Why Do We Do the Things We Do?

I saw a post the other day that basically said: Doing nothing is better than doing a lot of things that amount to no gain.

Is that really true?

I don’t mean to pick on that statement. I don’t have the context or know if that was the full meaning of what the author was trying to say. I do, however, see a lot of this sentiment in life these days.

I’m going to do x thing, so that y.

How often does y actually happen? What if y disappoints? What if, along the way your perceptions change? What if?

Almost a year ago I started running. Well, not really. I started walking.

Let me back up a moment.

Working from home can be an odd thing. The worst side effect it has had on me is getting out. Or rather, not getting out. Like, for weeks at a clip? In her infinite wisdom, my wife bought me a Fitbit. This amazing little device told me how unhealthy my lifestyle was in all kinds of aspects: Steps, calories, sleep info, it was rather creepy, but it completely did the job of motivating me.

I setup the treadmill, the iPad and I watched movies. I watched the entire HBO series catalog front to back (1 hour episodes are a nice time slice). I watched screen casts on all kinds of things. I found myself making excuses to get on twice a day. More than a few times, I did it three times in a day. I never watched so many things in all my life!

Then, every real runner I talked to said that I needed to get off the treadmill. “It’s an evil beast,” they said. “It will mess up your gait”, “it will make you soft”, “it will ruin you”. “Go outside!” they said, and I certainly didn’t want to listen. It was spring, it was wet, and besides, it is really hard to watch things when you’re actually moving around out in the world.

Outside I went. I even ran. I listened to podcasts. I began the science of the perfect playlist.

I started running every single day. I hurt all over, but I had a new love. Screw it, I doubled down on my milage.

I stopped using the iPod altogether. I just ran.

It is almost a year later. I’m not winning any races. My running partner routinely smokes me in the last mile. Comparing our long runs, I’ve got some way to go when it comes to being fast.

I don’t really care about this at all.

Some days it is very difficult to get up. Some days it is cold, I’m tired, I went to bed late, there was a thunderstorm that woke me up at 3am, I’m not mentally excited about getting up and running.

Yet, I’ve never come home regretting getting up, getting out, and putting in the miles. Even the worst day teaches me something about something. Some of the time it’s learning something about me and how my body works; other times, it’s just having clear time to think uninterrupted.

My point is that win or lose, I would not have traded this journey for otherwise. I never started it to win a race, run a marathon, or with any other goal in mind. I’ve learned a lot about myself and about how I think, simply by getting out there every day and doing the miles. Running is probably one of the best things I have done just to do something for it’s process. It’s probably one of the best things I’ve done, period.

I didn’t start out by setting goals. I didn’t start out with set expectations. I just ran. Yes, I did just register for a marathon, but it’s been a year now, and I decided I want to give it a try; call it a perception change.

When is the last time you did something, just to do something? What is the last thing that you learned, just to learn?

Think about that for a second.

I have to admit, as a software developer, I’m not learning many technologies out there that I don’t have the intention of implementing.

Maybe that is a problem.

Maybe we learn things differently when we expect an outcome.

Maybe expectations cloud our ability to perceive.

Perhaps another question to ask is, if we do x thing and it is a complete bust, wasn’t there still an opportunity to learn something? Do we really feel like the effort was a complete waste of time?