I’ve done my fair share of exercise in the past, and for lots of different reasons: it gives me a chance to spend time with friends, I need a distraction, I need to fit into a dress for a wedding, I want to be able to eat and drink more, I need the college credit, etc.
Here’s one thing that I’ve never claimed as a reason: I like it.
Some people bike/run/climb/play because they genuinely enjoy it and want it to be a big part of their lives, but that’s never been true for me. Especially since I broke my teeth when I was running last fall. Now I don’t just not enjoy exercise, I’m genuinely terrified that it’s going to be the end of me.
On the other hand, I’m well past the age when I can get away with doing nothing. Doing nothing puts me on a direct path to mommy jeans and a subscription to Good Housekeeping.
So this spring, I set out to create a new habit: regular exercise. I’m very goal oriented: run a marathon, run to Bristol, lose ten pounds, whatever. But at the end of a goal, I always consider myself “finished” and take six months off before I start the next thing. This time, I decided to dedicate myself to just doing something every day. It turns out there is research on how long it takes to create a habit: about 66 days. So I made a chart (love making checkmarks on charts) and got started.
I did lots of different kinds of exercise, sometimes with friends and sometimes on my own. Sometimes with John, who is quite the task master. I got up early, or stayed up late. Skipped lunch. Brought my silly resistance bands with me to Charlotte, Seattle, Fargo, Pittsburgh, Boston and everywhere else. I got up to 71 consecutive days. No cheating, no waffling, no cutting corners.
And guess what: it didn’t work. Last week in Boston, after a long day in the city and an evening at the emergency room (everything is fine now), I just got up in the morning and knew I wasn’t going to do it. No exercise today. And I went ahead and took the next five days off as well.
A habit is defined as an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary. Although I’m back on the exercise wagon now, it is a long, long (long!) way from an involuntary behavior pattern. Every day, I have to remind myself that this is good for me, it’s the smart thing to do, and no, I wouldn’t be better off just eating a grilled cheese. Sometimes I get tired of hearing myself.
I went back and reviewed the research, and it does say that some habits — ones that you don’t take to naturally — are harder to create than others. Clearly, exercise falls into that category to me. But I’m going to give it another 60 days and see where I end up. Onward.
P.S. If you’re about my age, and especially if you went to Randolph Junior High with me, the title of this post is making you think of awkward dances, Polo cologne, and this song. You’re welcome!