I've been thinking a lot about the general unrest inherent to these difficult times.
While some of its causes might be intuitive (disease, division, restrictions) I've been distressed at times by something smaller: I have a lot of time on my hands and I'm not always sure what to do with it. It's a petty complaint - probably a thinly-veiled first world problem - but it's a valid one nonetheless.
Like for many others, parts of my life are on hold. I don't travel much, I see few people, and I'm so deprived of new stimulus that my heart now races when the postman comes, even though I know full well that the only physical mail we get is the electric bill.
Days at home on PEI with my family are peaceful and nice. Yet, my sense of purpose lately is fleeting, and I am trying to understand why that feels like a problem. After all, if I'm bored, restless and looking for something to do, it probably means that I'm not sick or grieving. Why can't I just be happy with that much? Isn't a nice neutral sit in the living room watching re-runs of Jeopardy kind of a good deal right now?
Bestselling author Mark Manson wrote in his bestseller The Subtle Art of not giving a F*ck that happiness doesn't come from the absence of problems as much as it comes from the resolution of them. In other words, we need stuff to fix, progress to make, goals to chase to maintain a level of well-being. Ever go to Turks and Caicos to lie on the beach for three weeks? It's boring and it sucks after day five, probably.
After a while, we need a challenge. Stanford Neuroscientist Andrew Huberman echoes Manson, and said we are programmed on a neurochemical level to pursue goals.
Huberman said it's long been known that obtaining a goal, like getting a promotion or walking into your new house for the first time, can cause a spike in dopamine - a neurotransmitter that helps regulate feelings of pleasure and well-being. But the pursuit of those goals is just as important a source of dopamine. (He explains it well at the 11:45 mark of this video). In the house example, that could mean that you felt positive emotion not only when you got the house, but also every time you deposited money to save up for the house.
James Clear goes one step further than Huberman in his bestselling book Atomic Habits, and writes that the brain has far more neural circuits designed for wanting rewards than for liking them. In other words, chasing a goal could make you feel even better than actually achieving that goal.
So what happens in a time like now, when we aren't always sure what to chase?
Clearly, we have an existential problem: a lot of us are stable and safe and nailing Trebek's Daily Doubles, but are also in duress because our future goals are ambiguous. What's helped me deal with that problem is to spend time running. It's trivial to the rest of the world, but it provides me with goals to hit, which in turn gets me all dopamined up and distracts me from vagueness.
I've also seen Manson, Huberman and Clear's work manifest in my running. I am unfit, I am not winning races, and I am still far away from my best level of fitness. Yet, I am extracting just as much enjoyment from running as I ever did, perhaps because I see a path forward (provided I can keep healthy.) So I've come to believe that well-being doesn't depend on where we are as much as it depends on how we see the road ahead.
So it's with that in mind that I made the video above. This is what a week of training looks like for me right now. It's not my biggest week or my most intense, but it feels like a step towards something else. And that, chemically and otherwise, is exciting.
Till next time,