I had some mildly interesting thoughts about effort the other day. What spurred these on was an errand I had to run. Some back-story is necessary to explain this errand. My cat Lita,
love of my life and best friend since 6th grade (I am now 23, she’s getting up there) has a condition known as CRF—Chronic Renal Failure. It basically means her kidneys woke up one morning, said, “fuck that” and decided to stop coming to work. It is a very common condition in older cats and often can’t be prevented. There is also no cure but there are a myriad of things you can do to control the symptoms and expand both the quantity and quality of time you have with your cat. One of those things is giving doses of subcutaneous fluids to re-hydrate the cat because kidney failure causes chronic dehydration. So my errand was to get to my vet to pick up a big box of fluids and a case of prescription food for my fur child. This wouldn’t be something to think twice about for someone with a car, but for me it was a little tricky. There were several ways I could have completed the task. I could have rented a Zipcar for the trip, asked a friend to help out, or even taken the bus to the vet and then grabbed an Uber or cab home. Simple, elegant solutions to a minor problem. I instead chose to take the bus both ways. Which meant I was hauling a large box of medical supplies and a backpack full of cans of cat food on two busses to get home. F for efficiency, but A for Effort.
The easiest answer to why I chose this route is I’m a cheap-ass. The bare minimum I would have had to spend on a Zipcar or cab would have been around $8. I have a bus pass so the bus was free. I chose free. However my mental process is almost never that simple. Ok never. I have to think of about 37 different angles to every option before I choose one. This is probably part of the reason I have so much anxiety. But that’s a topic for another day. This experience got me thinking about the ways in which people choose to, or not to, expend effort and how they make those choices. I chose to put in about double the effort and time in order to get home without spending any money. However some of the externalities of that effort were positive. For example, the day I ran this errand was a beautiful spring day (we only get about 5 of those in Michigan so it’s something precious). I got to spend more time outside while I waited at the bus stops. I also got the added bonus of a small arm workout from carrying that big box around. These may seem like silly benefits but in my strange little world they were noteworthy.
The broader idea I’m getting at with all these internal cost-benefit analyses is that I think a lot of people neglect to consider how they are spending their effort. If we treat effort as a finite resource (renewable obviously with rest, food, etc. but finite within a giving time period), the question becomes: how do we want to spend it? My decision to choose the more strenuous option for my errand makes sense in the context of another, larger choice I made prior. That was to stop going to the gym. I have belonged to a gym since the age of 16. My mom was always somewhat of a fitness freak and we used to work out together; I always really enjoyed it. I’ve never been one of those people who hates running on a treadmill. I always saw it as a kind of meditative time where I could listen to all the new music I downloaded that week. Yet I NEVER liked the act of going to the gym. Getting to the gym might as well be traversing Middle Earth to submerge the one ring in the fires of Mount Doom: I usually need a friend to come with me and it takes like 9 hours.
During my three months in Costa Rica however the jungle became my gym. And no, I don’t mean I turned vines into pull-up bars or ran laps carrying coconuts, I mean I didn’t really “work out”. Most of my downtime was spent reading in a hammock or sitting on a porch drinking awesome coffee. I was actually really lazy. Yet I felt fantastic and looked great. I figured this was because, overall, I was still expending the same amount (or more) physical effort I had been at home, it was just rolled into my daily life instead of banged out during 60 hardcore minutes at the local gym. Not only were work tasks physically demanding (maintaining trails, leading hikes, changing dozens of beds) but even small things just took more effort. Hand washing your laundry burns a lot more calories than using a washing machine. Carrying weeks worth of groceries in from a boat on the beach and up two flights of stairs to the kitchen is a bit more strenuous than walking 10 feet from your car to your apartment. These seemingly small, insignificant expenditures of physical effort added up to a lifestyle that kept me in fabulous shape.
Taking those principles with me into the modern world has, so far, not been as difficult as I thought it would be. Although I am fortunate enough to have a physical job (I know leading an active lifestyle is a lot more difficult when you work in a cubicle), I also have introduced effort into my life in places where most people opt for efficiency. In our busy world, time is king. If something can save you a half hour of time, it’s worth its weight in gold. I don’t really subscribe to that anymore. Choosing the more difficult route (such as biking to work or walking 15 minutes to a bus stop) may cost me both time and effort, but my return on investment is huge when you consider I’ve eliminated the need for two expensive, often unpleasant things—a car and a gym membership—with one simple act. In a country where one in three people is obese (I think that’s the statistic, right? Someone fact check me if I’m wrong), do we really need to prioritize physical effortlessness? I would obviously say no. I’m not saying don’t own a car or never choose the time-saving option. Sometimes our lives necessitate these things. To me it just seems silly to, as a rule, pay more for transportation in order to spend minimal effort all day, only to use the time and effort saved to get to a gym (with a membership fee) in order to run literally nowhere. As far as time goes, that just depends on how busy you are. But if you really don’t have time for longer commutes or errands, you probably don’t have time to go to the gym every other day either. That sort of lack of free time is another issue entirely that I’m not prepared to address right now. Let’s leave those worms canned.