You Don't Have To Feel Good To Do Good

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 13.266% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

I have never had a runner’s high. My body fucking hates exercise. My body wants its ass in this chair, guzzling chocolate milk.
For years, people told me, “Oh, when you find the right exercise, you’ll feel wonderful when you do it! Angels will sing and you’ll crave this workout!” And I tried everything, from running to Dance Dance Revolution to karate to swimming, and as it turned out what I really hate about exercise is “being out of breath” and “this burning feeling in my muscles.”
So I was a couch potato for many years.
What I eventually figured out, much to my glory, was that “enjoyment” was not a necessary component of working out. I could work out, and hate every moment of the day’s run, and do it because it was what needed to be done.
And in fact that was the key to unlocking much of the rest of my life’s potential. Did I need to feel good about sitting down to write that day? No. I just needed to plant my fingers on that keyboard and write. Did I need to be borne aloft to my job by wings of angels, carried by rapturous astonishment? Nope.
I needed to fucking work.
And the work has benefits that do make my life better. When I exercise regularly, I’m in better shape and can do more things and feel prouder of my body. When I write regularly, I become a better writer. (Seriously. My latest story in Apex Magazine is pretty bad-ass, I think.) When I work hard, I can afford to go out to see Captain America 2 and not worry about all of these home repair bills crushing my face.
Those steps make the rest of my life so much better that I don’t necessarily need to enjoy those tasks in and of themselves – I just need to buckle down and git-R-done, because if I don’t do those tasks then everything else in my life gets subtly worse.
Now, that’s not to say I set out to hate them. If I had a job I despised, I’d try to find another job. If swimming makes me miserable, I should find a less-objectionable form of exercise. And some days I have to realize that my lack of enthusiasm for a writing project indicates that it’s a flawed story, and I need to walk it back and fix it.
But if I waited to feel good about these necessary tasks, I’d write fiction once a week, go to my job once a month, and exercise when a bear chased me. And I’d be unpublished, broke, and miserable.
Which is why I don’t believe that “feeling good” is a valid foundation for necessary tasks. It’s something you should strive for, to be sure, but if you’re going to wait for a job that’s all cookies and candy, you’re going to be unemployed forever.
And likewise, with the concept of polyamorous compersion, I don’t think that I have to feel entirely wonderful about my wife dating someone in order to go, “Okay, that should happen.” Instead, I go, “Well, I like the New Relationship Energy high of dating new people, and I think it’s only fair my wife should have that.” So I endure some necessary discomfort at times, to make us both stronger.
As a result, my wife is happier, which in turn helps to make me happier, and we have a far better relationship than we would if I selfishly said, “You can only date people if it makes me thrilled.”
That doesn’t mean that I’m sitting at home, biting tinfoil, whenever she goes away for a weekend with her boyfriend. It means, like exercise, I endure some transient discomforts to make my life a better place.
And, like exercise, there are some people who fucking get off whenever they work out, their bodies flooded with endorphins, their minds filled with rapture. I envy those people, just like I envy the people who always love writing, who always love their jobs, who always love it when their partner’s happy.
But those people are lucky enough to be naturally drawn to those healthy things anyway, and so I don’t think it’s a particularly wise move to structure most advice around their needs. I mean, on one level, “Eat what feels good to you!” is totally healthy if what feels good to you is broccoli and tofu, and it’s a straight path to cardiac rehab if what feels good to you is chocolate milkshakes.
So for me? I tell people that poly’s often an effort to get right, but it’s totally worth it. That’s not true for many, who have no jealousy. But those folks don’t need my help.
I’m talkin’ to the folks who need to get out there and just work it.

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