Friday, June 15, 2007

Decisions that Aren't

The fact that I get up early makes me sound like some kind of Ben-Franklin clean-livin' type, which isn't entirely inaccurate, but it definitely has its downsides. Chief among these is that I'm terrible company after about 8:30 PM. If Heidi makes arrangments for us to go out to dinner with another couple, she'll usually suggest that we dine at something like 4:45 in the afternoon, giving the sensible alibi that we'll "beat the crowd" at the restaurant. In fact, she's inevitably trying to keep her husband from getting banned from yet another LA restaurant by falling asleep in his soup, toppling into a tray of chicken flambé, and setting the dress of the woman at the next table on fire. I gave up on 9:00 PM movies years ago because my bedroom was more comfortable, didn't cost $5/hour to rent, and wasn't continually and unexpectedly filled with the sound of explosions, laughter and applause.

All this is to say that being an early riser has its liabilities: you pay for all that 5 AM virtuousness with poor, if inadvertent, social behavior. Thank god I now have a child to blame it on; now when I nod off at dinner tables I make up stories about tending to my poor sick daughter, and everyone thinks I'm just a good Dad.

So when I talk about getting up early, just remember that I'm hip to its downsides, too. I had to get up early this morning to bike in for a 7 AM client, and it got me thinking about that first moment of decision when the alarm rings, and something in you decides between getting up or hitting "snooze." If you choose the latter, the little drama gets played out again five minute later, sometimes for an hour or more, as you unconsciously restructure your day based on the newly-revised time of awakening.

Often people will tell me, "I tried to get up but I couldn't." Now, this may be true. And the choice to stay in bed may have been a good one. Getting up early does nothing for you if you don't get to sleep early, too. But the heart of the matter appears to be the rhetorical -- and, I'd also argue, psychological -- trick of denying one's own responsibiity for the choice.

The "should-I-get-up-early-and-work-out-or-not" dilemma is a good example of what I like to call 'Decisions we Opt not to Make So We Can Pretend We Didn't Make Them." Another classic one, for me, anyway, is Wait Till the Deadline Passes. If I'm wrestling with whether to apply for this or that academic course, or workshop, or get in touch with this or that person who could be of help, I'll often just put it off until some deadline, real or imagined, has passed and thus remove myself from the decision altogether: "I made a mistake, now it's impossible, or awkward, or pointless, and the opportunity's gone. I didn't make the decision, I just forgot." Easier to admit being absent-minded than it is to admit to being scared to try new things or too timid to ask for something I really want. Of course I DID in fact make the decision. I chose to let this or that opportunity elapse. But I'm pretending, for my own fragile ego's sake, that I didn't.

I'm being (painfully) honest here, ladies and gents, and I suspect I'm not the only one out there who's guilty of this type of non-decision-making decision-making. When I look over my life -- which is hardly a thing of beauty time-management-wise -- I realize that such denial of accountability has wreaked some pretty serious havoc in my life.

Television, the internet, videogaming, and the like eat up a staggering amount of time in the average person's week. We need to face the fact that we choose to give our time to these things. Now, downtime is important, of course. And all the fun, Candyland things we do with our free time have their place. But we can't pretend that time was stolen from us: every hour we spend doing something essentially pointless is a choice, not something foisted on us from above that we had no choice but to obey. We may be called at any time -- by our physician, our spouse, or boss, or some inner need -- to spend more time doing something difficult, be it exercising, parenting, or developing ourselves professionally. It's up to us where to find that time, whether to take it out of the time we spend watching "Lost" or the time we'd usually spend doing something else that's productive and important. The important thing seems to be to make important decisions consciously rather than procrastinating until the decision has essentially been made for us (my wife will want to me have this tatooed on my forehead. I'm not doing it, Heidi, you hear me?).

My daughter Kate is a great mirror. She has become quite the little debater, and what she lacks in rhetorical flourish she makes up for in passion and volume. Being a three-year-old, some days she simply has to do things she doesn't like to do, like take a bath, and often she will resist for up to half an hour, screaming, running away, hiding, begging for a reprieve, demonstrating her cleanliness, bargaining, cajoling, throwing fits, making threats. After a while, I'll try to point out to her that the time and energy she has spent in resisting the bath -- something that she knows is fun and good for her -- is now far greater than the time and energy required to just take the bath. The standoff with her soaking, pleading, rubber-duck wielding father is also far less pleasant than the bath itself will be. In her half-crazed, rebellious, "I'm not going to submit to The Man" mode, she never quite hears any of that.

And then I think to myself, what baths am I refusing to take in my life?

Bathe well, my readers. Bathe well.


1 comment:

Hal Johnson said...

Great post. Also painfully applicable.