Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Willpower

Disclaimer: Anything contained herewith may be a complete pile of cobblers and may not be the opinion of anyone, even the author. Apologies to whoever does the Shimano Corporation's marketing.

"Your will to say 'yes' is only as strong as your ability to say 'no'."

I'd love to claim that phrase was a bit of self-professed modern philosophy, or a lightbulb-lighting lightning bolt of raw intellect from some new-found guru of deep-thinking, but it's actually a piece of marketing spiel from Shimano for one of their new disc brakes. Still, I'm sure they paid someone a lot of money to come up with that, and as commercial philosophy goes it isn't bad. Good, original, semi-mystical gibberish is hard to come by these days.

I read it once and went "Hmmm. That's interesting", scrolled down and read about the brakes. They’re very shiny. I scrolled back up the page to read the spiel again, read over it a few times, and went "Wait. What?" All may not be as shiny as first assumed...

It's a strange phrase when you think about it at more than face value. It proposes, to me, the idea that saying 'yes' is a default state, and that saying 'no' is something you have to put effort into. In terms of a selling you the latest disc braking system that's perfect, the idea that it's as easy to stop as it is to go. Getting started (at least when you’re pointed downhill) is pretty easy, picking up speed is easy also, but stopping can be quite hard. Pretty much what you want in a disc brake is the ability to stop easily, quickly and with as little "ohshitI'mflyingoverthehandlebars" as possible. So far, so good.

The whole of that proposition depends on us, metaphorically, being in the fortuitous position to be going downhill. In descent, we are aided and abetted by a bunch of external forces, gravity being the biggy. Turn that hill around and give us a nice uphill gradient and Sensei Shimano’s homespun homily falls apart. In that situation, getting started is quite hard, keeping going can be even harder, and stopping is frighteningly easy. If we imagine 'ease' as a mass, and ‘start’ and ‘stop’ as the two sides of a set of scales, we're never going to get the damn thing to balance properly. A physicist would tell us, in words of more than two syllables, that they will always be off on a wonk somewhere. He (or she) probably wouldn’t use the term ‘off on a wonk’. He (or she) would use words like ‘momentum’ and ‘inertia’, like ‘resistance’ and ‘modulus’. There may even be a ‘paradox’ or a ‘quantum’ in there, if we’re lucky. But in the context of me, of this, and of current-events-in-the-little-world-of-Pyro, we don’t have to consult science, just think a little and then waffle for a while.

Sometimes the hardest thing in the world is getting yourself going - getting up early to go for a run is bloody difficult, and if do surmount the myriad obstacles stopping you getting to the front door with your running shoes on (eg: the clinging duvet, the comfy couch, the beckoning kettle, the cloyingly mindless breakfast TV), it's still frighteningly easy to take a short-cut, to walk 'just a little bit', to head back 'because you can feel a blister coming on'. The idea that you can just switch your brain off and your body will keep running is a load of gubbins too. I have to think really hard about running. Running hurts, and the body’s reaction to pain is “does it hurt when you do this? Well stop doing it then.” I spend my running time having to consciously over-ride the urge to stop. The fail, you see, is strong in this one.

It’s a quandary, and always will be. I have two simple mantras at the moment: ‘eat better’ and ‘exercise more’. The first is proving not-too-difficult, and isn’t anywhere near as expensive as I feared. The latter is much harder. The holier-than-thou bystanders and backroom philosophers will tell you that it only takes two weeks for something to become a habit. That may stand true for crack, heroin and other illicit substances, but exercise? More than two weeks, I assure you. It’s a habit that’s hard to get started on and hard to keep going. When you’re fit, it’s easy to get it together, because it doesn’t hurt the same. You don’t puff around two laps of the park feeling like you’re falling out of your own posterior. You don’t bonk a mile from home on the first night-ride of the season. When you’re not, all you think is ‘This is going to hurt This is hard work, Can I stop now please?’. It’s easier to stay at home in the warm, safe, fluffy environment of the living room where nothing hurts (until that pending heart attack) than it is to step out into the frosty air and do something about it.

The stupidest part is that once you’re out of the door, after the ten toxic minutes of warming up and settling down, it usually turns out to be quite enjoyable. Crisp night air, a bit of banter, comedy crashes and mudpool floundering, brushes with bushes and childish lights-out pranks. So, Mr Shimano and your marketing crew, I’m sorry to denigrate your promotion and your memetics, and while I half agree with you, I also half don’t. It’s not the actual churning out the miles on the bike that takes willpower, it’s the getting out the door and getting on the damn thing in the first place.

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