Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Moronic Step Shlepping

By age 35 or so, stairs become an enemy. Perky 35 year olds may choose stairs over escalators while out and about, their metabolisms cranking. But put them on the ground floor of their home and simmer them down to television-watching pace, and the prospect of a trip up the stairs will elicit a long sigh, followed by hasty calculation of avoidance strategies. The staircase might as well be a mountain. Ascension is strictly a last resort, much loathed.

As a kid, I saw grown-ups as big, sluggish creatures with tight crusty tendons and creaky joints. They lacked spring, and that's just how it was. They were sort of disabled.

But I'm now well past 35, and, as a fervid yogi with supple tendons and fully functional joints, I have the same spring as I did at half my age. Yet, now that I live in a place with an upstairs, I inexplicably suffer from the same damned syndrome. I can't avoid the micro-dread whenever need arises for a quick trip upstairs. Shoulders slump as I desperately weigh procrastinatory options. If absolutely necessary, I'll drag myself mournfully up the steps with that aggrieved face grown-ups make when forced to do, like...anything.

And it's insane. It's a put-on. It's like I'm pretending. And it does not need to be this way!

I've written a lot about preferences. Our preferences are far more arbitrary - and thus more malleable - than we realize. So here's what I do about the staircase thing. Whenever I feel that sense of aggrieved resignation re: the latest death march to the second floor, I've conditioned myself to announce "I like going up stairs!". I then bound up the staircase with glee, my day completely un-ruined by the trifling exertion.

It's really that easy.

When I typed this sentence:
"I've conditioned myself to announce 'I like going up stairs!'"
...I was going to note that I actually really do like going up steps. But wait a minute. Which do I really feel? Aggrieved or exhilarated? Which is real??

Here's the thing: what's real is what you tell yourself is real. We spend our days telling ourselves stories about how we feel about this or that. And we assume these stories stem from some sort of real experience. But the truth is that the stories precede the experience. We endlessly repeat them in order to hypnotize ourselves into feeling this way or that. And that feeling is nearly always negative. I can only conclude that this is because Earth is where they put the morons.

This realization makes me feel a bit less moronic when I, a grown man, chirpily announce to no one in particular, 'I like going up stairs!'". Cuz if I'm gonna be a frigging moron, I'd rather be Stimpy than Ren. I'll tell myself the story that makes me bound up steps, rather than the story that makes me calcify into a morose lump. This strikes me as a moron's best move.

Kids can easily recognize how malleable preference is, but part of growing up involves casting aside whimsical, detached views of our nature. So we allow ourselves, in the name of maturity, to be ratcheted more and more solidly into stuckedness and stress.

To change the experience, all you've got to do is flip the story.

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