The American experiment got a lot of things right. But unbridled freedom comes at a substantial cost. The rites of passage and roles and responsibilities which we threw off because of their perceived incredible weight left for us a heavier one, infinite imposition: myriad choice. Unending decision-making is exhausting, not empowering. And it shows, not just in these stats, but many others. How can we reclaim a daily or weekly schedule in order to reduce the choice-fatigue?
When you train a puppy, it’s considered abuse to let her choose where to go on a walk, leaving the decision of direction to her. Her role should not at that age be “pack leader.” It’s stressful. And it will often leave her with a remaining life of anxiety and inability to calm during noises and storms. Likewise, children have to have parameters. No parameters is a form of abuse. People think they’re gifting a beautiful array to a growing mind when they go full-tilt laissez-faire with parenting; but, in fact, they’re destining that kid to a mentally ill adulthood. Moreover, with adults as well, we shrug off the heft of daily practices and weekly behaviors, so that we might feel more free. We think we want to have infinite options, defining and redefining every word and designation and tradition possible. Some of it is good, like challenging the status quo. But a lot of it just makes the mindset murky, obviously.
We marvel at freedom and free time. We covet it, to the tune of we are damn-near the most mentally ill people on earth, far more than the developing world at least. On average, the more wealth (not just dollars, but all resources, especially time) someone obtains, the higher their risk. Freedom isn’t 100% upside. Fitness requires discipline, not wanton abandon.
So it’s going to be rough-going, placing limits on yourself. It’s at odds with our societal mores and our expectations of infinite liberalism (in the literal sense, not a political meaning). More pointedly, when you begin the internal dialogue “I am the person who...”, how do you end that statement? That inside narrative, when largely undefined, means you live unrefined. Have you ever noticed how happy those little old ladies are who do the same thing on Monday every week? They don’t have infinite options. They don’t burn up valuable mental health on redefinition. There’s a power in routine. It’s calming. It engenders sense of agency and control. They can solidly finish that sentence which begins “I am the person who...”.
The same goes for the people in the Blue Zones. These people finish that sentence without hesitation. They have very defined routines, yet feel no imposition, nor yearn for more freedom. Our superficial bolt-on freedoms pale in comparison to the internal freeness they experience by virtue of roles and routine.
In health and fitness, parameters and limits and roles and routine are critical. Always trying to shrug off the healthy routines and behaviors leaves you vulnerable, in a perpetual decision-making fatigue, arm wrestling yourself between what’s productive for you and what isn’t. I’m not saying anyone else should tell you what those limits are. They shouldn’t. I shouldn’t. But when YOU decide upon them, recognize that YOU are stepping into counterculture. When you decide to eat like an adult, realize that your brain and everyone around you doesn’t understand fundamentally what is going on. And your brain and everyone around you WILL fight this. It appears unfree. It appears anti-American. “You mean, you CAN’T eat X,” people will say. No. We can do whatever. We just DON’T. Say, “I am the person who DOESN’T eat X.”
Think of it as sacred. Think of it as true individualism. When your future self listens to your former self, you wield a power that is so rare and so unfamiliar that people think it’s a judgment on them. They take your effort to live with intelligent and productive limits as an indictment on the very concept of Americana freedom. They take prudent living as a middle-finger to the way most people live their lives. And to an extent, they’re right, except that governing yourself healthily really doesn’t count on external recognition or acknowledgement. It doesn’t count on the external at all. It doesn’t even think about the external.
Stats are bleak. But you can choose to be a statistical outlier, if only you institute limits and routines for yourself. Start with one, daily if imaginable. And build one at a time. We don’t have it together. But we can get it together.