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September 09, 2003

One Habit of an At-Least-Moderately Effective Person

Sorry about the lull here folks. I'm hoping that was the big climactic lull, capping off the series of lulls in August.

I didn't plan to have a big gap in my posts here. It's not that I've been inactive over the past 10 days, it's more that I've had a strange sort of writer's block. I've been filled to bursting with stuff to say, but just haven't been finding the right times and opportunities to get it out effectively. I'm hoping this is my big comeback, and that I'll be back on track now, blogwise. Actually, I hope to pick up the pace a bit. I've got a lot I want to say right about now.

I haven't been slacking on all fronts, though. I've posted probably 40 or 50 entries at the Little Brown Reader over the past several days, and a few actions at E-Actions for Freedom. And I've done lots of other ordinary stuff -- working, cleaning, that sort of thing. I've also been running -- all but two days of the last seventeen, I've jogged between 3 and 4 miles. And no ordinary miles -- dirt-and-gravel road and cross-country trail miles, with bumps and hills and so forth. If I sound proud of myself about that feat, it's because I am proud. That's the most consistent and hardcore physical fitness accomplishment I've had in a long time, if ever. The only competitor would be my short time on the cross country running team in high school.

I started running/jogging again with some regularity about two years ago, but I hadn't been able to get and stay locked into it yet. I think I've pushed myself past the hump this time. I went 11 days in a row of 3 miles or more before taking a break, and it was kind of out of nowhere, really. On that day off, I went on a hardcore hike instead, which was at least as exhausting as my normal run, if not moreso. (I hope to put together a little pictorial from that hike, actually, because it sprang from a fairly intense thing -- a forest fire -- that happened near my house recently. Crews had worked through the night to put it out, and I went adventuring the next day to see what had gone down there.) After that day, I went back to the daily jogs, and have been back on that routine until yesterday, when the monthly NCLP meeting ate the portion of the day that I usually run. I could have done an evening run, but I decided to treat myself to the break. This regimen is putting my body through all sorts of strains, and I don't want to push it too far.

I'm not talking about my running to brag -- it's intended to inspire, if anything. It feels awesome to be getting such a tremendous amount of exercise. I've always been a pretty fit person -- or at least, I've always been generally slim and physically energetic -- but I haven't been what I would consider athletic, or really fit in the true sense of the word -- probably not since yon high school cross country team days. And in the time between then and now, I haven't been the kindest to my body, or wisest in terms of doing right by my health and fitness. Obviously, I'm working to turn that around. Jogging is just one part of it, but in a way, it represents sort of an axis. Put simply, it's damn hard to be running 3 miles every day and not be otherwise conducting oneself healthily. The fact that I've been able to do it shows me that I'm doing OK in the rest of my health as well. And that's sort of the challenge that the whole effort presents to me -- not so much the triumph of being able to run that far, but the triumph of being healthy and fit enough to run that far, day after day. I'm not aceing the test just yet, but I'm passing it with a respectable margin I think, and that's good to know, as I ease into my thirties. (I suspect others who are easing toward or into their thirties know why I'm saying that -- the late 20s/early 30s period seems to be the body's first round of trying to "get old".)

If you don't eat right, or if you aren't getting enough fluids, or enough sleep, or if you do something that exacts major punishment on your system (like smoking or hard drugs), or whatever, you won't be able to keep up a fitness regime of that level, at least not for long. The flipside of that is that if you commit yourself to getting hardcore about exercise, in whatever way suits you (it might not be running), you are going to have to shape up in the other arenas, if you haven't. Being overweight, or smoking, or not eating enough -- whatever it is, if you're doing something you shouldn't be doing, healthwise, and you commit yourself to getting hardcore about exercise, the bad habit is going to have to take a hike.

I'm not saying that to demotivate you (you, the theoretical person out there who wants to ramp up your healthiness) -- I don't mean to present a warning, but instead an opportunity. The opportunity is that if you have an unhealthy habit that you've had a hard time getting away from, you could come at it from a different angle. It can be hard to stop doing something that you're used to, and habits by nature are activities which provide some sort of satisfaction or enjoyment, on some level -- or else why would we do them so often as to become habits? So trying to quit the habit by the head-on method might not work -- it obviously doesn't for the millions of folks who actively and knowingly have bad health habits, myself included. However, picking up a new, good habit is considerably easier -- whether it's going swimming once a week, or taking a long walk every evening, or whatever.

Chances are you can find an exercise-based activity that gives you ancilliary enjoyment. Swimming is fun, running is calming, biking can lead to cool journeys, etc. If you can't find an exercise activity you enjoy, you probably aren't looking hard enough. So then you can find something you like, or a mix of things, and decide to do it once a week, or every other day, or however often, for whatever amount of time or distance -- and commit to increasing your effort as time goes on. I started my new running career by taking walks with my dog to the end of my road and back. At first I would run down the first big downhill part, and then walk the rest. Then I would run a little farther, and walk the rest. And so on. After a while it got to where I could get to this one point (about a mile down the road), but there was a big hill after that, and I would switch to walking, knowing I couldn't make it up that hill in the shape I was in. I stuck with that for a while, where I would just make a token few steps up the hill and then cop out to walking. This was a long time ago now, when I was just starting to get fit, and I couldn't imagine continuing running up that hill. Then one time I just decided not to stop jogging -- that I would keep putting one foot in front of the other as long as it was physically possible for me to do so. And just like that, I plugged my way up that hill, and kept going once I got to the top, another half-mile until the end of my road. And each time after that, the running portion went the whole 1.5 miles to the end of the road. Then I started doing the same thing with the return trip, and eventually I was running a 3 mile round trip.

It was that first threshold though -- that hill after one mile -- that was the big one. That was where I got over the idea that the limit was reliant principally on my physical capacity -- that I "couldn't" keep going up that hill, as tired as I already was. Basically, it was the moment where I had to choose whether I was serious about my effort to get into the new habit, or not. It took a whole lot longer for me to get to the point where I could keep running up that one hill than it did for me to get from that threshold to running 6 miles at one time (only one time, so far ;-)). Now I know that if I wanted to, I could train for and run in a marathon -- and I probably will, in due time. For now, I'm going to keep at the lap around my "block" that I do now until it's easy, day after day. Then I'll probably double it, or I'll speed it up. I'm going to add pull-ups and sit-ups into the mix soon too... but I'm getting ahead of myself. I should sign off for now, or I might never get this entry posted.

(Apologies to Stephen Covey for butchering his concept in my cheesy entry title.)

Posted by Lance Brown at September 9, 2003 11:57 PM | TrackBack

The author's experience relates closely to mine. I have continued to believe, and explain myself that jogging is a good habit for health. However, I could never continue it for long. Today I feel I can. Thanks to Lance.( I am in my late 20's and one driving force to consider regular jogging is that I could feel that I am beginning to "get old". And I wanna stay as young as I can.

Posted by: Pankaj Bhagat at December 2, 2003 07:09 AM
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