2015: More masturbating, less painful self-improvement

Is self-improvement as enjoyable as masturbation?

Fight Club’s Tyler Durden once said “self-improvement is masturbation”, but Durden was a nineties guy, the man of the new millenium has no time to masturbate, or if he did he’d probably rather self-improve. Witness Chris Hoy, British cyclist who – with the help of British scientists (recently freed from the obligations of empire and now apparently directing their energies towards fretting over the calorie counts of cyclists) had a schedule scientifically designed an calibrated for him. This consisted of him lifting weights for two hours ever morning, followed by three hours at the velodrome in the afternoon, a one-hour ride in the evening, and a rigid unchanging meal intake comprised of precisely 5,000 calories spread throughout the day. Masturbation and wild parties did not get a mention, and I suspect Mr. Hoy probably refrained just to be on the safe side (to be fair, with a schedule like that he probably didn’t have the time for it).

Which is weird because I thought being a sports star was supposed to be glamorous? After all, it doesn’t seem particularly glamorous to instead think of sports stars as monks in spandex barred from masturbation and subsisting on a 5,000-calorie diet of gruel. If you’re going to do that then why not just become a monk and save yourself the physical effort (and the spandex)? Chris Hoy is not alone, increasing portions humanity seem less concerned with glamour and are instead embracing all sorts of painful and humiliating daily rituals and processes under titles like ‘crossfit’ and ‘lifehacking’.

Crossfit being a movement dedicated towards the formulation of lists of numerous painful activities – otherwise known as ‘Workout Of the Day(WOD)’ – the spoonfed millenial generation needs to do every day in order to be able to call themselves successes. Although looking at some of the men and women who seem to come out the other end of this programme – and the way they unflatteringly resemble pre-90s Volvo trucks – the whole process might not yield the aesthetic results all this pain is supposed to be worth it for.

Many trace this culture of never-ending self-improvement to the Japanese and their concept of kaizen, or continuous improvement. To those looking for a brief primer, essentially this was one of the philosophies that – when coupled with Total Quality Management and other theories from American management scientists – lead to the dominance of Japanese car companies like Toyota, Mitsubishi, and Honda over their American counterparts. Essentially – or so the story goes – these companies committed themselves towards continually and consistently refining their processes over a number of years in order to produce products with zero defects (as opposed to the American system of the time which was focused on producing thousands of faulty cars but safety testing them at the end).

Oddly though, given what kaizen now represents to most Westerners, ‘kaizen‘ does not feature anything resembling ‘continuous’ or neverending in its meaning. It is, in fact, simply the Japanese term for ‘good change’. Visit Japan though, and you can probably see why the term became associated with the term ‘continuous’.

In Japan there are groundskeepers who are highly revered – and envied – for having performed the same job, with the same basic routine, for 40+ years, in the West such individuals would be seen as sad old men. Instead the Japanese envy these men the insights and serenity they think would come from having remained committed to such a discipline for so long.

Then there’s what happens in Japanese workplaces at the start or a workday, or 6AM in public parks. Wander past either of these places and you’ll suddenly see people bending and stretching in an almost comic set of exercises. This is raijo taiso (radio exercises), Japan’s version of WOD if you will, a set of simple exercises that are read out on the radio and everybody performs collectively every morning. One in five Japanese (28 million people) have done this, in fact, for over 75 years.

Raijo taiso

In Japan then, they do things relentlessly. So it’s no surprise that their concept of ‘good change’ also became continuous and never-ending. Yet it’s difficult to imagine such a commitment taking place in the West. Despite the never-ending stream of tweets from crossfitters, which shows no sign of dissipating, we all have this nagging suspicion that 20 years from now WOD will have disappeared into the same ether that Zumba and the Atkins Diet ended up in. Yet, here are the Japanese, who have been doing the same set of ridiculous exercises since 1928, still there doing those very same exercises today.

Because in Japan, a state of calm and equilibrium, is valued above euphoria. The Japanese do those activities because the activities themselves put them in their desired emotional state of calm. Not for them, are the over-the-top hysterics of the Americans(or even of other East Asians). Certainly the Japanese are capable of being happy and euphoric, but both those states are not valued anywhere near as much as they are in the West. It’s why Japanese daily exercises don’t have some sweaty personal trainer screaming ‘encouraging’ comments that would normally be yelled at horses on a racetrack.

There’s also another principle behind both kaizen and raijo taiso that has been ignored. They’re both supposed to make things easier, not more difficult. Rajio taiso’s exercises are short, and as easy for the elderly as for the young and fit. And the improvements to Japan’s production lines had, at their core, the desire of reducing the amount of hard work each employee had to do.

Yet most Westerners seem to be using the concept of self-improvement as some sort of nine-tailed whip to lash themselves as a form of penance for all the Big Macs they’ve eaten or time they’ve wasted on Facebook.

The real kaizen is a process of self-improvement that – in and of itself – puts you in the emotional state you want to be in. So if you’re Japanese and you value calm and stability, then let’s make that growth easy, tiny, and almost poetically repetitive. If you’re a Westerner who likes masturbating, then lets make your self-improvement an activity that fills you with a sudden spurt of…er..euphoria. More than likely you’re a Westerner who just likes growth and change. For you then, perhaps every move towards self-improvement needs to be new and exciting.

A few years ago New Years resolutions went out of fashion, only to be replaced by commitment to specific habits. For Westerners who didn’t like exercise their resolution would inevitably be to get into the habit of walking 10,000 steps per day. For those who hated school/University, and had flunked their exams, theirs would be to read their textbook every night for the rest of the year. For the profligate spender, their resolution would be to suddenly start living on $5 a day.

To me, all of the above sounds worse than New Years resolutions. At least New Years resolutions have some sort of a dream or emotional desire at their core. Committing yourself to 10,000 steps per day – when you don’t like walking – just seems like committing yourself to getting whipped every day by a large hairy fetishist when you’re really not all that fond of S&M.

That said, there’s something to be said for this relentless self-improvement business, just as long as you make sure that the activity of improving yourself puts you in the emotional state you want to be in. If you’re Japanese and want calm, then raijo taiso is the activity for you. If you’re a Westerner and you want more pleasure and euphoria, then make sure that you pick a physical activity that gives you that. In 2015 it’s time to finally realise that although masturbation might win over self-improvement, there’s no reason both should be mutually exclusive.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s