Old habits die hard. Or do they?
Over one of the many Easter-time bank holidays, a friend of mine visited me in London for a few days. Coming from the country, she’d bought a glossy women’s magazine to occupy her during the journey. I’m not one to buy magazines – so rarely read them. Flicking through her shiny copy of Elle while waiting for my turn in the shower, a page near the back of the magazine held my attention and got me reading the entire article.
Elle health and beauty writer, Amy Lawrenson, shared the ups and downs of her 365 day #runstreak (that’s running 1 continuous mile, everyday) and was determined to continue running.
She wrote about her high points, low points, fastest miles, personal bests and how it has become a habitual part of her day, every day… but what really grabbed my attention was her sense of achievement. Knowing myself to be a competitive goal-driven woman having seen fitter days, I immediately felt this was for me.
But, as was (probably) to be expected due to my post-student attitude-hangover, I simply said, “I bet I could do that” and did nothing about it. I put it off for another day…
I’d gradually slipped deep into an exercise-free zone since leaving University, where I’d trained 6 (very early) mornings a week with the rowing squad and seen the fittest me to have existed since my mid-teens. That routine worked so well because we all knew there’d be 7 of our friends waiting for us at the gym or relying on us to balance the numbers in the boat. Positive peer pressure is one way to view it.
Since then, exercising alone had lost the allure it once had – strangely training with a team made going to the gym alone for the sake of going to the gym seem utterly boring. I needed a goal…
I put it off until July. I’d run out of excuses. I was unable to fit longer work-outs into my schedule while doing an intensive 4-week course, I was in a city I know and feel safe in, had all necessary kit, no distractions and wouldn’t have to pay any money.
So I started running. A mile every day.
That was 6 weeks ago. I’m on day 45 and counting… admittedly, that’s not much of a dent in 365 days, but it’s a start. And I’m enjoying it more each day. It’s not only satisfying my need for an ongoing challenge and a long-term goal, but it’s forcing me to get out in the world and the fresh air; keeping me sane.
But, for all the good it’s doing, is it a habit yet? To be honest, I’m still struggling with the habit part. Some would say it only takes 21 days to create a habit, others might quote 30 days at you (so a recent promotion from Map My Run claims). What a nice idea – do something for three weeks and it’ll be automatic! In fact, there’s no real truth in either. One study claims it takes 66 days to form a permanent habit…
I’m still not sure I believe it’ll only take me another 20 days to make my mile a permanent daily fixture, whether it’ll EVER become as automatic as brushing my teeth… in fact, I’ve never been one for sticking to routines.
I think habit depends very much on the individual (whether you have a so-called “addictive personality”, and what your current circumstances are). But I am determined to make it a lasting feature, even if I have to talk myself into running every single one of the next 320 days…
I reckon actively working towards a clear goal is far more positive for a person’s state of mind than simply forming a habit they don’t engage with mentally and physically. After all, how can you overcome a challenge if it’s not difficult?
Right, well I’m off on today’s run!
(Originally published on Aliljoy.com on 19 August 2014)