Warning: this post may be habit forming!
By Martha // Posted 31 January, 2012 in: Minneapolis, Photography
Today is the last day of January. I am happy to say that I have walked every weekday morning this month since January 3 (with only one exception) and most weekend mornings. I never would have thought I had time before work to take a walk, but it turns out it was just a matter of forming the habit, one day (and one step) at a time.
In early December I started reading a blog called Zen Habits by Leo Babauta after a coworker sent me a post by email. I’d been reading it for about a month and had become something of a Zen Habits evangelist when, at the end of 2011, Babauta published what he called “A Compact Guide to Creating the Fitness Habit.” This has been one of my favorite posts on the blog, especially since while I know exercise to be a good thing, I’d never been able to make it a part of my routine beyond the occasional weekend walk, taking the stairs, or through bike-commuting to work. A key part of the piece, given its late-December publication, was its declaration that resolutions never last and are perhaps best avoided:
“Instead of creating a list of resolutions this year, create a new habit.”
I like the idea of giving up on resolutions. “This is going to be the year I ______,” doesn’t ever get me very far. Leo also shared his “top principles” for forming habits:
- Make it social.
- Do one habit at a time only.
- Make it your top priority.
- Enjoy the habit.
I took these to heart and decided to apply them to improving my mornings by taking a walk before work. My old morning routine went something like this: wake up, shower, dress for work, eat breakfast with Tom, say goodbye to Tom at 7:15, read the internet until it was time to leave for work at 8:00. The order of this varied depending on my wake-up time, but the point is, I was reliably wasting 45 minutes staring at a screen (by myself!) each morning.
I chose to modify my morning, rather than my afternoon, based on the idea that this had to be my top priority. I knew that if I aimed to take a walk after work that I would be inclined to make excuses to avoid doing it at the end of the work day. I also wanted to make it easy. This meant that I had to make it hard to not walk. Thus became the new routine: wake up, shower, dress for a walk, eat breakfast with Tom, walk out the door as Tom is also leaving, set a timer on my phone for 10 minutes, walk until the timer goes off, walk back, change into work clothes, leave for work at 8:00. My walk is different from day-to-day. I walk in whatever direction I want. Sometimes there is a “purpose,” e.g. a walk to the store for an item for dinner. Some mornings I walk and talk, which is helping me to kick a *bad* habit—talking on my cellphone on my commute to/from work. Mostly I am walking to walk. Going back and reading Leo’s post again, I realize that this habit is very zen indeed:
“So enjoy the habit change, in the moment, and don’t worry what the outcome of the activity is. The outcome matters very little, if you enjoy the journey.”
During my second week of walking, I started to take pictures on my walk. I’m not lugging a camera around, so they are always on my phone, but this practice adds to my own enjoyment and causes me to be more aware of my surroundings and thus more present, too. Taking photos is also a way to make it social—I’m using Instagram to take and edit my photos and push them to Flickr and sometimes Twitter. There’s no hard rule that every walk has a photo to go with it, but I like the idea that these pictures become a record of my walks—the weather, the light, where I went and when.
I haven’t yet decided if there will be a new habit in February (tomorrow!) or what that might be, though I have a few ideas. One thing’s for sure: my morning walks will continue. I’m hooked.