As Talking Heads frontman David Byrne so languidly sang on X-Press 2’s song: ‘I’m wicked and I’m lazy. Don’t you want to save me?’
I’m definitely lazy. Or rather, there is a part of me at odds with one of my life principles which is this: You can do anything you want if you put your mind to it.
I talked about holding onto our life maxims in an earlier article. I truly believe you can be excellent – exceptional, even – but (caveat alert!) it requires effort, hard work and a smidge of luck.
However, like all humans, a part of my brain isn’t always in agreement with this approach. It doesn’t want to be exceptional. In fact, it doesn’t want to do anything. This part of me is fundamentally very tardy indeed.
So how do you consolidate the two?
The Chimp Paradox (a hugely enjoyable and stimulating read by the way) mentioned here, helped me understand the way the mind works. The book teaches us about our ‘inner chimp’: the bit of our limbic brain which runs on emotions and thinks in black and white. The more logical, evidence-based frontal part of the brain is ‘the human’ – you – and sees life in various shades of grey.
These two systems work with each other and against each other all the time. They are best friends and worse enemies. Therein lies the paradox. The important lesson is managing your chimp – you cannot change, stop or remove it – and not allow it to hijack your human. We all have a chimp. We are born with it.
While I believe I can do anything, my critical inner voice (or chimp) tries to sabotage it. This tends to happen when it comes to running. The naughty monkey encourages me to bum around eating Co-op’s Sea Salt and Chardonnay Wine Vinegar crisps.
But I keep running. I keep running because I – the human – doesn’t want to be lazy. It wants to feel good physically and mentally. I know you have to put in the work if you want to be good at something.
Running is both darkness and light. In my blackest of days, it gave me purpose. It cleared my head and lifted my mood. It kept me alive when I felt dead inside.
One morning, completely wrung out having cried myself to sleep only a few hours earlier, I pulled on my trainers, headed out the door and ran. I ran and ran and ran for miles and miles and miles through woods, across fields and up the steepest of hills until I emerged on heathland where, alone, I had breathtaking views across Exeter.
I drank it in and was flooded with positive thoughts: everything will be OK as long as I put my mind to it. I scissor-legged back downhill, talking aloud and surprising a dozing HGV driver parked in a roadside lay-by.
Running has given me the happiest of times. I’ve faithfully followed training plans and clocked decent (for me) race times over various distances. It introduced me to my husband, best friends and the joy of exploration from rugged paths on Lundy Island to the paved streets of London.
When my inner chimp attempts to talk me out of running, I broker deals with it. I negotiate. I deploy persuasive bargaining.
I offer the promise of time immobile on the sofa as long as I get up extra early for a long run. I enter races to give myself focus and reward my chimp with post-race goodies like medals or T-shirts.
Basically I bribe myself.
I don’t always need to apply this technique but when I do, it works. You can do anything if you put your mind to it.
Today I signed up to RED January, a fund-raising initiative encouraging people to support their mental health by doing something active every day of the month with money going towards MIND’s vital campaigning work.
I aim to run every day and raise money. I’m taming and incentivising my inner chimp with the promise of bounty when January is out.
Truth: the reward may involve crisps.