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I Tried to Become a Better Person in Seven Days

My approach was simple: try one new mind-body challenge every day for a week. Like any worthy experiment it involved dumpsters, bleach, shame, swordfighting, and diarrhea.

by Zac Thompson
Aug 14 2016, 4:00am

Yes, I searched for self-improvement in a dumpster. All photos by the author

This article originally appeared on VICE Canada

I'm a pale shadow of the person I can be and I'm tired of it. I'm tired of being an asshole and I know I could be a role model if I can just improve myself. Role models are often called better people and better people are complex, skilled, easygoing, beautiful, healthy, and resilient. I am none of these things.

At a loss, I turned to the internet, which is full of articles instructing you on how to be a better person. Most examples I found seemed too long, too tenuous, or too complicated for me. Plus, they all said the same thing: being a better person was a state of mind. Changing my state of mind seemed slow and tedious. I wasn't willing to commit a lot of time. I had been a disingenuous asshole as long as I can remember, so this was going to take a lot of effort. There had to be a better way.

I decided to fast-track the process with my own methods. My approach was simple: try one new thing every day for a week. For this to work, my seven things had to be purposefully weird. It was important to me to step outside my comfort zone. These seven daily adventures were designed to challenge both my mind and body in strange new ways. I thought enduring the diarrhea, teasing, and shame would surely reward me with personal transcendence.

I was wrong.

Monday:

I read that embracing change would make me a more successful person. If you ever wondered how long it takes to embrace change, the answer is simple: three hours. At least that's how long it took me to completely alter my appearance by shaving my beard and bleaching my hair.

I was afraid to do this. I have body image issues. Even though I'm slim-ish my stupid brain tells me I'm fat. I was terrified to see my face under my beard. After five minutes with an electric razor I was feeling good. My neck bloomed with blood from a dull razor and lack of shaving cream. Once the pain subsided, I couldn't help but smile at the smooth baby boy staring back at me in the mirror.

Hello, Slim Shady

Goodbye, beard

The bleach was another story. Bleaching my hair was like rinsing my scalp in napalm. It smelt like it too. As I was showering it out, my hair felt like it was matted with bubblegum. The entire process was awful and left my already thin hair feeling delicate and ready to fall out.

Thanks to my new appearance people routinely mistake me for someone else, calling me Bieber, Malfoy, you name it. So it worked, I was already more successful and well on my way to becoming a better person.

What did I learn?

  • If your bleached hair feels like bubblegum you're doing it right.
  • If you are blonde people call you Malfoy, Blondie, Super Saiyan, and Slim Shady.
  • Embracing change should be called embracing ridicule.
  • Bleaching your hair makes your hair weak but your mind strong.

Tuesday:

Research told me that learning a new skill would take the limits off my life and open me up to lifelong learning. I searched high and low for a new skill. I couldn't be some Joe Schmoe playing piano, strumming guitar, or juggling fire. My skill had to be cooler. It had to be badass.

Enter Broadsword lessons. I figured sword fighting couldn't be that hard. Turns out, if you think that, you're dead wrong. My first lesson covered the basics of two-handed sword combat. My partner was a real showboat asshole named Tim. He took his time to strike me with sharp prods from the point of his sword. We weren't supposed to make contact so I spotted his typical hunk behavior from a mile away. He wasn't using "level one speed" like my instructor encouraged. According to the poster on the wall, level one rested just beneath "deliberately slow" and "walking speed." Despite being locked in glacially slow combat, I was drenched in sweat.

Badassery: a journey

Turns out swordfighting isn't just for men with ponytails. It's a highly impractical skill that takes a lifetime to master. I had taken my first step toward lifelong learning.

What did I learn?

  • Swords are heavier than you think.
  • Using a sword requires incredible rhythm.
  • I am weak and have the rhythm of a sedated child.
  • Broadswords are highly impractical and insanely exhausting.
  • As far as new skills go, it's pretty badass.

Wednesday:

Exercise seems to be a fundamental part of better people. While I too had the desire to improve part of my body, I lacked the will. Not anymore. I was ready to stop looking like Quasimodo and I was ready to suffer for it. I wanted to exercise away the droop in my left eye.

Facerobics were my answer. The strange practise promised to fix my uneven face with a few simple face symmetry exercises. Basically, I had to press my hands into my eyes like goggles and squint harder with one eye than the other. This would activate my "mind-body connection" and my face would fix itself. I shoved my hands into my eyes every hour for two minutes, squinting hard to ensure success.

Turns out putting immense pressure on your face while straining your eyes is painful. Facerobics left my eyes red and raw. I was in pain and my cheekbones were tender. My exercise left my eyes sore, my face red, and my left eye twitching.

I was in pain and from everything I heard that meant the exercise was working! It's a real shame I'll never do facerobics again.

Never again.

What did I learn?

  • Straining your eyes all day isn't good for them.
  • Facerobics exist and work based on the "mind-body principle."
  • The "mind-body principle" is bullshit.
  • I'm fine with looking like Quasimodo.

Thursday:

Since I'm a documented asshole, I thought it was time I repented with a good old fashioned fast. After exhaustive research, I realized fasting quickly delivered results that would make me a better person. Fasting meant having better blood pressure, mental clarity, and would allegedly put me closer to God. If it worked, the process would clean my body and my soul, making me the perfect candidate for a better person.

I challenged myself to go 24 hours with just water and black coffee. To start I had ham, eggs, and a mango smoothie at 7:30 AM. I figured I could get through to dinner without issue and I was wrong. At six hours in, my hands were drenched in sweat.

Fast pregame

I rode into this fast on zero nutritional value and I was feeling it. I zoned out around 4 PM and started planning my dinner. I got about five minutes into the fantasy before realizing my mistake. Fuck.

After walking home in the sun, my fingers had swollen up and my feet were sweating, which was new. I was ready to pass out. 13 hours in, I was irritated, had no ability to focus, and a general lack of interest in anything. I stopped talking and started emanating this acidic smell from my skin and mouth.

Fasting left me less in touch with God than ever. I totally forgot to repent too. Maybe I wasn't becoming a better person after all.

What did I learn?

  • Fasting makes you smell terrible.
  • When you have a terrible diet, fasting is exhausting.
  • It doesn't put you on the mainline to God.
  • But it does make you contemplate your life choices.

Friday:

I was in a real rough place after the fast, and I was hungry. I loved food and I was being too hard on myself. Better people were more forgiving. The only solution was to treat myself to a binge. Better people treat themselves to whatever they want all the time, and I needed this. If I was going to make it to the other side, I needed to know what it was like to live in excess.

I started the morning eating two Tim Hortons breakfast sandwiches and feeling sick. Things were off to a good start. I had an intense bowl of wonton soup for lunch with spicy prawns and peanut chicken. Topped it all off with a nice serving of sticky rice and a beer.

Round one

After a few hours, I ate a bag of cheese rings from 7/11 and my bowels felt like they were going to burst. I made emergency brown in the toilet. At 4 PM I drank two beers and finished my bag of cheesies. After work, I ate an entire pizza and drank more beer. I was starting to feel a little woozy. I had a double shot of espresso to get the toxins flowing again. I took another emergency brown in the toilet. The night ends with pancakes covered in chocolate sauce, Nutella, whipped cream, caramel sauce, and one more emergency brown.

Round ???

Turns out following up a fast with eating as much filth as you can muster definitely makes you live in excess. Excess diarrhea that is. I didn't enjoy my treats but I certainly did forgive myself.

What did I learn?

  • Your stomach shrinks after a fast.
  • I like pizza and beer but it makes me slow.
  • Eating terribly feels great in the moment, but...
  • You can't sweat out the week's poison's with junk.
  • Unless you consider diarrhea poison.

Saturday:

It's estimated that Metro Vancouver throws away 13,000 tonnes of healthy, edible food each year. I've heard dumpster diving could easily be the solution. In an effort to be more conscious, I ventured into Vancouver's alleyways to find something edible for myself and perhaps some baked goods for a food bank.

Locked out

Dumpster diving is hard. I headed out in the early morning on Saturday to rescue good food from the green bins and failed. Every dumpster I approached was locked. I retreated and found this map of unlocked dumpsters in Vancouver. I decided to hit as many locations as I could.

After four hours of sticking my face in horrifying pits of waste, the best things I found were a Friends soundtrack CD, and a box for a pregnancy test. My dreams of eating for free and feeding the homeless had been squashed.

With my first defeat of the entire week, I was more conscious, but I wasn't any better for it. I was never going to be a better person.

What did I learn?

  • Don't look inside pizzeria dumpsters. It is horrifying.
  • Most dumpsters are locked.
  • Dumpsters house lots of bees during the summer.
  • If you're afraid to dumpster dive, fear not, no one cares.

Sunday:

I booked a ninety minute session in a sensory deprivation tank to see if I could reflect on where I went wrong on my journey. I arrived at the Float House and watched this video showing me that "floating" would help me escape stress. The guy at the desk was super mellow and gave me hope. He told me to poop before my float. I was honestly worried about shitting myself.

I pooped and hopped in. The first thing I felt was the scalding touch of salt water against my recently bleached scalp. The pain was only superseded by the fact that I couldn't control the direction of my floating body. My legs kept bumping into the sides and throwing off my float.

No poo zone

My body eventually stabilized, the pain subsided, and everything around me faded. It was intense. My body felt like it was turning backwards in zero gravity. After a few backflips, I was sure I was going to see some insane visions. I didn't, but the whole thing culminated in a feeling of intense peace. I felt like I was dead and I was into it.

Ninety minutes went by in an instant. I climbed out of that sensory deprivation tank with a renewed sense of purpose. Am I a better person? Maybe. I did try a lot of new things and I no longer have to explain this article to anyone. I don't know if I'm any better for it but I'm certainly more interesting.

What did I learn?

  • People often shit themselves in sensory deprivation tanks.
  • Bleached hair and epsom salts don't mix.
  • Reflecting on your week will make you feel dead.

Fast tracking my quest to become a better person was hell. I'm no closer to being a role model but I did learn some things. When approaching life, expectations are your greatest enemy. Behave in a way that surprises yourself and you'll see growth. If you open yourself up to new experiences you'll be better for it. Just don't destroy your bowels in the process.

Follow Zac Thompson on Twitter.

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