Warning: this post may be habit forming!

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.


«   »

7 comments on “Warning: this post may be habit forming!”

  1. Linda 1 February, 2012 at 8:06 am

    Martha, I love this blog and I congratulate you on the new habit of walking in the mornings. I am one of the beneficiaries of your conversation via cell phone and I enjoy that too. I also like the photos.

    I share with you a line from a book I am reading: “How you are in anything is how you are in everything.” This quote is from Lisa Oz’s book Us, Transforming Ourselves and the Relationships that Matter Most.

  2. U. Don 1 February, 2012 at 9:05 am


    Wonderful post. If I could only get out my ice covered drive I should do the same. Still Ann and I have returned to the gym.


  3. Trout Caviar 3 February, 2012 at 8:11 am

    That was excellent, Martha. Good for you getting out there and doing it. I always find late January the toughest time for keeping on a regimen. Nice photos, too.

    Y’r ever-lovin’ Uncle Dudley

  4. Hailey 3 February, 2012 at 5:41 pm

    I had been wondering where you were finding all of this time to walk! Enjoying the photos…very impressed by the habit forming!

  5. Alison 9 March, 2012 at 8:20 pm

    Hey Martha,

    Great blog, I just added it to my RSS feed! I’ve been poking around for a bit, your photographs are great and you DIY tricks for around the house are inspiring. I want to make a spice cabinet just like yours!

  6. Frau Haselmayer 20 April, 2012 at 11:56 am

    Awesome idea…I need to get myself out of the house, too!

    Posts linking to this post

  1. Slow writing | MARTHAANDTOM 8 August, 2012 at 9:56 pm

    […] January, I shared my newly formed walking habit with you and wondered what the next habit might be, and how else I might improve my morning routine. I […]

  2. Winter Walking | MARTHAANDTOM 29 January, 2013 at 12:44 pm

    […] year in, and I’m still walking. Sometimes I even bring my “real” camera along. I’m starting a new photography […]

  3. Organizing in Small Bites | MARTHAANDTOM 27 January, 2014 at 4:34 pm

    […] here. While that may be true, it’s still easy to feel guilty for dropping the habit I’d worked to build. To combat that, I try to use the time in other ways. I might knit for 20 minutes, mend a pair of […]