Last year I wrote about my primary takeaways from listening to Arthur Brooks in conversation with Simon Sinek at an event I attended. The conversation, as I outlined in a prior post, was about the way we can heal our divided world by practicing an approach of loving your enemies (to paraphrase the title of Brooks’ book).
At one point in the conversation, Sinek explained what was being asked was for us to change our lifestyle and that in time this approach will become a habit.
Sinek explained, people like to back-plan—we come up with result and then go back to plan how to achieve it. For example, the plan might be “I want to get into shape”. We know what it looks like, perhaps a weight goal or a fitness goal. We start eating differently and going to the gym. The results are slow and often not visible. It’s a process. We can measure certain things. We can look in the mirror. We can look at a scale.
Sinek went on to explain, when you hit that goal you don’t get to stop working at it. You have to do it for the rest of your life, which is something I have thought about many times but never written about.
The concept of achieving goals by working at them forever is daunting—if you think about it that way.
It’s not, if you think about it this way:
If we want to make changes that stick, we have to (following my relentlessly repeated mantra) break the goals down into small pieces, and make one change at a time for the 21 days it takes to form a habit.
Once it becomes a habit, it becomes automatic or part of our routine, and we don’t have to think about it or use up our limited willpower to make it happen. That allows us to deploy our willpower to adding additional changes (one small change at a time).
Piece by piece, we change our lifestyle. We become healthier eaters. We become regular exercisers. We embrace the idea of a healthy lifestyle. We know it’s something we have to stick with, but each of the small changes are habits—they don’t take up the limited bandwidth of our willpower or brainpower. We just do these things automatically.
Eating in a healthful way has not been something that bothers me. I don’t mind missing out on the unhealthy foods I rarely, if ever, eat.
Exercise was more of a challenge. When I started working out 32 years ago, I was doing it because a mentor of mine told me it was an important thing to do.
I got a stationary bike and found it extremely boring. I passed the time by watching TV or by reading.
During the time of year when the weather cooperates, I like to ride my street bike. That weather coincides with the time of year when the sun rises early enough for me to get in a ride before work on many mornings. That kind of riding I love.
All these years later, however, I still don’t particularly like riding my stationary bike. But I am happy to make the time to use it because I enjoy what I read or watch, and I enjoy knowing exercise has helped keep me healthy, and will help me to have a longer healthspan than if I didn’t exercise.
It also helps that bikes aren’t my only form of exercise. I alternate with my treadmill, I lift weights, I play tennis most weeks, and most weeks pre-pandemic I went to a yoga class.
I’m happy about the idea of doing this forever. But mostly I don’t think about it. Exercising every morning is a habit. It’s part of my routine. It’s automatic for me. Just like all of my habits.
How do you feel about making and keeping healthy habits? Please join the conversation with your comments…