On the Trials of Conscientiousness

So the juice fast I attempted today failed rather spectacularly. From today until the end of 2011, I was supposed to detoxify my system by taking in nothing except copious amounts of apple juice. Midway through the morning, however, a splitting headache induced me to eat a banana—which was eventually joined by another banana, then a roll of bread, then some soup, then some milk, and then finally, a chaste dinner.

I’m notorious for these inappropriately-timed detoxification efforts. Twice in the last five years, I’ve done the first phase of the South Beach Diet during the holiday season to the bewilderment, disbelief and horror of family and friends alike. In all cases, it’s never really about being healthy (I teeter between being normal to underweight for my height), and all about attaining an ideal.

(I’ve sacrificed years of my life to these ideals and shed copious amounts of tears and blood. I completed a four-year rigorously mathematical college degree, a six-month bruising mountaineering boot camp, a week-long scuba diving crash course and a year-long salad diet—among other things—not because I needed these things or even remotely enjoyed them, but because they represented the attainment of some ideal.)

Of course, my masochistic tendencies in the foregoing can be largely explained by the fact that I’m highly “conscientious”—a major personality trait characterized by orderliness on the one hand and industriousness on the other. In other words, I have a deep-seated psychological inclination towards accomplishing things and towards accomplishing them methodically, ruthlessly and systematically—even if I end up punishing myself in the process. I don’t particularly regret being this way, and I certainly don’t regret the results I got in my teens and my twenties for being this way, but it’s starting to get just a little bit…tiring now that I’m in my fourth decade of existence.

Which is probably why when my fast-induced migraine started today, I obediently went to the dining room and got myself a piece of fruit. Few people will probably mark an act like that as a landmark event—but for me it was staggeringly momentous. To actually obey the dictates of my body over the dictates of my mind is an act of defiance that subverts two decades of conditioning.

Of course, it will probably take several months of struggling before I find a happy balance between being disciplined in my behavior (which does make me happy in a perverse kind of way) and being sensitive to my needs. And as with many other things I’ve discovered this year, I’ll trust that all it’ll take is a whole lot of practice.



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