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Strokes of Virtue

“Keep the faculty of effort alive in you by a little gratuitous exercise every day. That is, be systematically heroic in little unnecessary points, do every day or two something for no other reason than its difficulty, so that, when the hour of dire need draws nigh, it may find you not unnerved and untrained to stand the test. Asceticism of this sort is like the insurance which a man pays on his house and goods. The tax does him no good at the time, and possibly may never bring him a return. But, if the fire does come, his having paid it will be his salvation from ruin. So with the man who has daily inured himself to habits of concentrated attention, energetic volition, and self-denial in unnecessary things. He will stand like a tower when everything rocks around him, and his softer fellow-mortals are winnowed like chaff in the blast… We are spinning our own fates, good or evil, and never to be undone. Every smallest stroke of virtue or of vice leaves its never-so-little scar.” ― William James, The Principles of Psychology

On Sunday my bride and I walked fifteen miles around Newport, Rhode Island seeing all that we could in the time we had. We might have driven from place-to-place, we might have chosen a ride service. Then again, we might have simply plunged into the many indulgences Newport offers in food and drink and leisure. But we walked instead, burning more calories than we ate, getting out in the crisp and cold air to navigate city streets and coastal boulders alike. We certainly didn’t leave Newport without enjoying some of its many restaurants and bars, but the central part of our experience was walking.

The trick is to keep it going. Keep doing the things that bring us to a place of better fitness, greater resilience, deeper connection and richer experience. Most of us have work to do and commitments to keep that prevent brisk walks about town every day, but we can still carve out the time to do something meaningful each day. We can be actively engaged with the world simply by consistently stepping out into it—further and further with every step.

We are a collection of habits and circumstance, spun around the sun once a year for however long fate gives us. We must rise to meet our better self. To be more resilient in the face of hardship, we must earn it with the things we do each day to be more fit, financially sound, emotionally intelligent, street smart, book smart and with the proper collection of trusted allies. What we do with our time matters deeply, if not to the universe, then surely in how we perceive our place in it.

The quality of our life lies in our compounding habits. To be healthier than we might otherwise have been, we ought to exercise more and eat better. Even writing that I felt the cliché ripple across the keyboard with a shudder, but we know the universal truth in it, don’t we? When we inevitably get sick or have an accident, that resilient and healthy body of ours will make us more likely to rebound than we otherwise might have been. And we know it to be true that good fitness and nutrition habits allow us to be more resistant to things that a weaker body might succumb to.

The power of teams comes into play in how we live, for that which we lack ought to be filled in by having the right team around us, just as we fill in a void that they may have. Without the right partner in my own life, I might have opted for an Uber ride back after the first ten miles, but we pressed on and saw nooks and crannies of the city we wouldn’t have seen otherwise, talking about life all the way, while burning calories and locking in memories we’ll reflect on in future days. The people we row with will either propel us to a better future or sink us. Choose carefully and see just how far you can go together.

Writing this blog every day, I’ve come to see the changes in myself over the last five years. It’s a way to track activity, reflect on what I’ve read or experienced, and to cajole myself beyond complacency. There must be urgency in our days, and the blog is my way of reminding myself to take stock of where I am and get back to it already. I’m surely no ascetic, but I do strive for greater discipline and consistent improvement in all aspects of this brief dance with you. After all, we’re on the same team, aren’t we? Let’s see all that we can in the time we have.

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