If I don’t exercise first thing in the morning, I’m not going to at all.
To squeeze it in before work, I have to hit the road around 5:30 a.m.
And at this point, it’s (mostly) a habit.
Even if I oversleep (which happens), I try again the next day. After about five years of this, it’s just become part of my brain’s settings.
Then last year, we moved. Now on my commute to the gym, I drive past a Starbucks. And every time, I tell myself that one of these days, I’m gonna skip the gym and get a crack-of-dawn coffee instead, sit down for a bit, work on my writing or my art.
One of these days, I tell myself.
Which sounds weird to say, that I need to break my habit of going to the gym, in favor of getting a coffee. It seems backwards. Don’t normal people set a goal to GO to the gym? And here I am, making a goal to NOT go to the gym.
And no, this doesn’t make me some super-in-shape fitness freak. I still have squishy spots, and believe me when I say I do eat All The Things (especially if there’s sugar involved) (…the holidays have been a bad time for this).
It isn’t some crazy inner drive that makes me do this. It’s just … a habit.
That’s the thing about habits. Once you settle into a routine, it just becomes part of you — even the things that, from an objective point of view, seem difficult or uncomfortable. Like going to the gym.
You do it without thinking.
You do it because you’re USED to doing it.
Habits are weird that way. And they’re wonderful that way, too. Because I wasn’t always a morning person; that’s something I taught myself, because it was something I wanted.
Now, to me, it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, first thing in the morning.
But getting a coffee first thing in the morning, taking time to write before work — that was a novel concept.
That was one of those things that made me think, “Man, I wish I could do that someday.”
For months, I thought that.
But that kind of thinking doesn’t actually get anybody anywhere.
Wishing for something, hoping we’ll get around to it eventually, won’t make it happen.
As a stepmom, I’ve seen that in action, too.
For example, a while ago, I’d suggested we start every dinner with Roses and Thorns — each person tells the best part (rose) and worst part (thorn) of their day, plus something kind they did, and something they’re looking forward to.
At first, it was hard. Me being me, I felt bad trying to impose a new rule on everyone. But after a while, it just became something we do.
I realized we’d hit “habit status” a few weeks ago, when I wasn’t home for dinner one night — and my husband and the kids STILL did Roses and Thorns. I hadn’t asked them to remember to do it while I was gone; I hadn’t even checked in afterwards. My husband just mentioned it to me in passing.
Our little practice had become a habit, and carried on a life of its own even when I wasn’t there to prompt it.
That’s why habits are huge. Once they’re established, they carry on a life of their own even when you aren’t 100 percent mentally involved to prompt them.
But they don’t just form on their own. At the beginning, you have to kickstart them.
That’s why finally, a few weeks ago, I made the decision to not oversleep, actually skip the gym, and go to Starbucks to write. I got everything ready the night before, leaving no room for debate or second-guessing this time.
Then in the morning, for a solid 45 minutes, I got to write before heading to work. That’s never happened before.
After months of saying “someday,” I finally did it.
It isn’t a habit yet. And as I continue to set aside a morning or two each week to write instead of work out, realistically I won’t even go to Starbucks every time. (I have a comfy couch at home that also makes an excellent writing spot.)
But I finally took that wish — of writing before work — from the realm of “eventually,” and made it “now.”
It’s a start.
Originally published in The Herald News on Dec. 30, 2018.