There are a few things today that are scaring me. For one, I’m not nearly as hungover as I feel I should be, and the calm before the storm implies that there’s going to be a fucking great huge storm at some point.
I’m a classy, classy guy.
The Chasers 10th Anniversary dinner was last night, and I’m proud to have joined such an incredible club of liver/leg haters. Wine was drunk, dancing was a thing, and I’m in debt to a casino. The fifth bottle of red was definitely a terrible plan. Drunk me clearly agrees, because he threw it all over my shirt in protest, the belligerent twat.
In doing so, maybe he inadvertently saved me from feeling proper horrendous today. If you do happen to feel like your head is on fire – Chaser or not – then I think it’s only right that you get a fair warning now: things might get a bit weird, because I’m about to try and talk about philosophy. Or psychology. It’s a fine line. Anyway, this is going to be the first post in a mini-series about ideas that drive me, and if possible, how I tie them into the whole ludicrous sports aspect of my life. I’d like to add a disclaimer here that people can find today’s topic a bit off-putting, so please go into it with an open mind: partly because having proof-read this I’m not even sure I understand what I’m getting at, and partly because I’m discussing to me what is a neutral standpoint on behaviour and not, I hope or intend, an insulting one.
Despite having a passing interest in philosophy and deeper meandering – a trait that I feel is probably shared by many depressives – I never really engaged with it until the post-Maytree therapy phase of my life. My therapist, a very wise man who I’ve probably mentioned, would often throw out a number of philosophical concepts to challenge my views that everything was, well, a bit shit. Life was shit, people were shit, I was shit, society was shit. There was anti-natalism involved – feel free to look that up yourselves if you’d like to read about some really aberrant world views. There’s little I can or want to say on the subject other than I was in a pretty dark place at the time, and I by and large I would no longer consider myself an anti-natalist.
‘Discovering’ philosophy, largely through Michael running metaphorical rings around my very narrow world views with it, was a bit of a revelation. I got engrossed pretty quickly, and would scurry off to buy a few more of the classic works every now and again, around the general themes of existentialism and morality. I can’t remember at which point I stumbled on Psychological Egoism, but it’s become my go-to explainer for behaviour.
Psychological Egoism, as understood by me, basically means that everything you will ever do is a selfish act. Cheery, eh? Don’t worry, it’s (hopefully) not as teen wangsty as it might sound at first. The self will always act in a way in which it perceives the largest possible reward to be gained, but said reward isn’t necessarily always in the form of a private yacht that sails on the tears of your fellow man that lies trod under your uncaring boot, you monster.
This applies to all acts, altruistic or otherwise. Just as someone might steal food from another if they are hungry, someone could also volunteer to do charity work because it fulfills a mental or emotional need for them, not because of the effect said charity would have on the end recipient(s) of their goodwill. Using one of the most oft-touted psychological concepts, Maslow’s hierarchy, they’ve stopped addressing physiological needs and moved on to esteem/self-actualisation – but it’s still very much their needs that are primarily being addressed. I don’t believe in ‘true’ empathy – you can understand people to a point, but you will never be in another person’s head, and even if you were, you wouldn’t be able to process their experiences in the same way. As such you’re only ever taking your best guess at other people’s actions (this is a self-defeating statement, admittedly), so you can never be 100% sure that the wonderful thing your doing will actually benefit another person in the way you intend, so you’re doing it based on your own motivations and not the unsure outcome. Something like that. It makes more sense in my head than written out, which is possibly the only thing ever to exist in that state.
So, everyone’s a selfish wanker then? Well, not quite. The part where it gets less miserable to me is when, accepting that every possible action will be driven by self-service, you can take the concept of selfishness and strip all moral implications from it. Using the same charity example, you can say what is being practised is a form of what I’d refer to as benevolent selfishness: done for selfish reasons, yes, but also done in a manner that benefits others.
I could probably go on to explain this in a more coherent manner (or with any coherence at all), but there’s actually a Pilates class tonight I’d like to attend and there’s some actual things I’d like to address at some point in the next few paragraphs, so it’d be really super helpful to not moan on forever. Yes, Pilates, uni lads. I know, I’ve changed; and here, you thought the rampant alcoholism this post started with might be a return to form.
Understanding the idea of Psychological Egoism has massively helped me in understanding myself and my own actions. Critical self-examination is a large part of my thought process that seems, in retrospect, to have missing or wayward for a great many years. Depression’s horrible habit of popping up every so often to remind you of every wrong choice you’ve ever made – super fun past-time – becomes a lot easier to cope with when you can finally look at those choices and see the self-serving reasoning behind you being a fucking idiot, and rather key, you can forgive yourself for these because you have a better concept of mental and emotional needs as well as physical, and you know you’re only acting in the same self-serving way as any other reasonable person. Again, benevolent selfishness; I’m not saying that calling everyone self-serving is saying you’re all Ebenezer Scrooge.
Particularly in individual sports rather than team sports, I think you need to tackle, at some point, the fact that it’s largely a selfish pursuit. I will be using the Ironman to try and raise some money and awareness for Maytree, buts let’s be perfectly honest: this decision was only finalised after I’d already entered. It is more about me doing something for me, to satisfy my own need to punish my aching and weary body and feel achievement for having done so. I’ll be racing it alone, the performance will be my own, and the plaudits (assuming I finish the damn thing, which is still a long way off) will be too.
Having dabbled in a number of both team-based and individual sports, there’s definitely a different feel to team sports, because they involve the art of sacrificing your own performance to benefit the team as a whole. Key example: rotating the lead rider in a peloton so the other riders can all draft, making their life easier and allowing the team to move faster for less energy as a result. Triathlon? No drafting (not that I’ve ever seen this very firmly enforced at any one race, mind). It’s all about you. You don’t have a teammate to tag in on the day when things get really tough, so it’s important that I have faith in my own ability to do this thing.
When I used to train a little bit of Muay Thai and MMA, there was the implicit understanding that you had to be there to train solely for you. Those guys in the gym with you? At some point, if you want to get better, you’re going to need to get used to the idea of trying to hurt them in sparring, because that’s how you learn and improve. The team thing only goes so far. When it comes down to it, you or performance and yours only is what matters. Being honest, I never really got my head around this at the time, which is probably why I never went far with either of those two sports.
The cliche that triathlons are all narcissists rings pretty true in my case, I am finding, and moreso the more I am focusing on the Ironman. I think you need to be a little bit self-involved to put yourself through such a venture, and that is totally okay. Ain’t nothing wrong with a bit of pride. The trick will be trying not to become a complete antisocial hermit recluse (or more of one) in the run up to the event, but hey – I have a great club (or two) behind me. I think I’ll be okay.
I like to think now that, with a better understanding of myself and the world framed through ideas like Psychological Egoism, that I’m better placed to compete as an individual. In team sports I never had the trust in myself to really be of much help, because I would pass too much of the burden into my team thinking I wasn’t capable. These days, I feel far more complete and confident. As with all things, there is still room for improvement, but a simple change in how I understand the world and people has done wonders for my outlook.
Also, part of the reason I’m doing this is to raise funds and awareness for The Maytree Respite Centre, a small charity in North London that provides support for people going through a suicidal crisis – so if you’d like to support my fundraising efforts, please click here. Thanks so much!