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Fabian Lifestyle Improvement

Once again it is winter, daylight-wise. 

A precise solar calendar of cliff and grassland. Just walk to the same spot every day.

And that means that this camper is once again fighting the Early Bedtime Syndrome. This is no laughing matter, at least for some of us. Nothing degrades the quality of sleep like going to bed too early. What if I could make a lousy two minutes of improvement per day? Just think, an hour per month!

In working on this project, you can't help but appreciate how general this issue is. Once I was biking up Snow Canyon (St. George, UT) and passed a mother who was towing a baby trailer behind her bike. In it was a 25 pound youngster. I kidded her about persisting with this hill-climb over the next year, and getting stronger and stronger as the child gained weight. She smiled and referred to some folk tale (or fable) about carrying a calf when it was young, and continuing with this habit until it was a cow. Five points of extra credit to any reader who knows the name of this fable.

Indeed gradual daily improvement of just about any kind is capable of producing enormous improvements over time. This is an old idea which we all know. In "Rambler #2" (, Samuel Johnson said, " is not sufficiently considered that men more frequently require to be reminded than informed."

But even more than being reminded we need a way for our active Will to act on this principle. Why is it so difficult to move from Platitude to Practice?

A scenery tourist in the Southwest, where the topography is dominated by erosion, would be most admirable if they saw in these "sermons in stone" something more than just eye-candy. If they could see the result of slow, relentless erosive forces, and somehow get inspired enough to incorporate that principle into their daily lives.

Human-sized slot canyons near Socorro, NM.
Not great eye-candy, but there are metaphors here.

Although my battles with the Early Bedtime Syndrome might just be one trivial example from a wide world of examples, it is a near-perfect avatar. Because time is easier to measure than just about anything else, it is easy to detect small tick-tocks of progress; and that means steady encouragement.

Recall the quotes from William James about breaking bad habits: what matters is not the size of your improvements, but rather, the un-interruptibility of your progress. Take baby steps forward if you must; but never take a step backwards.

My title refers to the tactics of Fabius Maximus, the great Roman general. Those with a classical bent might enjoy reading the linked article on Wikipedia, and the classic chapter on Fabius in Plutarch's "Lives." (


edlfrey said…
I thought it might have been an Aesop fable but I checked on-line and did not find it included. It is a Greek fable however about Milo of Croton, a 6th-century BC wrestler who enjoyed a brilliant wrestling career and won many victories in the most important athletic festivals of ancient Greece. The story was told that he had picked up the calf every day and was the able to carry a full grown bull on his shoulders.
Believe it or not, I am so bad at using search engines that I couldn't find the answer. So thank you.

But I'm afraid you were slow to the (Jeopardy) buzzer. Another reader scooped you by a couple hours, so I'm afraid that he/she won the 5 points.
Albireo said…
Whether wilderness hiking when it's 90 degrees Fahrenheit outside (when my two Jack Russell Terriers and I need lots of water) or hiking when it's 40 degrees (when we need much, much less water), I carry three liters of water so I don't have to build muscle strength all over again each summer. Does that fit your notion of un-interruptibility of progress?
Well, you are certainly being steady and consistent!
XXXXX said…
There's another way of looking at this. When you refer to Will and then talk about climbing uphill, it seems so contradictory to the bigger picture, the other thing you mention, the slow ever-changing forces of the planet and life in general.
You base everything on this premise "Nothing degrades the quality of sleep like going to bed too early." (third sentence under the first picture) Since you never question the truth in that, you set up a tunnel vision approach to problem-solving. Undoubtedly you have drawn that conclusion from some previous experience of yours but that doesn't make it universally true.
I certainly can fall asleep early and then wake up in the middle of the night. However, I don't share your toxic opinion of television and find some really good programs on in the middle of the night which I think are lower in popularity than others so that is the time they are scheduled. On public television, lots of documentaries, nature programs, etc. and this is true of other stations as well. I suppose it's harder to be on the computer at that time of night. Anyway, there are times I intentionally do this because that is when a program is on.
Which I think is enough evidence to lend doubt to your statement.
Sometimes in life we don't always have to swim upstream. Sometimes Will isn't the best approach. Sometimes it's pretty darn nice to go with the flow. The geology of the planet will tell you that this is the ultimate winner anyway.
Now George, you are not going to talk me out of my battle against Evil -- early bedtime. I will vanquish it.
XXXXX said…
Well, I know this isn't quite the same subject but fun anyway. The whole notion of Will, Western Philosophy style (of which you seem to be a fan), is but one concept born from that movement that has greatly affected western culture thinking and indoctrination. (Free) Will is one of those concepts and, of course, totally reinforced by the Christian church, whose goal is to convince one that if we exercise our (free) will correctly, we will see the wisdom of their words. Their teachings have been present in the ground up with defining "right" and "wrong" and the formation of government and law itself.
Anyway, my purpose in writing again is to share that you can watch an interesting lecture on youtube, if you want. Query: Sam Harris on Free Will. Sam Harris also wrote "The End of Faith" among other things. His lecture is interesting because it opens up the mind to consider how our Will might have been formed and makes one question exactly how free we really are with the goals that it determines for us. Good stuff.
Good luck with vanquishing your new dragon. :) (and all that happy stuff)

Jim and Gayle said…
"They could see the result of slow, relentless erosive forces, and somehow incorporate that principle into their daily lives."

I see the result of my own daily erosion and it is aggravating.

You were supposed to key on the words 'relentless' and 'slow', rather than on 'erosion.'
Anonymous said…
Have you ever considered astronomy as an evening activity? You are in one of the best areas on the continent to pursue this, with the clearest skies, and a lack of light pollution. You don't need much equipment, a reclining lawn chair, a pair of binoculars and a sleeping bag, all of which I'm certain you have.

Astronomy lends itself well to many philosophical musings!
Say, that's an idea. I wonder about what makes it an activity, though. Memorizing the names of stars in this-or-that constellation doesn't sound interesting to me. Maybe I am overlooking something.
Anonymous said…
It's all about perspective. Memorizing star patterns, or using a chart, gives you the familiarity with the sky, and a way to find objects of interest. Watching the cycles of the planets. Locate Jupiter and watch the four Galilean moons change their pattern within a few hours gives a sense that the sky is not unchanging. (Visible in binoculars). Observe our milky way and realizing that you are looking at a small part of our galaxy. Find Orion, see the nebula around the sword stars and realize that new stars are forming there.

There is a universe of wonder, physics, legend and beauty (gasp) just outside your trailer door.

Now, I'm not talking about the dummy'd down crap that passes for science education these days. I know you just got your library card renewed, try anything by Terence Dickinson if you have the slightest interest.

By the way, I envy your night time temps down there. Looking out my window, it's 4 F.