Like many folks my age (I suspect), I am engaged in a constant battle to eat less, drink less, exercise more, and use my time more productively. A lot of angst and self-disgust flows through this process. It is hard to shake the feeling sometimes that I am managing within myself a team of recalcitrant workers who mostly do random things that advance no agenda at all, but occasionally exhibit such brilliance that I can’t just show them the door.
So for example I have the guy who loves to drink too much wine and have a good time… but that also drives social connection and building friendships with people. I have the guy who is compelled to eat every last bite on the plate — I think this is some form of OCD, honestly — but also motivates love of cooking and all kinds of food. I have the guy who is always starting new hobbies and wants to try just about everything, to the detriment of success at anything — but also is responsible for some of my most important experiences and personal growth.
Of course, I realize that there is only one “me,” only one responsible party for all my actions. What I find interesting though is the idea that there can be such a thing as “self-control” or even “self-management,” which there certainly is, and which implies that no there is not one responsible party, there is a big untidy bag of drives and needs and interests that somehow are yoked together into something that gets up every morning and tries to act in a coherent way. And somewhere in there there is a manager, the poor bastard who has to try to point this motley crew in a single direction.
Interestingly, the lesson that comes out of this is not unlike one of the big lessons we learn about managing people, which is that confronting yourself head-on is often not the right thing to do. You have to be smart and tricky and manage your energy and pick your battles. So, for years and years I wanted to write a daily personal journal, but I never did, because I always thought it should be the last thing I do in the work day. When my coach suggested I try writing it first thing in the morning instead, I was sure that wouldn’t work… but it did. So I am now a dedicated journaler, because it is the very first thing I do every day. And I didn’t get there by force of will or self discipline or effort, I did it by tricking myself and creating a routine. And I have learned that that routine makes me happy, because I guarantee myself time to reflect — to think about my own wants and needs and priorities and what actions I should take to meet them.
What else makes me happy? I’m not sure… I’m still trying to work it out. There are some obvious things, like my wife and my cat and a great meal and a lovely glass of wine. Then there are achievements, like playing the Bach Chaconne on the vibraphone, or getting a private pilot instrument rating. The rest is a balancing act and I fear it is not nearly as well managed as I want, but I will get there. It’s just a matter of finding the right tricks.