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Don't Stop When You Get To The Top

Personal Improvement

I pushed myself to the limit and then came to an abrupt halt. And then the world went dark and I sat in a pile of ants. Story of a bike ride gone bad.

Change. You can't change too much. New habits will never stick if you throw too many into your life at once. Habit-building takes long, continual slow effort. Like a flower pushing through asphalt.

Knowing this, I always look for habits that will indirectly influence others. For example, say you need to put in longer hours to complete a difficult project. You could say, "Okay, I'm going to get up early and work from 8am to 8pm every day until it's done." And that might work. I would tend to take an indirect approach however. That is, put all my effort into something else. Like eating healthier. Or better: taking twenty minutes each morning to do Yoga before you even start in on your day. It won't directly impact the project you need to finish, but it will set you up to have the most energy. This kind of change in habit will give you just the kind of high you need to push harder for a little while.

And that's how I found myself sitting in a pile of ants last week.

Backing up, I'm at an inflection point in my life. I'm not sure where to go next.

Figuring out what's next for me is going to take some experimentation. Some trying different things, and letting my mind go in different directions. I need energy. I need creative thoughts. But how to get those when I don't have something to engage my mind day to day? You can't just sit there and force yourself to be creative.

I decided that exercise would be the perfect indirect habit to work on. Getting back into a good exercise habit would hopefully give me the boost I need to sort out the rest of my life. I've been pretty low on exercise since giving up the gym for a bike and giving up walking for a car. Time to put things in reverse, so to speak.

I've done some easy biking so far this season, but nothing intense. Towards the end of last summer, I was biking up Mont Royal with some regularity. From my house it's about 45 minutes of mostly-uphill biking to the top.

So last week, it was a beautiful Thursday afternoon when I started my first ride up the hill of the year. It was tough going, as those early-season rides can be, but I said I'd take it easy, and slowly make my way to the top.

I was doing well, I had loud rock music going to keep me energized, and I was pushing.

I was nearing the top, where the slow grade turns into a couple of steeper inclines. When I reached the bottom of the last incline, I was completely out of steam. Looking up, I could see where the path plateaued at the top and it was so close.

I'm too close to take a break now! Let's get 'er done.

I made it up the last incline, and though I could have even kept going now that the path levelled out, I forced myself to take a break for some water.

And that's when the world starting going fuzzy. I felt weird.

I made my way to sit on a nearby bench and parked the bike in front of me. First I propped the bike up against a tree but, noticing the base of the tree was covered in ants, I moved the bike away and used the kickstand.

I sat down on the bench. The world was spinning, I was becoming nauseated, and I knew this was more than a minor post-exercise catch-your-breath break.

Up to that point I had never blacked out in my life, but I was pretty sure that's where this was going. The bench was too high if I was going to lose consciousness and fall over, so I had to get down on the ground, fast. But I wanted to keep my head propped up. With little else around me, the only choice was sitting up against the ant-tree.

As humans, we definitely have a hierarchy of concern. I hate insects. But in that moment, I didn't care one bit that ants would be crawling all over me. Or that my shorts would get dirty. Or that someone could easily steal my bike or phone if I lost consciousness. (My phone was mounted to the bike's handlebars in clear view of any passers-by.)

My bike bag also had my keys and wallet. If someone grabbed the bike and ran off there would be little I could do. My phone, keys and wallet would be gone with it. My mind flashed a contingency plan if I regained consciousness and they were gone — walk to my girlfriend's house, who has keys to my place, then cancel all my cards.

Luckily, I stayed conscious. (I'm 99% sure, anyway. I mean, who's to say what consciousness is anyway, y'know?)

After maybe five minutes in ant-land, my hierarchy of concern went back to body is safe, now be comfortable and maintain property. I got up, brushed the little buggers off, and returned to the bench next to the bike.

Soon I was ready to go home which, thankfully, was downhill all the way.


Anyone who's done intense exercise probably knows exactly what I did wrong. That is: I should have kept going. In intense workout situations, when crazy amounts of blood are being pumped all over, your body opens up your blood vessels and relies on the movement in your legs to pump the blood back up to your head. Stop too quickly, and the blood pools in your legs and there's no way for it to get back to your head until the vessels constrict. With not enough blood in your head, your body says hello to the ground.

Now we know.

(I should also point out that I am in no way a doctor, and reality is strange and poorly understood. I cannot be sure anything I wrote above is actually accurate. It's entirely possibly I was under the influence of a demon or something.)

I thought about this "cool down" concept and how I had ignored it at my peril.

I've ignored it in other parts of my life as well. Like my recent career change. To quote my own post a few weeks ago, "I went from full-force to full-stop."

And that has made for a somewhat difficult April. I'm not sure how you should "cool down" from a project once it's over, but perhaps I should have picked up some sort of smaller work to ease myself into this next phase of life.

Instead I stopped computer-work altogether. I've been catching up on movies and video games and catching up with friends and generally spending too little time working. At the very least, I could have had a longer list of chores or activities at the ready. I was done everything on my list by day 2.

So, yeah. I don't really have a point here, this just seemed like the intersection of a few neat thoughts.

Next week I'll try biking the hill again.

Don't stop. Don't ever stop.