Every morning, I wake up at 7:30am, I roll out of bed and a put my running shoes on, which are conveniently located right next to my bed and I go for a 3-5 mile run. I’ve been experimenting with new habits and this is one of them.
What’s interesting about this particular habit is that for a large part of my life, since around middle school, I have unsuccessfully made attempts to build a habit of running.
What did I do to make the habit stick this time?
Change the Motivation, Change the Rewards
I’ve played sports my entire life, and my least favorite part has always been the running drills. Lacrosse was my main sport growing up and I played midfield, so running was a big part of my job.
When I was playing, I didn’t mind running. I could usually push through the pain in my chest and get the job done. But when we had to run for drills, or as punishment I would become visibly, emotionally upset. I hated running for the sake of running.
Knowing that it was good for me, and that it would help my sports career, I constantly tried to run. I would try to choose inspiring environments like running on the beach in my hometown. Didn’t work, I’d give up after a couple weeks. I even tried joining track, made it on the starting sprint team and then quit. I blamed it on an ankle injury but really, it was because I hated being told to run.
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As I got older, the excuses got easier. My knees started hurting and pretty soon, it became all too easy to just say “I can’t run”.
I think part of the problem was that I was always being told to run. Either by someone else or even by myself. I wasn’t running because it brought me value, I ran because I was supposed to.
I’m sure there’s a metaphor for management in there somewhere.
Anyway, fast forward to today, and I’ve run every morning (with planned days off), for the past 2 months or so. My knees are fine and I feel great.
What I realized happened is I changed my rewards.
As I mentioned, running is one of several habits I’m experimenting with now as part of my morning routine with the simple goal of putting myself in the right state mentally and physically for the rest of the day.
Running helps me do that.
I run because it makes me focus on my body instead of my thoughts. I run because it clears my mind. I run because I feel mentally accomplished afterward.
I run because it’s part of something larger. It’s part of my routine. My alarm goes off at 7:30. I get myself out of bed by putting my running shoes on (instead of snoozing). I grab a glass of water from the kitchen and I go outside to run. I run to clear my mind. I clear my mind to give myself perspective so I can reflect and prioritize my focus for the rest of the day.
It’s all one flow and running is just one piece.
Instead of running because I’m told to, to impress other people or even to get in shape, for the first time I’m running to achieve my own simple goal. My goal is to clear my mind.
If you find yourself trying to create a new habit and it just isn’t working, take a hard look at your motivations. Are you doing it because you truly see the value in it? Or is it just something you’re expected to do?
Also realize that there could be unexpected value in a new habit that can truly motivate you. Sure running makes me feel good and it keeps me in shape, but the real value that makes me get up every morning is that I’m running for my mind and it’s part of a larger routine. The rest is an added bonus.