Monday, March 12, 2007

Do-Tasks and Not-Do-Tasks.

There are two kinds of tasks: Do-Tasks and Not-Do-Tasks.

Most of the big life goals we set out to accomplish are achieved by Doing a sometimes complex array of tasks, often in some logical order. For instance, say I want to run an ultramarathon: I know I must train for it, so a Do-Running task goes on the top of the list. Secondary activities are added related to the acquisition of skills and knowledge, pursuant to my desire to get through the experience with only modest suffering: Hydration-Learning, Fuel-Intake-Learning, Blister-Prevention-Learning, and a host of others that if ignored will come back to bite me in the patootie and cause me to fail.

Along the way overhead tasks are added such as Right-Gear-Buying, Registration-Sending, and Plane-Ticket-Buying. (Do I sound like a COBOL programmer?)

It's easy for me to recognize when I'm progressing, because Do-Tasks are accomplished by an act of will. All I have to do is pick something off the Do-list and just go ... do it.

Do-Tasks can be planned for and scheduled. "Whoop! It's 4:00pm. Time to stop Do-Working and switch to Do-Running." And when I'm running I can say to myself with confidence and satisfaction: "I'm making progress! I'm working on the Do-Running task, the biggest part of the plan." As long as I keep running, keep doing, I'm making that progress.

Duh. But ...

Some objectives are pursued via Not-Do-Tasks. These jobs can be harder than Do-Tasks. For instance, to save more money, I begin by Not-Spending. But when does one actually begin such a thing?

The example I'm inclined to discuss is the challenge of Weight-Losing! The simplest and most direct technique for Do-Weight-Losing is another example of Not-Doing: Not-Eating!

Since most of us are lazy by nature, and eating takes at least some effort, it would seem to be an easy thing to simply allow ourselves to become negligent about it. Not-Eating is not a Do-List task. It's what fills the spaces between acts of Do-Eating. I'm Not-Eating right now — as most people are most of the time, so theoretically I should be losing weight, shouldn't I? But I know I'm not, because whenever I step on my scale the number it shouts at me is bigger than the last one. And it's been going on like that since mid-October.

Because Not-Eating is a Not-Do-Task, it is not something I can schedule and plan and then begin. To the contrary, the very act of making a beginning requires that Do-Eating precedes it, which is what I'm trying to avoid. It seems to work much better if I inadvertently happen to discover: "Whoa! What's this? I'm Not-Eating! Well then, let's see just how long I can keep this up!" But Do-Eating begins almost as automatically as blinking, breathing, and sleeping, as I've learned from passing through the kitchen only to suddenly discover myself to be chewing and swallowing upon emerging from the other side. We should have a built-in alarm somewhere that prevents that, but some of us do not, so it takes concentration, like walking on a tightrope.

Contrastingly, I have no corresponding objection that Do-Running must be preceded by Not-Running. In fact, it seems that Do-Running is so necessarily bookended by Not-Running that runners often write down the time that defines the beginning and ending period of Do-Running. Worse yet, during the heat of an intense training period, Not-Running is sometimes logged positively as Do-Resting.

Many poor souls try in vain to lose weight by performing Do-Tasks: Do-Diet-Planning, Do-Calorie-Counting, Do-Health-Food-Shopping, but in the end the task includes Do-Eating, and that's where they trip up. It reminds me of a rip-off diet book my wife was suckered into buying called: "Eat More — Weigh Less." The first part worked great, and she really got into it. It was that second part that was a killer.

We would do better if we could just leave out that part, but after all the Do-Diet-Planning ... -Shopping phases, it doesn't make sense to skip the Do-Eating part — which is why diets usually fail. Whereas it is during periods of Not-Eating — intentional or otherwise — that progress is made toward Do-Weight-Losing.

And can someone tell me why my head is aching with thoughts about Gestalt psychology right now? I'm in a forest, but I don't seem to be seeing any trees.