Rant 11 February 2004: Just do it

I’ve always hated Valentine’s Day. It’s one of those manufactured holidays that is shot through with guilt and consumerism. Unlike Halloween, my favourite holiday, where all you need to have fun is a bag of candy and a scary movie, Valentine’s Day is a day that is all about feeling anxious and bummed out: did I get a nice enough present for my loved one? Why doesn’t my loved one appreciate me? What is wrong with me that I don’t have a loved one? Waaaahhh!

For Canadians (except those lucky bastards living in Vancouver), the pain of Valentine’s Day is compounded by the winter weather. One year, feeling particularly self-pitying about Valentine’s Day, I trudged home through a snowstorm, grumbling about the sucky weather, sucky holiday, poor me, blah blah blah. I stopped into the local grocery store to pick up food for dinner. And there in the front of the store was a beautiful bunch of red carnations. On impulse, I bought them all. I brought them home to my housemates as a Valentine’s Day gift.

Suddenly, I felt great!

The act of taking my bummer feeling and turning it into action, especially positive action directed at the benefit of others, completely transformed my perspective. What I learned from that experience was that the best way to deal with a negative mindset is to externalize, to just do it, to take thought and transform it into action.

I get a lot of email from people who are caught spending too much time in their own head. And while they’re in their heads they’re wandering about like a cat lady in her attic apartment, bumping into piles of old newspapers and cat poop. That is to say, they’re fixating on how much they hate their asses and their thighs and their mothers and their mothers’ thighs.

I know many people who are very wise about other people’s problems, or who are good at finding solutions for their jobs, but when it comes to themselves they are paralyzed by their over-intellectualization. They can tell me in great detail exactly what they are feeling and what is wrong with them, but they do not act to change it. It’s like they’re holding a road map and sitting on a well-marked road, but they can’t make themselves turn on the car’s ignition. They just keep going over the map again and again.

So they’ll say, gee, I really want to get into shape but I have food issues. I really want to get into shape but I’m funny looking or too fat or too skinny or my knees hurt. I really want to eat better but I am powerless against chocolate ice cream. Then they’ll devote countless hours to self-loathing and internal discourse, letting their brain jabber at them until they have been reduced to an inert gelationous blob of negativity.

If this is you, then stop thinking. Start doing. Start doing for yourself and others. Stop self-hating and start moving. Get out of your head. Externalize. Move. Act.

A good place to start is doing something for others. I don’t mean turning into some kind of saintly martyr, like some 1950s Stepford Wife all zonked on Valium and whatever preceded Prozac. I mean stop focusing on your own problems for one minute and take that minute to do something nice or useful for someone else. Chances are, that will start to make you feel a whole lot better about yourself. I bet your dog would be thrilled if you took him or her for a walk right now. Call a family member just to say hi. Give the waitress at the local greasy spoon a $20 tip. Give flowers to someone for no reason. Volunteer some place that needs you.

Next, do something for yourself. Get off the couch and do something—anything—other than sitting in your own filth. Or hell, stay on the couch but at least put a good movie into the DVD player. Try a new activity. Move around. Eat some fruit. Sing off tune in the shower. JUST DO SOMETHING!!

By the way, if you need inspiration, I love red carnations.