Or is it trained to be tricked?
‘Do you feel you have grown as a person over the last decade?’ I asked exuberantly as husband and I ran/plodded up the steep incline of a trail around a golf course. He does not run often, and usually with extreme displeasure.
I got a deadpan, less than enthusiastic look. ‘It’s way too early to discuss complicated things…’
‘It’s not complicated.’
I become very philosophical when I run, which can be irritating if you’re not on that same page…I’m even worse if I have been listening to lots of philosophical podcasts, which I had.
‘I don’t have any energy to speak and run’.
I managed to last without speaking until the last kilometre home. I was getting tired and approaching 21 km total distance as I been out for an hour and a half already before picking husband up, bleary-eyed, from home. Overall, I was quite keen to wrap up this run, especially now that I had been denied my Zen chat. And I was hungry. I looked at his stride: it looked a bit long.
‘Have you tried counting the number of steps you take per minute? Ideally it should be 180’.
We did a bit of this and had a bit of banter about how tiring it was, and I said he should just pretend he’s running after a soccer ball (running after a ball has always been more of a motivator for him than just running) because you have to have quick feet on the soccer pitch. I was really getting tired and hungry now (did I mention I was hungry?) and trying to get him to go faster.
‘Why don’t you just stop if you’re tired?’ he asked.
‘That is not the point. The point is to train to be able to carry on, despite being tired. Everyone is tired. Someone is not more tired than someone else. But you’re never going to finish if you just stop all the time. The people who finish and those who win are those who carry on despite being tired. So you have to deal with or practice being tired and carry on despite it!’
‘Oh, so you just trick your brain?’
‘My brain is not tricked. It’s trained.’
As a Capricorn I am by nature pessimistic, or realistic in a glass half empty kind of way. But I have not failed to notice that negative thoughts do become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Ever had those moments when your worst fears are realised? I have had many, and after a while I started to wonder if the universe was conspiring against me, as whatever I thought – which was usually an anxious thought about not wanting something to happen – would become the very thing that happened. So lately I’ve started to wonder…if the opposite may be true? If I WANT something to happen, willed it to happen, would it happen? I’m not saying don’t put the hard work in. It is especially demoralising when you put the work in (or think you have) only to have a situation blow up in your face – your worst fear realised! But what if you put the hard work in, do not entertain any thought whatsoever about the potential bad thing that the ‘evil spirits are conspiring to bring about’ and only believe that you will succeed? Train your brain to get from point A to point B despite the mountain in the way. There are ways and means (over, around, maybe sometimes under) as long as there is a will.
Do I always practice what I preach? No. In the overwhelming place that is the world, a far more tactical game is required and I have had to resort to trickery. Or at least training my brain into being tricked. Perhaps a better way of thinking about it is coercing one’s brain to change its mindset. Or change the point of view.
Think about it as you would think about Hong Kong. The city is a very sensory and three dimensional experience: fast, sleek cars with tinted windows, zooming along highways that loop up and over other highways that zigzag in between tall, shiny buildings. Bright flashing signs, billboards with flashing advertisements, malls that are all bling with designer fashion, and shiny things to attract the human magpie. It is a Hollywood movie set. However, if you step one street back, the camera lens becomes a bit grimy, the smell of wet markets, always in the background, now comes to the forefront. Vendors selling live things and dead things, hanging by their tails, baking in the ambient humidity. Washing of an infinite number of families, dangling, like sails on a windless sea, from apartment balconies.
Which Hong Kong do you want to see? The bling or the grime and poverty? Could you train your brain to be tricked, until, eventually, a Pavlovian response sets in and you naturally have a more positive or beneficial outlook, or a strong and undeterred focus to make happen what you want to happen?
I’m starting small. My short term/5 km goal is the ‘To do’ list. It is simple and easy to achieve. Make a list. By sheer virtue of the fact that you have thought of and listed all the things that need to be done, no matter how small and insignificant, to the overwhelming and insurmountable, you have made a small achievement by identifying the problems. Bigger ‘problems’ can be subdivided into smaller, achievable bite-size chunks (a 10 km race is made up of two 5 km runs, but at a slower pace, so that you have some energy left to keep going). You could be more creative/geeky about your ‘To do’ list and split the tasks between Covey’s quadrants (for those of you who are fans of ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’. Luckily you can just google this as opposed to reading the entire book…which remains on my ‘To do’ list).
Granted, it is an inane bit of trickery that a good ‘To do’ list makes you feel efficient and productive by sheer virtue of having made a list. But I do like a good finish line, and each time I tick off a task, it is a little finish line. And my brain has been coerced into believing something good has happened.