss as lazy or out-of-shape.  On the other hand, people who exercise more than I do are clearly fitness freaks.  People who shop in malls are obviously spend-thrifts, because I myself live a perfectly happy mall-free life.  But the people who raise their own chickens?  That's too much work (I know, because I don't raise my own chickens).

Completely aside from the moral/spiritual/jerk-i-tude aspects of carrying these values around in my head is the challenge this creates for me when I want to change myself.  Sure, I'd like to throw away less trash, . . . but buying things that come with packaging is just the way things are; that's normal.   Sure, I'd like to train more for the triathalon, . . . but I don't have time to do that now; my current schedule is normal, and I'm not sure I'm ready to be one of those fitness freaks.

I've heard the reluctance to change as "not wanting to move out of our comfort zone".  But I've done enough different things in my life to know that just about any zone is as comfortable as any other, once you're used to it.
  • Back when I was learning math, word problems were really really hard.  But now, I love the puzzle aspect of a good math challenge.
  • When I married my husband, I was a pretty ordinary consumer who fed my kids hot dogs and mac-n-cheese.  After a bunch of financial pressures and some awesome tightwad inspiration, I've converted into the most frugal, least packaged-food-person in any circle of friends I could gather.  
  • Three years ago when I started running again, I did part of a trail run with some folks and I was sore for days.   But now that I run regularly, it's a joy to head out for a long jaunt with the girlfriends.
  • Twenty years ago, I was happy as a clam to be a single mom, and determined as all-get-out to stay that way.  Now I'm a married mom of many.
Not all shifts in my life have been so inspirational:
  • Back in the day, I used to read books like crazy.  I'd have as many as 8 books in progress at a time, and I could wolf them down like  J-son wolfs down pizza.  Now, the books are on the shelf and my laptop is my bedside companion.  Now I'm an e-mailing, blogging, internet woman.
So, I think for me it's not so much a question of comfort zones as identity zones.  Do I want to be one of those eco-nuts who carry cloth napkins around and refuses paper napkins?  (Well, nowadays I actually do that, and I no longer think it's nutty.  In fact, I think you should do that, too!).  Sitting on my . . . um, on my desk chair . . . all day has been pretty comfortable for me.  But it's also been my identity, my persona, the place that "normal needle" points on that scale of personality.   Do I want to be one of those exercise freaks who does push-ups in her spare time?

I'm starting to realize that maybe, I do.

Is that normal?


  1. Ha, so true! I am more dedicated than those who do less than I do, but gosh those folks who do more than me are just nuts!! PS you are nuts for training for an ironman:)

    since I am biologist I think of this like a fitness landscape - we are a little ball nestled in a landscape of peaks and valleys - its very hard to get out of you current valley but once you do, it becomes relatively to maintain.

    I am now back to reading books after about a decade with no pleasure reading outside of the New Yorker. Also have finally been able to make fitness a regular habit. I love that despite inertia we are able to make radical changes in our lives.

    1. Fitness landscapes: where math and biology meet up and have a beer. I love thinking about all those little local minima on the 3-d graph. My thesis used something called the "Mountain Pass Lemma", meaning looking for the lowest of all possible highest points between a pair of valleys. Your comment brings back fond memories.

      Kudos to you on your current reading/fitness regimen. As you can guess, I'm a tad jealous of the former! -MM

  2. With scientific background, I'd call it "potential well"... How comfy it can be...!! But try new things make us to get out of that "potential well" and grow somehow.

    MM, your self-criticism helps me to review my thoughts and values. Just a clever person like you is able to make such self-criticism.

  3. First of all, chickens not that hard. At least not once they're grown. Mostly its egg producing comedy with a whole lot of poop. Those Ladies are silly, and I've got 3 dozen eggs sitting on my counter right now.

    Second, push ups in your spare time are horrible. Yet I do them. A set of 25 here. 20 there. Not as much as I used to, but acknowledging that as part of your daily routine, starts to seem less extreme.

    Being what most people would call 'past normal' with my chickens and my pushups, (not to mention my dogs) I still call this a happy place. It won't be the same place forever. In fact its already changed so much. Dogs are old hat. Pushups are just regular. Chickens are new. Not labeling those around us based on what peak or valley we are experiencing, harder.

    1. You do push-ups regularly? Dang, now I'm even more in awe. K-daughter keeps asking me for chickens, but I keep thinking that in about 6 years we'll fly the coop to a new home (in the city, no chickens allowed). So I admire chickens and push-ups from afar. Afar, so far. The push-ups are on my horizon. --MM

    2. That's six years of enjoying your own eggs, and then you can sell/pass the chickens on when you move :-)

    3. True. Yes. But I have a feeling I'm going to out-excuse any good facts. How about this: I travel a lot. I'm out-of-town giving talks several weekends a year, and twice a year I take off for a whole week. And what would my chickens do without me? --MM

  4. And some cities allow back yard chickens, mine does...

    1. Good point. Possibly my city does (although I seem to remember reading things in the newspaper that said no). But it's likely that our yard will be so small that it will be all garden, no open ground. Not much range for those who want to be free range. -MM