On June 2nd I ran 1.31 miles. It took me 14 minutes and 30 seconds with an average pace of 11:05 miles/minute, and when I stopped I thought that I might die. With that experience behind me, I decided to set a somewhat conservative but attainable goal of being able to run a 10k (6.2 miles) by the beginning of August.
On June 26th, I ran that 10k in a little over an hour with an average pace of 11:03 minutes/mile, and when I stopped I felt phenomenal – I even half danced the rest of the way home.
Reaching my goal, especially in less than half the amount of time I had planned, felt amazing. Fantastic, in fact. And in getting there, I’ve learned some things about establishing habits and routines that started in an effort to get in better shape, but that I now see can be applied to pretty much any part of responsible adulting. So here’s what I’ve learned (part one):
This is by far, without question, the most important thing that I have learned, and interestingly enough I’ve had someone teach it to me before. A few years ago my family was talking to my aunt about how she manages to maintain a daily workout schedule where the rest of us had failed. “Do it every day,” she said. At the time that seemed obviously and completely unhelpful – if I could get myself to do it every day this wouldn’t be a problem! But now I not only understand exactly what she meant, I also know that she was right.
It seems to me that most unsuccessful regular workout attempts end the same way: we commit for a week or two, manage to regularly go for a run or hit the gym or whatever we want to do, but then one day we wake up late or have extra work to do or get sick or even just feel lazy and we decide to skip a day. And that’s where the problem starts.
Once you make an excuse for something – even just once, that suddenly becomes an acceptable reason to skip out on what you know you should be doing. And if it’s ok to skip the gym for a day because you didn’t sleep much last night and want to take a nap, then certainly it’s ok if you have a lot of work to do and want to be able to go to bed at a reasonable time. And it just keeps expanding from there. You keep coming up with excuses, day after day, until eventually it’s been a week, two weeks, a month – and then you’ve completely forgotten you were ever trying to establish a routine at all. You tell yourself you’re too busy right now anyway, or too sick, or too whatever, and you’ll start once you have more free time or you feel better, etc, etc. The point is, once you stop you won’t start again for a while. And that’s the problem.
So that’s why I say no excuses. Don’t let yourself get out of it, not even once, because things will only go downhill from there. Tired? Exercise will help wake you up – go do it anyway. Got lots to do? Try working through some of the things you need to get done in your mind while you exercise. (For example, think through an outline of the report you need to write or try to solve a problem you’re having a work.) Alternatively, shorten your usual routine a bit so it takes less time but you still get it done. Have a previous commitment at the time you normally work out? Wake up early, stay up late, go during lunch – it doesn’t matter, just DO IT. Because one excuse is not just one excuse – it’s a mindset that excuses are ok, and that’s going to be what stops you.
(Note: Obviously there are exceptions to this rule. If you have an injury or serious illness that would make it medically inadvisable for you to work out, take some time off. Not working out now is better than not being able to work out later. But ONLY as long as you need. Then take it slowly when you get back into it to make sure you don’t relapse.)