My name is Álvaro, and I am an addict

February 27, 2012

Drenched in sweat.

Whenever we run for an extended period of time, endorphins are released into our bloodstream. They are a morphine-like substance that our body produces to help itself deal with extreme exertion, suppress pain, or temporarily boost our own awareness and reflexes. A cool side-effect of endorphins is that they make us feel good. That’s why running until we’re out of breath is so exhilarating, and we feel so incredibly great afterwards. The same thing occurs every time we have sex or eat chocolate, two activities that also trigger a release of endorphins into our system. You get the idea.

I’ve recently realized that I’m sort of an endorphin addict. Without a frequent release of them into my bloodstream, I find that I am not able to function properly. My creativity suffers, and my ability to come up with original ideas and build new things is severely compromised. When that happens, I’m extremely frustrated and unhappy. The lack of any substantial posts in Analog Senses lately is a prime example of that. And I don’t like it one bit.

Some creative people work better when depressed. For them, alcohol, one of the most readily accessible depressors there is, is an essential tool of the trade. They start knocking down whiskies and find that their inner Shakespeares or Dalis crawl a little closer to the surface with each sip, until they’re so totally hammered that they end up passing out on the floor. Misery is the gasoline that fuels their creative fire and keeps their flame burning.

Me? I’m more of a feel-good kind of guy. Not that I don’t appreciate the creative wonders of personal misery, of course. Been there, done that. But I find that my creativity is at its best when I’m feeling upbeat and optimistic about the world. I have always had faith in people. Even now, in such difficult economic and political times, I still do. I still believe our ability to produce great things can redeem us as a species. I still believe some people out there wake up every day and genuinely make the world a better place through their creative work. I refuse to give up on the notion that we can be better, and every day is just another chance to prove it.

But that didn’t change the fact that I had lost my way, and my focus was gone. And here’s why. For the past few months I had given up on my early morning jogging routine. I used to jog for 40-50 minutes every other day on my way to work. It was the perfect way to kickstart the morning, and I found myself more energized and more alert throughout the whole day. But then the cold winter came and I was slightly less inclined to leave my warm, cozy bed and step out into the freezing morning, no matter how badass I may look in running tights, which trust me is A LOT. So, since hypothermia wasn’t a particularly attractive proposition, I quit jogging and started cycling my way to work. The whole way from my place to the university is basically downhill, and I can make it there in under 10 minutes. While this would not isolate me from the cold completely, it presented an acceptable compromise: it allowed me to avoid becoming a popsicle while still getting some kind of exercise (considering that the way back from work is obviously a big-ass uphill battle).

At first the switch seemed to work exactly as planned. I was once again enjoying the simple pleasure of riding my bike and I could stay tucked in bed for a few more precious minutes in the morning. It was a perfect arrangement, or so it appeared. However, after the first couple of weeks went by I started to feel increasingly tired at work. I had lost my focus, my motivation suffered, and procrastination threatened to kill my productivity. It soon became clear that I couldn’t function like that and I had to make some changes. But what could I do?

It still took me some time to figure out what the cause of my apathy was. By pure chance I took to running again during the weekends, trying to make good use of the nice weather that came about on occasion. Without even realizing it my Mondays began to feel better, and I found that I was eager to start the week. However, as the days rolled by I once again struggled, and by Friday I was pretty much dead already. I did not have the energy to go out at night, and I crashed into bed early, just wanting to sleep forever. Then after a good night’s rest I would wake up early on Saturday and force myself to go running, because my body was screaming at me to do it, and once again I felt so much better. I carelessly repeated this whole process again, and again, until I finally saw it: It’s not just that I enjoy running, I actually need it to stay productive.

I’m a running junkie, I know that now. Just as I need, physically need, my cup of coffee in the morning, I cannot function properly without jogging regularly before work. Jogging later in the day will not do the trick, and other forms of exercise fail to alleviate the problem (except for maybe tennis, but that is impossible to arrange in the early morning on a regular basis). Also since I’m currently single, other forms of team exercise suitable for the early hours are not regularly available. A quick examination of the problem, and even the casual observer will agree that jogging is my best option.

Once I accepted my new condition as an addict, it was considerably easier to deal with it. I devised a schedule that would allow ample time for my jogging sessions, while providing the opportunity to ride my bike as well. On alternating days, I would ride my bike to work, carrying my backpack with a change of clothes in it. This bag I would leave at work overnight. On the next day, I would wake up and jog my way to work, where a nice hot shower and fresh, clean clothes would be waiting for me. Repeat as needed. Talk about a win-win scenario.

I’ve been following that schedule for just over two weeks now and I’m already feeling the benefits. I’m once again energized and upbeat, and I’m smiling so much more. My efficiency at work has improved dramatically, too.

I may be over analyzing this, the engineer in me tends to do that. I’ve always paid close attention to the feedback from my body. You see, through self-reflection and analysis we can effect important changes in everything we do. Knowing how the mechanism behind my mood works, for example, gives me an opportunity to act on it. Effectively, it empowers me to course-correct the ship whenever I detect an iceberg ahead. These seemingly small choices, of which we make dozens every day, have a tremendous impact on the quality of our lives. That’s why this kind of self-knowledge is crucial to our well-being.

Listen to your body. Follow its lead, and do what it tells you to do. It is much wiser and much more aware of your needs than you think.