If you’re like me, you might think you’re untouchable after building up positive momentum.
Positive momentum, in this case: you’re working towards your dreams, you’re fortified against your vices, and you are doing at least one thing every day to evolve your life or sustain its stability.
I’ve written a lot about auto-pilot before, in terms of self-limiting behaviors and addictions.
When you need a fix, that fix can possess you, put your conscious will in the backseat of your mind.
Your body gets hijacked by a glitched-up survival instinct, and off you go to commit awkward atrocities towards yourself in the name of coping and/or self-flagellation.
Auto-pilot works both ways, though.
It does not just take over for self-destructive purposes. It has no agenda of its own. It’s simply a mode you go into when you have reinforced a specific pattern of behavior so many times that the behavior becomes mostly effortless and thoughtless.
Some might call it flow.
In my case, I’ve spent more time flowing on the self-limiting side of the spectrum.
Because ever since I was a kid, I developed more self-limiting patterns of thoughts. beliefs, and behaviors than self-empowering ones.
Reprogramming myself and transcending all that self-limitation has been an arduous task, and I still have a long way to go.
But I’m getting somewhere.
More and more, I am experiencing auto-pilot for productive activities and thought processes.
Like writing, learning, and creating. Being more consistent with friendships. Exercising. Eating in alignment with my values. All that becomes automatic to some extent, the more I practice.
This is the nature of habit and momentum.
And once you build up enough positive momentum, sometimes you might feel like you don’t have to put much effort into your life anymore.
As if you’ve won some kind of race, and now you get to rest while beautiful people feed you grapes and give you massages for the rest of your life.
Or maybe that’s just me, and I’m projecting with the desperate hope that I am not the only one.
It’s true that positive momentum can carry you for a while.
Like in a videogame, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
The protagonist uses a tool called a paraglider. He can take a leap off a cliff, and then use the paraglider to drift for pretty incredible distances.
Sometimes, I’ll see a far off location, and I’ll think I’ll bet I can make it.
So I take a bold leap from that cliff, whip out the paraglider and go for it.
But in the game, how far you drift depends on your stamina meter. If the stamina depletes, you fall.
Sometimes, it’s a really close call as to if I’ll make it to the intended destination.
Sometimes, I don’t really know if it’ll work out until the very last second.
Sometimes, I am sure I’ll make it until I realize I took on too much, too soon and take a bone-shattering fall to the unforgiving ground below.
Just like real life.
In real life, positive momentum is like paragliding. It feels good. You feel unstoppable and free.
But at times, you overestimate yourself and aim too far.
Life stressors build up and put additional pressure on you. In Zelda, that’s like if you’re paragliding over a camp full of archers using you for target practice.
Distractions build. You spread yourself thin. Your real-life stamina gauge empties out before you reach your goal.
And you fall.
And it sucks.
Maybe then you go back to old patterns, for comfort and familiarity.
In my case, that usually means overeating. Or drinking. Or playing too much Zelda.
Self-limitation usurps self-empowerment.
Moments ago, you were flying high in the sky. Now you’re in the dirt.
And by you, yes, I mean me.
I’ve been struggling lately. With life. With situations beyond my control. With my own attitudes and shortsighted beliefs.
Limiting coping mechanisms have slowly, day-by-day and inch-by-inch, been pushing aside the positive habits I’ve been forming.
So what am I going to do about it?
It’s not about what I am going to do.
It’s about what I am doing right now.
What am I doing about it right now?
Well, right now I’m writing.
Writing is my healing sword. It cuts through the muck and mire, and illuminates the path.
Writing takes the abstract and intangible, and gives it form. When it has form, I can play around with it. Change it. Evolve it.
Before writing this, I went for a 1.5 mile walk. That is important, because excessive laziness and stale air are surefire ways to stagnate and lose momentum.
Sometimes, I have gotten stuck in an email/social media/videogame/Netflix loop that in excess sucks the life right out of me.
Going for a walk first thing in the morning might be one of my best tactics for refilling my real-life stamina meter. Fresh air. Movement. It’s good for my heart, good for my lungs and brain.
For additional motivation, I use an app called Achievement. Connect it with various fitness apps, and earn points by tracking healthy behaviors. Get enough points, and they send you a check for 10 dollars. Not too shabby.
Yesterday, I knew I was in trouble. I knew my paraglider was about to drop me hard.
So I asked myself, what can I do?
The answer was to write down some ideas before bed. Come up with some ideas to structure my days better, so I am not bouncing around like a pinball, from bumper to bumper, from whim to whim.
I wrote down that my first activities today would be to hydrate myself, then go for a walk for at least a mile.
When I woke up today, my first activity was… grab my phone from the nightstand and check Facebook.
But live and learn.
I can turn off my phone, or put it in a drawer across the room. I can make sure my walking shoes are closer to my bed than my phone.
Last night I also wrote down that I’d like to have specific days I go to the gym, and go to a community yoga class once a week.
Those are good ideas, but that’s about what I can do later.
In this mode I’m in now, of finagling a plan to save myself, what I can do later is almost irrelevant. It truly has to be about what I can do now, or in the very next moment.
Because I can plan to go to the gym every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
But if what I’m doing right now is not conducive to building positive momentum, my chances of following through with future plans are nearly nil.
Then I will feel like a failure, and give myself a hard time. Increase stress. Then cope with it, by eating too much and bogging myself down in patterns that are best left in the past.
Ain’t got no time for that.
So what can I do right now?
I’m doing it.
And what I am doing is a link in a chain.
In each moment, I can ask myself again: What can I do right now? And add another link. Until that chain is strong again.
Then, I can make it even stronger by making plans to go to the gym and yoga classes.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Let’s be right where we are, and do the best we can with what we’ve got.
Also published on Medium.