Tag Archives: habits

The Learning Power of Habit

One of the keys to exercise improving your fitness is that humans are creatures of habit.

You probably didn’t think much about using the bathroom or preparing coffee or breakfast this morning. Your process for doing any of the above has probably become automatic. You have formed habits that eliminate your need to expend mental energy undergoing any of those tasks.

This is also why projects and complicated tasks can be so mentally tiring. Our minds are just as capable of fatigue as our bodies. When we are not used to doing something to the point of habit, we have to mentally work harder to do it because we have to think through it.

This is one reason why my 20 minute workout is so much easier and faster for me to do than someone else’s 45-60 minute workout, and one reason why if you were to try it you would initially find it more difficult.

I have gotten so accustomed to the exercises I am doing for my separate workouts that I don’t need to put a ton of thought into it during the moment, nor is the challenge of lifting a heavy weight compounded by the relative muscle confusion of having to work through a new, different exercise. This is often what pushes a lot of people away from exercise after a few workouts.

But, is that not harmful, as some fitness experts would say? Won’t that lead to training stagnation from the monotony of the same workout every day?

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New Year’s Resolution To Run: Sticking to a new running habit

people walking on shore

This stock photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com shows a lot of casual runners who were beginners once… probably while wearing shoes and not wearing those shirts, though

The vast majority of New Year’s resolutions fail within three weeks. People fall back to the old habits they’re trying to break, habits built over a lifetime.

I’m not the guru on habits that others are. To learn more about how habits form and can get formed, you may want to read up from others who specialize on the subject.

James Clear just released a great new book on the subject called Atomic Habits, full of actionable advice and tips on how to form and maintain positive habits. Clear’s also written some great articles on the subject that are worth a look.

One of the classics on human habits is Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit, a fascinating narrative of personal cases that revealed how the brain is wired to form and follow habits. Even people who suffer permanent brain damage and lose memory still retain old habits. Definitely worth a look.

That said, a lot of people take up an exercise goal as a resolution. Gyms get their most signups during the New Year. The gyms are crowded for a few weeks, then people flake off.

Ditto the trails on the weekends, as people decide to start running. I won’t go as far as to call the Lakefront Trail “amateur hour” (that’s Wrigleyville during peak drinking hours, to be honest). But there’s a lot of newcomers during the first few weekends in January. Then the pull of old sedentary habits (not to mention intimidation from the cold!) keeps them from coming back once February rolls around.

So you want to start running as your resolution? Or come back to running? You want the habit to stick beyond Martin Luther King Day? Or you decided on a whim to register for a spring race like the Shamrock Shuffle and now you’ve got to train for it?

Here are some ideas that can at least give you a fighting chance of sticking to the habit:

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Ensure your running fitness by building a Running Floor

Finding it hard to keep up with mileage demands? Finding yourself taking days off and skipping workouts?

If you want or need to run, but find much of your workout schedule daunting or find you don’t have the time you want/need to run… the key is to do a little bit of running rather than no running at all.

For example:

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Habits are your true running “motivation”

Yesterday I snuck out and ran a couple of recovery miles, which even the day after a 20 miler is not a terribly big deal to most runners, even if they think you should take a full day off after your longest run.

The run, however, extended a streak: I have run every day since July 30, a streak of 49 days and counting.

I keep a Google Doc log of every run I do, on top of more detailed run logs in Runkeeper.¬†Every single day since 7/30/18 I’ve gone out for a run of at least one mile (my personal minimum for that day’s running to count). No run has been shorter than 1.44 miles, and my average run length has been 5.76 miles. Obviously the longest run was over 20 miles.

Do I feel burned out? Am I nursing any injuries? Have I felt burned out throughout this 49 day run streak? No, no, and no.

Previously, I would run 3-6 days a week, taking complete days off after particularly hard workouts, to varying effect. But I later found that if I just go for a short, easy run of 20-30 minutes on a particularly beat-up day following a hard workout or a series of heavy runs… I found it actually speeds up my recovery. By the next day or the day after I feel recovered and normal again.

Yeah, I’m generally a bit weary, and I do feel a tinge of lingering soreness over several days. But I don’t feel that soreness much when running and it actually passes after a few days, even given I’ve run every single one of those days (including some higher mileage runs or speedwork).

If anything, I think the daily practice of running has strengthened me over time, even if the length of many of these runs wasn’t particularly long. It’s helped carry me through tougher, longer workouts.

I understand the plight of people trying to find their motivation for workouts, because I’ve been there as often as anyone else. In fact, there are a lot of days (including during this streak) where I didn’t really feel like going out and running. But then I went out and ran away, and it was done.

It helps that I’m willing to run in street clothes right after work, that I always wear running shoes that facilitate a run, and thus don’t need to laboriously change into running gear to run like most people. Needing to change clothes to run is definitely a habitual hurdle, and by eliminating it I’ve greased the groove (as Pavel Tsatsouline would say) to more easily keep the habit going every day.

But my biggest step was developing the habit of walking out the door at work and running home (or as reasonably far towards home as I can). It’s not even a big deal anymore. It’s actually become quite easy to log 20-30 miles a week, and all I need to concern myself with is adding mileage here and there.

It’s actually a bigger deal, and in some ways a shock to my body, if I don’t run that day. The hardest part of Chicago Marathon recovery, honestly, may be not running at all for a couple weeks during a mandatory healing period (so yes, my plan is to forcibly end my run streak at 70, the day after the Chicago Marathon).

Every decent book on writing will tell you this: You’re honestly not going to find motivation most of the time, and the key to doing something more often is to build the habit of doing it every day into your daily life.

You don’t have to run out the door at work in your street clothes and run home (though it would certainly help!).

  • You could force yourself out of bed in the morning and run a few times around the block.
  • You could change clothes at work during lunch time, take a few loops around the complex, and change back before pounding a quick lunch.
  • You could join several free fun run groups and run with them every week.
  • You could force yourself to come home from work, immediately change into your gear and go out for a run (this in fact is what I did for the first year or so after I began running seriously again).

In fact, my recent blog posts are admittedly me working on a new desired habit: To write seriously every day about topics I care about, with information I believe can help other people. I used to write a ton, and then stopped for a while. I wanted to seriously write again, so here I am.

Habits, above all else, are how we change our behaviors for the better. We replace old, counterproductive habits with new, productive ones. If you’re looking for motivation, you’re better served looking instead to form new habits that get you to do the things you’re seeking motivation for.

I’ll conclude by pointing you to two excellent resources on the subject of habit forming:

  • Charles Duhigg wrote an excellent book called The Power Of Habit. The book is full of fascinating case studies on how habit formation has shaped all human behavior. You don’t have to be a scientist to understand any of it either. Duhigg’s writing style is very down to Earth and tells a lot of real-life stories.
  • As for more direct understanding and application of good habits I cannot recommend enough the writing of James Clear. His articles are a timeless resource for the subject of self improvement as well as understanding human behavior. Plus, he has just released a new book entitled Atomic Habits. I highly encourage you to at least read through some of his writing, if you haven’t yet. If you like the writing on his site, you’ll almost certainly like his new book.
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