Laboring Under the Delusion of Love, Hope and Good Will

Our cat went missing and I went in search of her, hoping someone would care.

We, like many families, have two cats and two dogs. But let’s be real: the dogs and cats own us more than we own them.

Emily, our daughter, is particularly fond of the pets, and showers them with love and affection. It’s contagious and welcome, as we all enjoy the pets a bit more when Emily visits.

The other night, I went to bed at my normal time but was awakened at 1:30 a.m. because Mrs. Bigglesworth, one of the cats, could not be found. Both our cats go outside, but this is winter and they don’t stay out long by their own choice.

My wife stood in silhouette in our bedroom doorway and asked me at what time I had let the cat outside. I didn’t remember letting the cat out. Downstairs, our daughter was upset and crying because Mrs. Bigglesworth was outside and the temperature was plummeting.

Disoriented from the brief sleep, I went outside to assist in the search.

Earlier that day, the cold snap had broken and much of the previous week’s snow from the blizzard melted off. This day had been the first time in weeks the cats were allowed outside. The good news was that it was cold but not yet bitter at 1:30 a.m. Hoping for a speedy search, I went outside dressed only in my pajamas and slippers and checked the usual hiding places around the yard.

Biggles was not in my neighbor’s shrubs, or at the edge of our property overlooking the school yard, or in the bushes out front near the cul de sac.

Three years ago, Biggles had run off and was still missing after two days. My daughter was distraught, fearing the worst, and I was sick at the thought of having to tell her that her beloved cat was gone. I searched the woods behind the school, biked through all of the neighborhoods surrounding our own, and went out every night at midnight to call for her, roaming through back yards, hoping that I didn’t awaken an asshole with a gun. We plastered notices on every street and on the school doorways. It was a fifth grade girl who saw a notice and recognized the cat hiding in the woods behind her house. Ten days had gone by, and her fur was a mess, but otherwise she was fine.

Fearing a repeat of that tumultuous time, I went back inside for a warm coat and better shoes.

I, my wife and my daughter roamed the vicinity of our house. There are several overgrown areas near the school that the cats frequent. On the other side of our yard, the adjoining properties have gardens. I took to the sidewalks, covering the outer limits of what I thought our morbidly obese cat could reach in the few hours thought to be missing.

 As I walked along the sidewalk, the cold air still, the houses dark, and the streets quiet at 2 a.m., I reviewed the facts as I knew them:

  • My wife had let the cats out in the afternoon when the sun had come out.
  • I let Mrs. Bigglesworth in some time after that, but out other cat, Ja’mie, chose to stay outside.
  • Ja’mie came in several hours later when our daughter arrived at 11 p.m.
  • My wife could not find Mrs. Bigglesworth inside the house, so she was convinced that Biggles was outside.
  • My wife assumed I had let Mrs. Bigglesworth out some time between then.
  • I assumed my wife had let her out, but didn’t remember doing so.
  • It was getting pretty fucking cold out.

Two ideas presented themselves to me as I walked along the street. First was that I was doing this out of love for my family, trying to save them from the pain of losing a loved one. It’s a fool’s errand for a couple of reasons. The pain of loss is part of the bargain of the joy of loving, especially pets. Their life spans all but guarantee that to love a dog, cat, or gerbil is to suffer a broken heart when they’re gone. But here I was, wandering the streets at two in the morning on a frigid winter night, hoping to postpone that broken heart for our family just one more day. I seemed willing to do anything possible to return Mrs. Bigglesworth to the hearth of our home, and let us all have a night’s sleep knowing that all loved ones were present and accounted for.

The other idea that presented itself was that Mrs. Bigglesworth was not outside at all. My wife assumed I let her out, as I assumed she let her out. But I was confident I had not let her out.

I was not so confident in my wife’s ability to thoroughly search the house.

I returned home at 2:30 a.m., cold, tired and suffering the additional regret of not having worn my Fitbit while walking for almost a solid hour. I assured our daughter that I would resume the search in the morning, and that any cat would be fine in weather such as this. Mrs. Bigglesworth, who carries thick fur on a heavier-than-normal frame, could handle much colder weather, in fact.

Then I re-checked her favorite indoor hiding places.

The first (and last) place I looked, I found her behind the television in the family room. Her ample body was spread over the heat vent on the floor. She looked up at me with her signature glance of uncaring detachment.

So my wish was granted, and we all went to bed reasonably confident that all of our loved ones were accounted for this night. I know our hearts will break soon enough as time takes its toll, but there was joy and peace to be savored for one more day.

Floating in a Sensory Deprivation Float Tank for Fun and Profit

Yep. This is how it's done.

I took a float today, which refers to a sensory deprivation float tank. You climb into a coffin-like box (a sarcophagus, for those who love to use a thesaurus) filled with warm salt water. You plug your ears, turn out the lights, and close the lid on yourself. Then you lay still for an hour or so.

That's it. That's floating. The floating part is easy because the salt water allows you to float, like taking a swim in the Dead Sea.

It's warm so you don't feel any temperature change on your skin (but it may remind you, at first, of swimming in public pools in summer with so many kids splashing around that you are certain there's more urine than water).

Why bother?

If you can lay still, and not freak out about being in a coffin, or floating on urine-temperature water, it allows your brain to calm down thanks to the sensory deprivation. This takes a few minutes to achieve because your thoughts have to settle. Your subconscious has to be convinced there's no input coming other than the occasional drip of condensed water from the ceiling.

I find it to be like having a dream while waking. Not a day dream, where you might work out some fantasy or disaster in your mind. More like an actual dream, where your brain interprets stored up thoughts and feelings from the day and you see images that are the brain's attempt to make sense of the thoughts.

In the float tank, my thoughts bounce between being mindful of my breathing, the fact that I'm in a float tank, and various strange images.

After the float, I'm chill as fuck. I've never gotten high, but I'm guessing it's a little bit like that. It's an all pervasive chill. My joints and muscles are relaxed. To me, it's better than my best night of sleep.

Why bother? (I know: I really didn't answer that, yet.)

I've never had a million dollar idea, or a flash of insight on a particular problem from floating. So I've never gotten my money's worth from the floats directly.

It's part of my overall strategy to be mindful, calmer and present. I also walk, meditate and practice yoga. These occasional floats (which are between $60 and $90 a shot) are assuring my brain that I don't have to worry about everything.

Nowadays, that's a critical thing.

Also, I'm hoping it improves my ability to be creative and help me write stories, novels, and screenplays that are entertaining and compelling.

But I can't quite shake the worry that other people have urinated in the float tank before me.

G.I. Joe Christmas

A Christmas of corruption, deception and intrigue.

Ignore the civilians admiring the tank.

A Christmas of corruption, deception and intrigue.

In the early 1970s, I developed an urge to play with dolls. At the age of seven, I was smitten by these dolls thanks to an onslaught of advertising on television. I was very impressionable, and the Saturday morning cartoons were thick with ads for G.I. Joe dolls. They were presented in exciting situations with weapons to kill and gear that allowed them to climb mountains, jump out of planes, or swim under the sea. There were jeeps, helicopters, and recreational vehicles (the last of which was used as a command center).

I wanted a G.I. Joe more than I wanted anything. When you are seven and you don’t have to worry about food, clothing or shelter, a particular toy can become your entire fucking world.

G.I. Joe became my entire world and I didn’t even have one.

Sitting on Santa's Lap

I made it abundantly clear that what I wanted for Christmas was a G.I. Joe. I’m not sure when I learned the truth about Santa Claus. I understood it was my mother who controlled my world, and could make or break my Christmas.

After school one day, as Christmas drew near, my older brother brought me into our mother’s bedroom. He had been snooping, and he found something in her closet.

This was a forbidden zone. We weren’t supposed to go in her bedroom, and we sure as hell weren’t supposed to go in her closet. To be found out was to be punished by our father, brandishing his belt. But I didn’t care about that. I only wanted to know what my brother had found.

The Forbidden Zone

In the closet, buried beneath other things, was a shopping bag and inside the shopping bag was two G.I. Joe figures and two uniform sets.

We were ecstatic. I wanted so badly to play with him right that moment and change his outfit, put a gun in his hand, and pose him in an action-oriented stature.

“You can’t touch them,” Steve said. “She can’t suspect that we know.”

The remaining days leading up to Christmas were torture. All I wanted was to sneak back in Mom’s bedroom and take the toys from the closet.

“If she finds out we know,” Steve said, “she won’t give them to us.”

Then the torture grew worse with the worry that we’d be discovered and we wouldn’t even get our G.I. Joe poseable figures.

Say what? (He's a talking G.I. Joe.)

A Christmas Miracle

Christmas came. Before we went downstairs, Steve pulled me aside. “Act surprised. If she thinks we know, it’ll be the end.”

At the appointed time, I tore open the presents and there was my coffin-like cardboard box with one bearded G.I. Joe with a battle scar on his cheek. He came with a pistol, a holster, and an M-1 carbine. His other outfit was his dress blue, Class A uniform.

I screamed wildly, clearly over-playing my hand. It was probably the release of tension at not having to live the lie or worry that I might not receive the gift.

At first, my brother played action-figures with me, but he soon lost interest. Whereas I spent another five years playing with G.I. Joes, collecting new ones, expanding their wardrobe and equipment.

As far as I know, my mother never knew that we searched her room and discovered the gifts.

Those G.I. Joe dolls were my favorite Christmas gift ever. And I still want to play with them.

How To Harness the Transformative Power of a Daily Fitness Habit, and Take Your Self-Improvement To the Next Level

As the habit for fitness takes hold, you will notice changes in how you feel even when you’re not exercising.

I'm not exactly sure what that pose means, but she does look like fitness has changed her life.

When Haruki Murakami decided to become a novelist, he realized he would need great stamina to persist in the writing process. Novels are long-duration creative projects. He wasn't sure if he had that kind of stamina, or the ability to focus long enough in a writing session to gather and record thoughts. The prospect of doing that day after day, for a year or more, worried him.

Murakami decided to take up long distance running. The demands of training for and running marathons would change his brain — or so he hoped — and give him a chance to sit at a desk and concentrate long enough to compose a novel of 60,000 words or more.

His four novels have all been bestsellers and critically acclaimed. Now, it's not a given that running leads to bestsellers. But he found a way to transform his life and he used his physical fitness training to fuel his efforts.

But how do you turn your new habit for fitness into something that transforms your life?

I've used this photo before because it's such a bad ass move to balance like that.

Make the habit and the habit makes you

As the habit for fitness takes hold, you will notice changes in how you feel even when you're not exercising. First of all, you will begin to look forward to your activities because your body will anticipate the release of serotonin after the exertion. You will be more alert because your sleep has likely improved. And your energy level increases because you've trained your body to process oxygen more efficiently and to manage sugar in the blood stream. Put simply, everything about your life will improve because of daily exercise.

You may feel joy or appreciate the world around you. You have transformed your physical presence in the world.

Use the extra energy

Around the time that your fitness is improving, it will become easier to get your daily activity done. You won't have to force yourself, and remind yourself, and work so very hard to make it happen. The habit becomes easier to keep. This is a one-two punch of goodness for you.

As your energy levels increase, your energy demands decrease. You can contemplate tackling other projects without putting your daily habit at risk. And after the nine months or a year of daily fitness becomes second nature (i.e., truly habitual) your confidence should further encourage you to take on other projects.

This is a great time to begin other training, such as learning a musical instrument, taking night classes, or practicing macrame — whatever it is that will satisfy your passion.

It's not like this unseen person is composing that music, but that's what I hope to imply, that you can take on projects like music composition, novel writing, or Olympic gardening if you have the energy.

Pick a bigger goal

Now is the time to make a plan to achieve the bigger goal that will realize your dream. If you want to win a Grammy or an Emmy, then you should set some goals for music, acting, or writing that will lead you down that path.

If you want to change careers, then you'll want to focus on getting the training you need, finding a mentor, and networking with people in that field to prepare for the job search.

The point is that you will leverage changes you've made to your brain — as exemplified by your fitness habit — to transform other aspects of your life. You will have the confidence, energy and tenacity to persist through many challenges, because you are no longer who you used to be.

You are on your way to becoming the person you want to be.

A rare stock photo where people are not exuberantly happy.

You have to work hard to be happy in Cleveland

If your goal is to find happiness at the end of a year of fitness, you'll be disappointed. Happiness is not something you find.

Happiness is a by-product, not a goal. You experience happiness when you work on things that matter to yourself and to people you love. Setting a goal of being happy won't work. You might mistake going to a resort and experiencing pleasant things as happiness, but you are just enjoying the pleasantries. That's not lasting happiness. When you return home to your normal life, you will miss the resort. The joy stays there. It doesn't travel with you back to Cleveland.

When I started improving my life, about ten years ago, with a daily fitness habit, I didn't find happiness either. I found I had to keep working at things to achieve them, but I was happy. If I gave up on working at things, that's when I was unhappy.

More than anything, it's the fact that I become happy by working hard at things I want to accomplish that keeps me doing it. I persist because of the happiness I experience. But I won't ever find happiness.

You won't either, but I hope you experience it while trying to achieve your dreams.

And I hope that you make whatever changes are necessary in your life to satisfy your passion.

Next Steps

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How the Hell Do I Keep My Self-Improvement Habit Going for 250 Days?

Having persisted for 250 days or more, you will have taught yourself what it’s like to exercise in the different seasons, when it’s cold out, freezing out, dark out, hot, humid, and bright out.

After 200 days, it may get old. But you have to keep going.

I was nine months into my daily exercise when I’d faced my greatest challenge. I’d started in spring and gone through the easy days of summer, running consistently and starting to shed weight.

In the fall, I figured out how to exercise while taking my son to soccer practice or my daughter to dance lessons. In spite of the driving around and waiting, I did something every day (my pro-tip: use the time waiting for the kids at soccer or dance to go ahead and exercise).

Winter came and still I persisted, adding a layer of clothing to keep me warm as I jogged outside. Even the holidays didn’t disrupt my daily exercise, as I ran before Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas afternoon, once the presents were opened.

But on that fateful Christmas afternoon, as I jumped over a snow pile as I jogged, I landed too hard and tweaked my right knee. By evening it had swelled like a casaba melon and ached like something was very wrong.

It turned out I tore the meniscus in my right knee. I needed surgery, and although it was technically possible to run, it hurt and my knee swelled up. I could swim, though, so I switched my emphasis to doing laps in the pool and I kept going to a health club to use their muscle machines for my arms and shoulders.

Once my surgery was over and my knee healed, I worked jogging back into my routine.

If I could stretch like that, I wouldn't need a doctor.

What I learned after a year of daily exercise

The first nine months of daily exercise taught me that I could figure out how to get through the next three months in spite of knee surgery.

I took off the days needed for the actual surgery, but otherwise found a way to stay active.

This was especially useful because next I would have an emergency appendectomy, a (benign) tumor, and a hernia to deal with. I simply had to take a break from daily exercise during those recoveries. But once cleared for activity, I got back into it.

In the meantime, I took walks, as allowed, every day, as a placeholder for more strenuous activity later on.

What you should learn about daily exercise

Having persisted for 250 days or more, you will have taught yourself what it’s like to exercise in the different seasons, when it’s cold out, freezing out, dark out, hot, humid, and bright out. You have taught yourself what it’s like to exercise when your kids are in school, on a break from school, and home for the summer.

After a full year of these challenges, you’ve faced the worst of it.

Getting up there is the easy part.

The key to success in daily exercise

It is more important to have the daily habit than it is to achieve certain goals by certain days. With each challenge to your daily habit you deepen your capacity to persist.

And there are gimmicks you can use to help you along the way. I have used the Fitbit to help track these things. I don’t necessarily need the reminder by the app, but I do check and see if my activity level has decreased.

And I use my morning stretching routine to do something, and also use the high-intensity, interval training if all else fails. In seven to fifteen minutes, you get a full-body workout that can keep the daily streak going, and reinforce your resolve to exercise daily.

There was absolutely nothing special about me that made me more likely to keep a daily exercise habit. It’s kind of like staying married. You have to decide to stay married in spite of the distractions, frustrations and endless temptation to do something else.

You simply decide to exercise every, single day. Once you do it, you are that person who exercises every day.

Next Steps

Sign up for my newsletter to get the next articles when they are published.Or visit Boomers Rock for books and training that will help you improve your life.