hello! It's a woeful Wednesday, and I'm here with another hateful, hateful tip.
people are always saying this annoying thing, try again. In my industry this virtuous cycle of trying is called "test-and-learn". At the very early stages of test-and-learn, you're trying to find 'product-market fit'. You test and learn forever or until you run out of funding, and then you sell all your expensive office furniture on craigslist. (Oh wait, that was in 2001. I don't know where people sell their excess Aeron chairs now.)
Here's a thing people don't much like to tell you though, because it's both annoying and, frankly, in the short term, discouraging: whatever it is you are trying to learn to do in your own life, be it stop shooting yourself in the foot or start brushing your teeth every day or stop thinking your romantic partner or your job or your french bulldog can fill the void in your heart (okay, well, maybe the bulldog can), well, the test-and-learn cycle could take on the order of years.
Years. You might have to keep trying things for YEARS.
One day in 1994 I was hanging around on the front steps of my dorm, probably woefully (I had just started taking Zoloft then, having only in the last several months been diagnosed with depression), and I started talking to a guy there standing on the steps smoking a clove cigarette. I bummed a clove cigarette from him. I smoked clove cigarettes without guilt until (ah, youth) until 1998, and then I decided I should probably quit smoking them because they were bad for me. (No they do not have fiberglass in them, as was rumored, but they were bad for me for all the reasons cigarettes are bad for people).
I spent 20 years quitting smoking, which, as I remarked in my first 5-minute standup comedy set, looked almost exactly like just smoking. But it wasn't. I spent most of that time managing my desire for cigarettes, sneaking around to buy them, hiding the fact that i smoked them, trying to smoke less of them, going cold-turkey, trying nicorette, all the things. The cigarettes were a great love and an enormous comfort and also a constant reminder of how I was falling short of my own expectations for myself, how I could not control my own choices, how I was a bad person, how I hated myself so much that I didn't care if I died from lung cancer, I wanted to kill myself, actually, the cigarettes were a means by which I could kill myself slowly and less directly and thus pretend I wasn't doing that. But I knew.
As I quipped, again on a stage with a microphone, "Crazy people looooove cigarettes, because we hate living." (Nicotine is also a very powerful drug that has some salutary and hard-to-otherwise-achieve effects on the brain that can make living with serious mental illness easier, as well as being highly addictive and hard to quit, so if you are one of those people who walk around coughing ostentatiously when you pass smokers on the street you are a bad person, by the way.) In any case, it was only when I finally gave up trying to quit smoking and bought a Juul, which instantaneously got me way more addicted, that I somehow managed to quit smoking, by which I mean that one day three months after I started using the Juul I threw it out and just never touched nicotine again, and no I don't know how or why that worked when everything else I had tried did not. But it was 20 years.
People don't tell you you might have to try for 20 years.
Another example. Obviously it is clear that exercise is good for you. It is good for your mental health and it is good for your physical health. The evidence is clear. I have been trying to build a regular exercise habit since I was probably 10 years old. I tried yoga and bicycling and ballet and running and pilates and having a personal trainer and just fucking going for walks and rock climbing and joining gyms and, oh, all the things. I never got over a hump where exercise started making me feel good, from all I can tell it does not give me that endorphin rush I had always heard about, so whatever I was doing I eventually fell out of doing, sooner rather than later, most of the time.
Finally, at the beginning of 2021 I decided that I would do one sun salutation every morning, after getting out of bed, before meditating for 3 minutes, on the rug at the foot of my bed, in whatever I happened to be wearing. That was it. That was all I had to do, and if I did more, great, but if I wanted to just do a single, lackadaisical sun salutation, that was fine.
9 months later I am stronger than I have ever been in my life. Some days I miss it in the morning and I end up doing it later, but I feel itchy until I do. A very small number of days I miss it entirely, because I am so sick or depressed I do not get out of bed (stay tuned for my full-body workout that does not require leaving the bed at all!), but practically every day I do a lot more than one sun salutation. I do 12 pushups, I do mobility work, I do a terrible thing called an L-sit that makes me swear and makes my body shake, I practice crow pose, I am working toward handstands, and I am just about to install a pole in my house so I can start learning to pole dance. Also I am buying rollerskates so I can go rollerskating with my child, also newly learning to rollerskate.
Of course this can all go to shit, still, but things seem promising. I feel like someone who is fit and active, who has physical activities she does that bring her satisfaction, something I never felt before. It is the same feeling I have that I am an ex-smoker rather than someone who is currently quitting.
That's 35 years to product-market fit. (The product here is regular exercise, I am the market).
No one says: "If at first you don't succeed, keep trying new stuff for another 35 years, and then maybe you'll find something that works." Because if people said that it seems so hopeless. Wow that is a long time. But really, what's hopeless is trying and trying and not managing to figure out something that seems of fundamental importance to your life, whatever that is, and then thinking you yourself are just unable to do that thing, that you are incapable of change.
Believing that the test-and-learn cycle for altering fundamental habits or deep-seated self-hate or leaving a partner or any major thing we are trying to do should be short, should be months, should be a couple of years, shouldn't ever be decades -- well, that's discouraging. Some stuff just takes decades.
How did I finally find what worked in these instances?
With quitting nicotine, the best I can say is that when the Juul ratcheted up my addiction such that I woke at 6am every morning with a voice I came to call Nicotine Bitch screaming at me to feed it, and that was just a bridge too far, I didn't want her in charge of my every waking moment.
With exercise I read Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg (Okay, I read the first 3 chapters) and I realized that all of the tips I'd tried in the past (put your gym clothes by the door, etc.) had assumed I had far more spoons than I ever actually did. Literally every additional step that came before actually exercising was a burden that I could not consistently overcome, limited as I am by the vagaries of my mental illness and its extreme (usually low) energy levels.
I truly liked yoga, for example, but there was only one place in the yoga studio closest to me that I was comfortable putting down my mat, because of anxiety, because I often cried in class and needed to leave unexpectedly, because because because. So I had to remember my mat, put on yoga clothes, fill my water bottle, reserve a place in the class, and then get to class super-early and stand anxiously by the door so that as the previous class let out I could slip in and stand awkwardly next to the person in the space that I wanted while they sprayed down their mat with tea-tree oil spray and gathered up their blocks and folded their blanket.
So in January 2021 I decided to remove every step but get out of bed and do a sun salutation. It might not have worked, but it did. It might not work forever, but it's worked for almost 10 months now, long enough for me to see some actual benefits. (For example, it did not scare me to say sure I will try roller-skating too, because I now have core strength and better balance so I'm not afraid of immediately falling on my ass and breaking my tailbone).
You're not a failure if you keep trying to improve something in your life and you find it difficult to do so and you keep failing at it. Some things just take a half a lifetime to figure out.
That sucks, but that's the truth, and it's a more hopeful truth than the one in which you'll just never figure it out, it must be hopeless, you've already tried all the things. Some shit yeah, quit trying to do, but the important stuff that you really want to figure out, well, you still could. I swear. I swear it on my mastery of crow pose, such mastery that I can now balance myself on my forearms whilst wearing thigh-high boots with four-inch-heels.
xoxo, see you next week, Amy