The pace of my life is increasing. Slowly but surely. This is most obvious in the area of travel. I am moving more and more often between larger and larger distances, with greater regularity.
I am losing touch with the person for whom traveling was a big deal. The idea of being excited about “a trip” doesn’t make as much sense to me as it once did. I am in motion.
This sounds great. This is great. But as they say, it’s all neutral. Every situation has its own challenges, no matter how dreamlike it may appear on the outside or how big the upsides seem.
I find that I have started losing things more often. I have lost two water bottles in the past two weeks and have left cables and pouches and even my clothes at different places. I most certainly take this as a sign that I have overcomplicated things and have not caught up to the current pace of my life. I keep thinking I will be “back again” and leave stuff behind, having difficulty realizing that when I leave somewhere there is a real chance that I will not be returning again for some time. Better make sure to bring my things with me. A new habit is required as the old habits that worked well for me when I was more stationary are breaking down. I am having to learn new ways of dealing with my material reality.
The consequence of this change is that I have been feeling exhausted more than I remember feeling in the past. It feels that there is more to remember, more to take into consideration, more to do each day. I have spent many years chillin’ and this has brought along with it the habit of leaving things until the last minute.
The most obvious example of this is waiting to do my daily sun salutations until right before I go to sleep. It always feels like there’s plenty of time to do it later. These days, by the time I get to them, it feels like I’m having to add an extra hour on to my bedtime to fit them in. But hey, it’s what I’m used to…
The Need for Change
This is all well and good except for the fact that as life continues to accelerate, extending my bedtime each night makes me just a little bit more tired each day. So rather than building a positive habit, there is a debt accruing. Debts are not the best things to accrue as I think the world has learned in the past few years.
This hard place comes up against a rock in my long-standing habit of staying up really late and easing very very slowly into the day. Ahhh… the rock and the hard place. The uncomfortable locale where we usually find actual change.
And what is the pace of this kind of change. Glacial.
In Which We Realize For the 1000th Time That Life is Long and That Things Add Up
Glacial change. The pace of glaciers. The pace of the Earth. The pace of plants. As my life accelerates around me, I am drawn more to this imagery than to cheetahs or type-A executives or Olympic sprinters. The need I feel is actually to go slower. Slower and steadier. And this is the part where this gets interesting I do believe.
I find it endlessly fascinating that real change and real accomplishments happens so slowly, with improvements that are so minuscule, that they offer almost no glory. And fuck do we love glory. I actually think that this is the deeper reason behind our trends of 4-minute abs and two-week transformations. The quick progress gives us this endorphin and dopamine rush of impressiveness and self-congratulation.
When we go for a big, dramatic change, it’s something we can ANNOUNCE to the world. LOOK AT ME WORLD!!!! I AM CHANGING!!! I AM CHANGED!!! I AM NEW!!! IT IS A NEW DAY FOR ME!!! It’s really exciting. Ribbon-cutting ceremonies really capture this spirit. We are REALLY DOING SOMETHING! Something worthy of being seen by the whole damn world!
Contrast this with someone who runs a 10-minute mile and strives to increase their pace by 10 seconds per month until they are running a 4-minute mile. By the time a year passes, we’re barely under 9 minutes and it actually takes us 5 years to hit the goal. Five long, mostly unremarkable years. Each day, the progress is a rounding error. It doesn’t exist. You have to look at years to even see a difference.
In fact, all it has going for it is its sustainability. Its a pace that can be handled by most people. The difficulty ramps up as the habit becomes more and more ingrained. You are ready for the challenge because you’ve built up to it.
4-minute abs changes have no foundation. You might actually run a 4-minute mile in the first 5 weeks but there’s a 99% chance that 10 weeks later you aren’t even running anymore. You either injured yourself or became so self-satisfied that you thought you could just live on the glory of your achievement. But you can’t homeboy. You can’t. The long-term is so phenomenally more important than the short-term that it renders the short-term almost irrelevant. Optimization should be for the long-term, especially if we are moving in the direction of our dreams. Because these are the things that are likely to be with us ten or twenty years down the line.
Optimizing for the Long-Term
The most important thing when setting a pace that can last decades is to avoid burnout. Burnout is the great destroyer. It’s super exciting to push hot-and-heavy at first but when all that fire and excitement burn off, if you haven’t gone slowly enough that the forest had time to generate more wood, then you have no fuel left and you burnout. Ipso facto. That’s the trap.
So paradoxically, you have to set a slow pace. A VERY slow pace. Because the slowness does move. It keeps SLOWLY increasing. Before you know it (we’re talking years), the pace that seemed so slow as to be boring has accelerated and is moving so fast you can hardly handle it. But it’s still only SLOWLY increasing. So you can, with great effort, always continue to handle it. But it’s a lot of work. Don’t kid yourself with the bullshit man. Don’t do it. Forget the hype. Don’t drink your own kool-aid.
First, really figure out what you’re here to do and then spend a lot of time taking in that it’s a LOOOOOOOOONG journey. The longest journey you will undertake. And ideally, when you finish the journey, you will be at the peak. You will go out on top, at the highest level of your personal achievement.
I am watching the VERRRRYYYY slow pace I set for myself reach a pace that I find increasingly difficult to keep up with, so much so that many of my sacred cow habits are getting stirred free of their hold on me. These habits are now becoming very real obstacles. The only reason I’m not freaking out about it is that I have been on this path for a long time and have seen this day coming for many years. It doesn’t make it easier now that it’s here but it does at least keep me calm.
If you are starting out, you must realize, again and again, over and over, how long this journey is that you are on. This is so hard to do because many other people in your field will choose a faster pace and thus achieve success more quickly. It is easy to then feel that there is something wrong with the slow pace you have chosen and doubt can set in. However, take solace in the fact that the vast vast majority of these people are not thinking long-term and in 10 or 20 years will no longer even remain in your field. They will come and go. You must remember that and stay focused on YOUR path and YOUR pace and YOUR knowing and YOUR vision, no matter how bleak the early results can seem at times.
You must keep your eyes on the prize. And the cutest part of all is that the act of doing that changes you. It develops patience and wisdom and a deeper understanding of the pace of God, which was really the goal all along.