The Fragility of Good Habits


I wrote a post recently about Michael Caulfield’s book on health and fitness and mentioned that his ideas on physical fitness, particularly on the need to push yourself, had changed my own exercise routine.  Instead of going on my 3 1/2-mile walk, which I really enjoy, I switched over to do more intense sessions on our exercise bike.  After a week or so of this routine I realized that my knees were killing​ me.  I was going up the stairs like an old lady.  (Nothing against old ladies–I’m going to be one myself someday!)

The takeaway:  The new routine wasn’t working for me.  I had interrupted my old habit of getting out at least four times a week, and now I discovered that it was very difficult to get it started up again.  I found myself making excuses, mainly “one day won’t matter” and “I love my walks so much I’ll never abandon them.”  (Gretchen Rubin calls these excuses “loopholes”; be sure to listen to her and her sister’s latest podcast,  as they discuss some of these very issues.)  It was surprisingly easy to decide not to go just this once.  And pretty soon a couple of weeks had gone by.  Last week was so busy and so frantic that I gave myself permission to skip any exercise at all, including the dreaded pushups, figuring that hey, I was getting puh-lenty of exercise just running around the kitchen getting things ready for the reception, and going to extra rehearsals, and performing in three concerts in a row​, so why wear myself out by doing even more?  But the thing is, as we all know, the exercise makes it possible to do the work.  I’ve noticed a marked increase in energy in stressful situations since I’ve been faithful about my walks.  (Cutting sugar down/out surely hasn’t hurt either.)  I don’t get nearly as exhausted as I used to in the midst of big preparations.  But the stamina comes from the faithful behind-the-scenes work; Anne Ortlund would call this hidden effort the keel.

So this morning I got back on my walk, and even though there was a cold breeze and my ears felt as if they were going to fall off, I enjoyed it and feel energized as I sit here.  Tomorrow morning I need to get back into the floor exercises.  Stick to what works for you, not for somebody else–that’s the main takeaway about this whole sequence of events.  I can thankfully report that my knees are back to normal and so am I.

Have you ever taken well-intentioned advice that didn’t work for you?  Did that non-workable advice derail you from a good habit?

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