Irregularity

I sat down to write this after dinner, which is when it struck me that I hadn’t posted a blogpost for five whole days. I didn’t even realize it had been that long. After putting off writing on the 26th, I kept telling myself I’d write one the next day, and the day after, and so on, till this evening. Time flies by, and while this blog has meant several things to me, it’s always been a record of time going by. It was bitter to realize I hadn’t recorded time for the last five days.

I’ve been enjoying all this time we’ve been given to be at home. University didn’t figure out an online teaching/learning system to implement for us, so I don’t have classes to attend, which means I’ve genuinely got all 24 hours to myself. I thought I had a routine nailed down, one that included all this writing and researching I’ve wanted to do. I still think I do have a reasonable routine set up for myself, but the consistency part is probably going to take a lot more effort.

One of the things I wanted to do on the blog this year was to ensure that my pieces were more topical. Rather than providing a snapshot of my day, I hoped to pick out a singular theme each day and write longer essays about them. As you may be able to tell, today’s theme is irregularity.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, he explains the 10,000 Hour Rule. That rule [which has since been slightly debunked by studies], states that enough practice can make a master of anyone. The 10,000 hour mark was used as a yardstick. Practice anything for 10,000 hours, and you can perfect it. Of course, the regular caveats, of practicing in a certain method appropriate to your craft apply. Now, the 10,000 hour rule finds itself in various forms in our everyday lives. There are adages about how habits only ever build up over time, and how it is, only with repetition that things feel, well, natural.

I’ve never liked that. My concern stems out of my sheer impatience. I hate having to wait to see tangible results, and being slow and steady with things has never been a trait I possessed. Early memories of this come from UCMAS classes. UCMAS, for the uninitiated, is an abacus program. Learning the abacus improves the speed and accuracy at which you perform basic mathematical operations. I attended those classes for a year (or two – my memory is foggy). Once I learned the basic operations through a few months, my patience began to grow thin. The UCMAS Foundation essentially made us do repetitions and variations of exercises, so the abacus technique really drilled into our heads. After a month of repetition on a particular level, I felt that I had gotten the hang of it. I was applying it reasonably well in class, to good results, but I was very bored of continuing to repeat through the levels. I became cranky, did homework irregularly, using a calculator, when available to complete some incomplete sums – almost feeling a sense of complacency with the skill. I quit UCMAS after that. My parents realized it wasn’t for me. At least, that was the easy way to put it.

I’m irregular with things that require diligent practice too. My piano has been a start/stop endeavour that I’ve recounted the tale of quite often. However, it isn’t exclusively owing to my disillusionment with what I was being taught. It was also because I found it boring to practice the same thing over and over again. Rather, I told myself I found it boring. I knew, and have known for a while, that I’ve wanted to learn the violin, and it felt like I was spending all this time learning the wrong instrument. It felt unnatural. My drive fell, and as my effort dipped, so did all the work I had put in for several years. By 12th, I could play things I heard, because I picked up a new skill with my free time, but my classical training basically deteriorated far enough, that I had to pretty much start from scratch to develop the feeling in my fingers for the piano keys. It’s going to take a while.

These two examples are from different times in my life, although they illustrate the general premise that I’ve had to ultimately let go of things because I’ve been irregular with them. I don’t know what, or how good I would’ve become at Math (I love Math) if I had continued with the abacus, or, where I’d be today had I never stopped my piano lessons. I don’t have regrets today, because I try to live without them, but I find it intriguing that this pattern of irregularity stands out.

A distinct memory of getting into some sense of regularity and habit stems from childhood again. I had this awful habit of biting my nails, which my dad honestly worked hard to get out of me. While my memory of the process is hazy, I do know it took quite a long time. Since then though, I’ve had these neatly trimmed nails because we replaced the biting habit with this cyclical habit of allowing my nails to grow to a particular length, and cutting them immediately after they pass that threshold. It’s almost like an invisible marker line, where I know exactly when I’m due for a cut. Often, thanks to routine and regular repetition, I can tell 3-4 days out that they’ll begin to irritate me in a few days.

Another distinct memory comes from board examinations, where studying irregularly would have cost me in academic results at the time. In Grades 10, 11 and 12, I cannot honestly remember one month where I wasn’t studying seriously for a test or an exam of some kind. While today, with my friends, I often wonder why I took them as seriously as I did (I could have afforded a bit of a break), I do know that I settled into habit then. Especially around the study holidays, when I was the captain of my own ship, the master of my own fate.

On both these occasions, I could see some tangible metric or consequence to a lack of regularity or repetition. For me, it feels like its easier to build routine or habit when there’s a result-oriented process in place. It’s almost tougher to build something into the day-to-day purely because it brings me happiness, or something of the sort.

My workaround has conveniently been to work-in some tangible goals into everything I’m doing, including those hobbies I genuinely just want to enjoy without much pressure. At the moment, it doesn’t feel like it’s adding pressure to any of these activities, but I guess I should let go of some of that.

Build routine for the sake of it, because it’s important.

You know what made me think about all of this? Cleaning the house on the day-to-day. There’s no real result to doing every day, except a cleaner environment to live in – and that’s something the hostel has sort of taught me to be a little more lax about, so to speak. However, a lack of cleaning routine leads to the kind of irregularity that leads to random mess being in places it ought not to be. That’s something I’d like to avoid, and maybe all the trash I throw out is a large metaphor for all the bad, irregular habits I’m shedding.

Or maybe all of this is a thought experiment that will never see the light of day. Only time will tell.

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