I was thinking the other day about what scripture terms “the natural man.” In non-scriptural vernacular, we might call this the natural state of things, or inertia, the tendency to do nothing.
I am, at heart, a lazy person. I fight against inertia, this inner natural woman, every hour of every day.
So I did a little exercise in my head. I began to picture what my natural woman alter ego looks like. I sketched her out with clearly defined boundaries. After all, if you know your enemy, you know better how to battle her.
What does this alter ego look like? She spends a lot of time lounging on the bed, reading novels on a good day and scrolling Instagram on a bad one. She stays up way too late every night, despite knowing she has to get up at 5:30. She thinks about herself — her time is preciously valuable and she doesn’t want to waste it on others. She wears exercise clothes a lot, but never manages to head out the door on that run. She loses her patience with the kids, and is surly with her spouse. She makes excuses for her behavior. She likes to be in control of every situation. Unless she doesn’t feel like it, and then she eschews all responsibility. She does only the things she wants to do, which is mostly to eat chocolate éclairs.
My alter ego is not an evil person, but she’s isn’t much good either. She’s a consumer. She is not proactive, but inactive. Like a chocolate blob.
I believe we all have an alter ego, that natural man or woman we fight against. I think it’s a good exercise to name her, draw a picture of her and list her attributes. Recognize her, so that when she starts to appear, you can put her in her place and get to work.
Society at large does little to help us fight against our alter egos. I listened to an interview recently with the writer Tim Wu, author of the book “The Attention Merchants.” He said something to this effect: if you didn’t try at all in American culture, it would be very easy to be depressed, on medication, obese and binge-watching Netflix.
That’s the status quo.
How do we fight against it? The bad habits are just waiting around every corner, lurking and ready to pounce. Where do we begin?
For starters, think small. Name the alter ego and confront the problem. If it’s a habit to eat chocolate chips every night before bed, move them, hide them or get rid of them. If it’s a habit to snooze the alarm clock for 30 minutes and skip the gym, just set the alarm clock for five minutes earlier. Or one minute.
A single, small change.
Slowly add other habits to this one habit. Courtney Carver, in her book “Soulful Simplicity,” calls this habit stacking. You get up early, you pray, then you exercise, then you shower, then you drink a green smoothie. Adding habit on habit takes away the guesswork, the decision fatigue that plagues us.
Also, know your personality. I am an all-or-nothing person. I don’t buy a lot of treats because I will eat them, the whole shebang in one sitting. I delete tempting apps off my phone because it’s easier than tracking my time on them. I read a lot of nonfiction because it’s easier to put down at night. I never, ever, ever turn on the television and rarely get caught up in a TV series because I will fall down a rabbit hole and never make my way back. When I go to church each week, I am all in, because I need that worship more than anything.
I know what my alter ego looks like. I just don’t let her around much.
However, on occasion she bustles her way into my life and takes over. This usually happens after a stressful period, on the other end of a large holiday or after a houseful of guests have departed. My guard is down, I’m exhausted, and there she is.1 comment on this story
In those instances, I am gentle on myself. This is the grace period. It usually doesn’t do much damage. I eat my éclair, stay up way too late reading my un-put-downable novel and apologize to all living things in my household for having the grumps.
The next day, I’m up early. I have a plan. I am in charge of my day from the minute that alarm clock rings in my ear. The more I do this, the easier it gets. I am strengthening my self-control muscles.
And in a constant wrestle with my inner self, I think I’m going to win.