How to do something for 20 years

I’ve been running for a long time — like 20 years a long time. Running is something that people find hard to do. They start. They stop. They start again. They read magazine articles like, “8 Weeks to a 5k!” and “Essential Gear for the New Runner!” They tell their friends that they have started running. They drive to the gym to run on treadmills.

They will stop running.

Because all of that stuff is garbage.

I’m going to tell you how to do something for 20 years. It can be running. It can be something else. But I guarantee that you will fail if you do not follow these steps.

How do I know? I’ve been running for 20 years. I know.

Step 1: Choose something that you wildly, passionately enjoy.

If you don’t do this, you will quit.

Do you love chess? Does it make you feel alive? Does it make you want to wake up in the morning? No? Then chess is a great hobby for you. You will play on and off. You will not play chess for 20 years.

Do you want to be a runner? Or a gymnast? Or a painter?

If you have to think about it, and if you have to design some elaborate plan to make you that thing, you will not do it for 20 years.

Life is too crazy. Things get in the way. You find other things that you want to do. You get married. You have kids. You get divorced. You get fired. You get a promotion.

Whatever.

If you don’t wildly, passionately enjoy the activity, you will not keep doing it for 20 years.

I run on a farm. As in, I do not run on a road. There are no streetlights, so I wear a headlamp because I run a 5:00 a.m.

Why do I do this?

My wife and I moved to the country about six years ago. We had kids. Therefore, I run before anyone else is awake, and I do not have streetlights.

I keep running because I wildly, passionately enjoy it. If I didn’t wildly, passionately enjoy running, I would stop. Excuses are too easy to find.

If you want to exercise, and if you want to stick with it, choose something that you wildly, passionately enjoy.

Neal Stephenson is one of my favorite authors. His form of exercise is sword fighting. Why? Because he wildly, passionately enjoys it. It is the activity most likely to get him to move around.

You don’t have to be a runner or a weight lifter. Be a sword fighter, a fencer, a dancer, or anything else that you wildly, passionately enjoy.

Step 2: Schedule breaks.

I ran every day from the age of 12 to the age of 19. I’m sure there were some days that I missed, but I can’t remember them.

This was a stupid thing to do.

You need to schedule breaks.

Humans aren’t meant to do the same things every day. I can only think of a handful of things that I want to do every single day, and it’s almost impossible to do those things that frequently. This is the universe that we live in.

With my running example, I started having scheduled breaks on my collegiate running teams. This was awesome. My body got to rest. My mind got to rest.

One day off per week. A week or two off after each season. And I was a college-level runner. Unless you are at professional level with your activity (meaning you know everything about it and also about your own body/mind’s relationship to that activity), then take my advice and schedule breaks.

I was reading an article on running a few years ago (See Step 1), and the article was about this guy who had some sort of nagging injury. He needed to take a few weeks off, but he wouldn’t. Finally, an older, wiser runner-guru asked him, “Do you want to run for the next two weeks, or do you want to run for the next 20 years?”

That stuck with me. Every day, your plan isn’t to do your activity. Your plan is to do your activity for the next 20 years. What will maximize the likelihood that you will still be playing chess, dancing, singing, running or whatever?

Some days (or even some weeks), that means that you take a scheduled break.

Step 3: Don’t quit.

Some days, some weeks, some months, or even some years, you are going to hate what you are doing.

You will hate running. You will hate playing chess. You will hate dancing, or karate or spin class or whatever it is that you are trying to do for 20 years.

You will hate it, but you cannot quit.

One of my favorite poems is “Sea Fever” by John Masefield. Without going all English major on you with an analysis of the poem, the guy hates sailing, and he loves sailing. He loves the wild ocean even though the wind cuts him like a knife. He probably doesn’t have a family because of sailing. But even after a long trip, he “must go down to the seas again.”

He must.

And you must keep going.

If you wildly, passionately enjoy your activity, you have to remember that in the times that you hate it.

Whenever it’s 15 degrees and my feet are wet and muddy and I am running on a dark winter morning in an icy drizzle, I just keep going. Whenever I think, “There are so many other things I could do with my mornings other than run,” I keep running.

I will not stop. I will not stop running for good until I physically cannot run. When that day comes, I will smile and know that I have been a real runner.

You must keep going, or you will spend your life flitting from one thing to another, and you will never be anything.

You have to keep going.

Because, if you wildly, passionately enjoy the activity, most days you will be charged up and ready to go dance or lift weights or ride your bicycle or study French. But many days you will not.

Don’t quit.

Step 4: Get started.

20 years is a long time.

None of us knows if we have 20 years left, and every year that you put off starting makes it less likely that you will make it.

Get started now.

Choose something you are wildly, passionately in love with. Schedule breaks. Don’t quit. Get started.

Reboot

So it has been over a year since my last post. Clearly, it’s time for a reboot.

I am making a post. Here it is. You are reading it.

I know that all of my subscribers (Hi, Charles!) have been eagerly waiting for this blog to sputter back into gear, to lurch down the road and crash through potholes.

Behold: words.

Eco’s “Name of the Rose”

Eco’s Name of the Rose (1980) is a dense, erudite work of historical fiction set in an early fourteenth century Benedictine monastery. Philosophical, theological, and geopolitical forces all manifest themselves locally in the abbey, resulting in a fascinating glimpse of the power of thinking upon the physical world.

On one level, the book is a murder mystery. The narrator, Adso, is a young monk who arrives at the abbey as a visitor alongside the wise and brilliant William of Baskerville, a Franciscan monk who is on a mission to arrange a meeting between Michael of Cesena, leader of the Franciscan order, which is in near-revolt against the Church hierarchy, and the Pope. Upon arrival, the two learn that a monk has died under mysterious circumstances, and the abbey’s abbot requests that William investigate.

On another level, the abbey is a microcosm of Western European philosophy at the time, and much of the tension and intrigue in the book is generated by differing beliefs and opinions that characters hold on issues of philosophy and theology. With the abbey being famous for its great library, the monks are a cosmopolitan bunch who, perhaps even more than other men of learning of their day, value learning and are, themselves, learned men. This love of learning becomes tinder to the fire of the monks’ not having unlimited access to the library’s holdings as well as to changing philosophical trends of the early fourteenth century.

In many ways, the book is an argument for uncertainty. William, a brilliant detective who is something of a forerunner of the empirical, deductive Sherlock Holmes, solves the murder mystery through the discovery of a pattern; however, it turns out that the pattern was not what he thought it was. Paradoxically, William leaves defeated, having solved the mystery.

Another element of uncertainty is that of the debate over the poverty of Jesus Christ. Much tension in the book comes from conflict between the Franciscan order (and dozens of its offshoots) and the Church hierarchy over the poverty of Christ. This is further complicated by the Franciscan position being championed by the Holy Roman Emperor, who, perhaps for geopolitical reasons, is on the side of the Franciscans. While fascinating in and of itself, the debate over poverty serves as a device to further to muddy the waters of certainty.

While Adso sees the monastery as a monolith of Christian belief and piety upon his arrival, he quickly learns that it is factionalized and in disarray theologically, with some of the monks holding to a conservative Bible-Church-Church Fathers view and others striving to incorporate Aristotle and other classical sources into their faith.

All of this blends together to create a truly postmodern book, which takes the orderly, homogenous view of a fourteenth century abbey and inserts confusion and life into it. The soaring stones and almost-transcendent architecture of the abbey undergo a change at the end of the book that represents the shifting sands of Middle Ages belief to that of the early Renaissance.

Rather than play reason and faith off against each other, Eco shows that reason and faith are uneasy allies against the true enemy: chaos.

On the Divergence of American Culture and Christianity

For more than three decades, American Christians have been living with the delusion that the United States has some special relationship with Christianity. All delusions end, whether from the death of the one(s) deluded, from the diffusion of the deluded idea among stronger ideological forces, or from certain experiences that are so contrary to the delusion that it becomes unsustainable.

The recent Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage should put this delusion to rest.

The United States is not a “Christian nation.” It never has been one. In many ways, the United States and other democracies are the enemies of religion. In “Democracy, Aristocracy, Monarchy — ‘The Closing of the American Mind,’” I wrote the following:

Democracies, unlike all other forms of government, are founded on reason. Classical liberalism, with its focus on the rights of the individual, limits on government, and laissez-faire economic policy, does not have its roots in tradition or religion. In order to function, reason-based democracies force citizens to subvert their individual cultures in order to establish a system based on rational contracts. In other words, a democracy cannot work in the long run if certain ethnic and religious groups are actively excluded from the levers of power and/or from economic activity. The Founders understood this, so they set up a system of government that forces individuals to downplay the demands of their individual cultures while still allowing them to nominally be a part of those individual cultures.

In other words, democracies are founded on reason; religions are not founded on reason. Democracies are designed to allow maximum citizen participation, which requires a trend toward equality, which demands that individuals downplay religion and its impact on their lives.

Like many of the world’s major religions, Christianity makes certain absolute “truth-claims.” God created the universe in some way. Jesus is the son of God. Jesus Christ was crucified and rose from the dead. The Jewish people have a special historical relationship with God. Some actions and decisions are right. Some actions and decisions are wrong.

Unfortunately for Christianity and other religions, democracies, in the long run, have no tolerance for religions that make “truth-claims” that run contrary to a system of rational contracts and a policy of inclusion and equality.

American Christianity has survived with American Democracy in the same way that dogs have survived with humans: by being sort of fun to have around and by being low-maintenance. In other words, Christians are pretty good citizens. Christ tells them to pay their taxes (Mark 12:13-17). The Ten Commandments are at least in the ballpark in terms of a democratic system of rational contracts. There aren’t any explicit commands to not serve in the armed forces.

Some American Christians have mistaken their country’s tolerance for its blessing by claiming that “America is a Christian nation” and that “America was founded on Christian morals.”

These delusions have now been exploded.

The United States is an inclusive democracy that is driven by the greatest wealth-creating economy of all human history, and it stands in complete opposition to Christianity and to the world’s other major religions.

Christianity is a religion that makes absolute claims upon believers, and all of those claims do not align with the world’s governments, including the government of the United States. Many Christians have strained to believe that Christianity and government can align. They do this out of hope and out of cowardice. You see, if Christianity and government align, then Christians do not have to stand outside of and in opposition to government. If Christianity and government align, then being a Christian is being a patriot. If Christianity and government align, then Christians get to partake of all of the benefits of their secular government while feeling that they are simultaneously fulfilling their spiritual duties and obligations.

From its founding, the United States has stood outside of, and in some ways, in opposition to Biblical Christianity. The recent Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage just highlights a truth that many Americans have been hiding from for decades: Christianity is not in alignment with the United States.

In “Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony,” Hauerwas and Willimon write about the impact that the Roman Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity had upon Christianity’s relationship to government. They half-jokingly say that this relationship ended in the 1960s when movie theaters began showing movies on Sundays. Their point is that Christianity, since the time of Constantine, has tried to ally itself with secular governments. However, the blending of Christianity and government at best muddies Christianity and at worst corrupts it. Furthermore, governments are no longer playing nice with Christianity, yet Christians continue to cling to an old model of Christian/Culture/Country that no longer exists.

Willimon and Hauerwas argue that Christians must live as “Resident Aliens” in their own countries and in their own communities. This means that Biblical Christians should hold different beliefs and live a different way than other members of their community. Rather than trying to placate a culture that clearly (now more clearly than ever) will grant them no quarter, Christians should stand by what the Bible says and let the chips fall where they may.

The end result of this will be Christian communities that look very different from their surroundings. This is in opposition to the strategy of the past six decades, where Christian communities work to blend in even more with the larger culture, the result of which has been a corruption of churches, a straying away from Biblical teaching, and a rapid decline in church membership.

These trends will only accelerate unless Christians, churches, and denominations realize that the Bible is the only foundation that can withstand these cultural forces. Making real-world decisions based on the Bible will look strange and will be unpopular with the larger culture. However, there are no other options. Churches and denominations are dying in the West. It’s a foregone conclusion that the larger culture war has been lost, and it was perhaps lost from the time of Constantine.

The way forward is a rededication to the Bible and to living our lives in accordance with its precepts.

Joshua 1:8 — This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth, but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.

American Christians, American churches, and American denominations have let the Bible become an anachronism. It’s a thing that is winked and nodded about. As a result, American Christianity is being made irrelevant. Just like the Israelites of the Old Testament, straying from God’s precepts has brought disaster. However, returning to God’s precepts can bring restoration.

Just to be clear, I do not claim that the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision is a result of Christians straying from the Bible. As I have been saying throughout this post, government stands in opposition to religion. In a democracy, such a court decision is logical and rational. What I am saying is that straying from the Bible has brought confusion to Christians and a weakening of churches and of the larger Christian community. Clinging to governments and expecting them to be “Christian” is foolish and is accelerating Christianity’s decline in the West.

I believe that the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriages will be a wake-up call to Christians that the United States is not the ally of Christianity.

In conclusion, I claim that Christians should return to the Bible, pour into their local Christian communities, and live lives that stand in opposition to prevailing cultural forces.

Kuhn’s “Structure of Scientific Revolutions”

A favorite quote of mine by H.L. Mencken goes like this: “For every subtle and complicated question, there is a perfectly simple and straightforward answer, which is wrong.”

Of all the subtle and complicated questions to which Mencken’s quote could apply, perhaps none is so fitting as this: What is science?

We say the word all of the time. Most of us think it is a good thing. And yet, we have no idea what it actually is. Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions wrestles with this question and uses case studies from the history of science to support his conclusion: paradigms, not facts, define science.

The “perfectly simple and straightforward answer” to the question (What is science?) could be any of the following:

  • Science is a search for truth.
  • Science is the dispassionate application of the scientific method to the physical world.
  • Science is a gradual accumulation of learning that incrementally builds upon itself.

Of course, there are more answers we could put forth, but these three account for the vast majority of perfectly simply and straightforward answers, all of which are wrong.

Kuhn would state those three propositions as their opposites:

  1. Science is not a search for truth.
  2. Science is not the dispassionate application of the scientific method to the physical world.
  3. Science is not a gradual accumulation of learning that incrementally builds upon itself.

Thomas Kuhn, who was a professor of philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (for those who need an argument from authority) and who studied the history of science, argues in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions that paradigms define science, not facts.

About paradigms, Kuhn writes, “These I take to be universally recognized scientific achievements that for a time provide model problems and solutions to a community of practitioners.”

So paradigms define problems and solutions. Paradigms determine what is an acceptable question to ask. Questions that do not align with a paradigm are considered to be non-scientific. For example, turning lead into gold is considered to be alchemy, a pseudo-science. In earlier times, the most eminent scientists, including Isaac Newton, very seriously pursued this goal. At that time, chemistry’s prevailing paradigm allowed that such studies were appropriate. Today, the goal of turning lead into gold is not allowed in the scientific community because the prevailing paradigm does not allow it.

Another example of a paradigm (and also a paradigm shift) is the Earth-centered view of the solar system:

In early times, humans notice the movements of stars and planets. They assume that the Earth is the center of these revolving celestial bodies. Astronomers/astrologers/scientists continue to observe the heavens and to work their explanations of celestial movements into the paradigm of an Earth-centered solar system. This works pretty well. They are able to make somewhat accurate predictions about the movements of the stars and planets. Unfortunately, there’s one small problem: the Earth isn’t the center of the solar system.

These early scientists find more accurate ways to “measure” celestial movement. They find more discrepancies between what their paradigm says should happen and what actually does happen. Some scientists begin to question whether the paradigm is accurate. They are ignored by the rest of the scientific community. More discrepancies emerge. More scientists defect. A scientific crisis emerges surrounding the old paradigm and the emerging paradigm. The heliocentric paradigm emerges and is eventually accepted by the scientific community at large.

After the acceptance of the heliocentric paradigm, scientists go back to what Kuhn calls “normal science,” which is further refining details of an existing paradigm. “Normal science, the activity in which most scientists inevitably spend almost all their time, is predicated on the assumption that the scientific community knows what the world is like,” Kuhn writes.

It’s important here to note that scientists are not operating with a blank slate. They are operating within paradigms, which are, by definition, restrictive.

Think back to the famous Earth-centered versus heliocentric paradigm clash. For early scientists to do work, they had to assume that they knew that the Earth was the center of the solar system. They weren’t doing experiments to see if the moon was the center, or if Jupiter was the center. After all, had they done so, perhaps they would have tried to figure things from a heliocentric perspective. This did not happen until the Earth-centered paradigm broke down.

So there are two important points here:

  1. Normal science seeks to reaffirm existing paradigms.
  2. Normal science ends up tearing down existing paradigms.

Incidentally, we can pause here to recall our earlier claims. First, science is not a search for truth; science is a search to reaffirm entrenched worldviews (paradigms). Second, science is not the dispassionate application of the scientific method to the physical world; science is the passionate search for further refinements to an existing paradigm. Third, science is not a gradual accumulation of learning that incrementally builds upon itself; rather than accumulate knowledge through increments, scientific revolutions define scientific “advancement.”

The ironic thing about normal science, which seeks to reaffirm and further refine existing paradigms, is that it ends up bringing existing paradigms to a state of crisis, which allows a competing paradigm to assert itself. This is a result of the feedback loop that emerges between an established paradigm and normal science.

Paradigms restrict what is accepted as scientific (remember alchemy?). Since the scope of studies is restricted due to the paradigm, researchers focus their time, energy, and funding on a relatively narrow band of problems. These problems are all defined by the paradigm; in other words, the problems only make sense through the paradigm and are only expected to have answers due to the paradigm. Normal science seeks and finds answers to many of these problems; however, some stubborn problems remain. Perhaps in the course of the research into these problems, scientists find a few anomalies: things that do not make sense in the scope of the paradigm. Due to the inertia of the scientific community, these anomalies tend to be ignored until enough of them emerge to create a crisis in the scientific community over the paradigm, and a paradigm shift is underway.

In this way, the continued progress of normal science, seeking to reaffirm an existing paradigm, unearths anomalies. Some of these anomalies end up being explained within the context of the prevailing paradigm; however, others do not. Furthermore, paradigms are not necessarily accurate; they just need to be more accurate than other paradigms.

Going back to our earlier example, the Earth-centered view of the solar system worked very well for a very long time. Men could sail ships around the oceans by the stars. Scientists could make some predictions based on the movements of stars and planets. It was not accurate, but it was good enough. Once it became not good enough, the anomalies that had built up over the years were too much, and the paradigm was forced to shift.

So we can sum this up as follows:

  1. Paradigms define the way that scientists see the world.
  2. Paradigms are not necessarily accurate.
  3. Normal Science is the bulk of work that scientists do. Normal science seeks to reaffirm established paradigms, regardless of the accuracy of such paradigms.
  4. Normal Science discovers anomalies that do not match with the established paradigm.
  5. These anomalies are ignored until they cannot be ignored.
  6. Anomalies can cause a crisis by bringing the prevailing paradigm into question.
  7. New paradigms emerge in the crisis that seek to more accurately represent physical phenomena.
  8. A paradigm shift occurs when a new paradigm is accepted, which gives scientists a new way of seeing the world.

Kuhn uses many more examples of paradigm shifts in his book; however, I have focused on the Earth-centered versus heliocentric paradigms because they are the easiest for lay people to understand.