Put on your Uniform

Recently I made a small change that has had a big impact in my life. I started to wear an apron before cooking.

A few months ago I decided to embrace a new habit of packing my own lunches to bring to work. Buying lunch in the neighborhood where I work (DUMBO) can get expensive. I decided if I could save myself a wad of cash by making my own lunch then I could use that money to treat myself to something nice, like an overseas martial arts seminar. Since I use You Need a Budget to track my ‘Dining Out’ and ‘Groceries’ categories I felt confident I could determine if my efforts actually save me money.

I quickly settled on stir-frying chopped vegetables and soy sausages as my go to meal. I also cook a pot of rice. It usually doesn’t take me more than 15 minutes to make myself a meal, which I consider acceptable.

Because I stir-fry so much I started noticing I had splattered oil on a lot of my shirts, which made me feel rather grumpy. So I pushed through this weird aversion I had and started to wear an apron before cooking.

At first I just wanted to protect my clothing, but then I noticed a subtle yet powerful effect that wearing an apron had on my psyche. It made me feel like a chef and got me in the zone of cooking.

I realized that I previously sucked at cooking (I still do, but less) and as I wear my apron I notice myself making improvements and getting more into the mindset of a chef. Let me give some examples.

I used to chop all the ingredients first and then fry everything. Very inefficient. See, I’d actually run out of space on the cutting board that way and then I’d have to manage overflowing ingredients. Plus I’d have to wait longer for everything to fry. Some ingredients take a lot longer to cook thoroughly and by the time those noms had cooked other noms would have overcooked.

I used to stand there bored waiting for everything to cook while absent-mindedly checking my phone and feeling like cooking didn’t interest me and felt too time consuming. Now I’ve realized that ingredients need to go in the wok in a certain order. I can start the oil heating, chop one ingredient, put it in to start cooking, and start chopping the next ingredient. Cooking that way I end up rolling together my frying time and chopping time so the whole operation takes half the time.

I also used to let dishes pile up until after I ate. No longer, I’ve realized the joy of washing while cooking. As soon as I finish with a bowl or the cutting board, or any utensil I can wash it right away. By the time I finish cooking I strive to make it look like the food just magickally appeared out of nowhere.

What does all this have to do with wearing an apron? I think putting on the apron puts me in a certain mindset to succeed at the activity of cooking. I realized that I’ve already had this insight in other areas of my life but failed to generalize it to all activities I participate in.

In my martial arts practice I already have the ritual of putting on my uniform before training. It reinforces to me what I’ve come to do and puts me in the mood to work and improve at my practice. Like superheroes we can benefit from costume changes in order to access our superpowers.

I think with time the uniform becomes a part of us. I don’t stop thinking like a martial artist when I stop wearing my uniform, but I used to. After enough time practicing we can internalize the uniform and we can mentally don the appropriate outfit as the situation requires. Spiderman doesn’t stop being Spiderman when he doesn’t have the suit on, he still has his spidey-senses active at all times.

I look forward to when I will have worn the apron enough to develop my inner apron and then I will see the world as my kitchen.