Creating Good Habits

One goal I have in mind while taking part in this 30-day blogging challenge is to develop a blogging habit. I’ve always been sporadic when it comes to blogging, and I’d like to make it a more regular thing.

What is a habit?

A settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up

– Oxford English Dictionary

There’s no mention of whether this is a favourable practice or not, because habits can be good or bad.

And just as it’s possible to give up a bad habit, it’s also possible to create good habits (you can create bad habits too if you like, but why you would do that intentionally is another matter!)

How do you create a habit?

I don’t have any scientific data for you here, so I’m just going to write from experience.

Over the last year I have developed a running habit. Running is something that I do regularly, and I feel like it would be hard for me to stop doing it. Running has gone from being a chore that I would do occasionally, to something I enjoy and feel compelled to do regularly.

So how did I do it?

Repeat

I think the most important aspect is regular repetition. When I started, I made myself run 6 days a week without fail. I developed a morning routine and made running a central part of that routine. These days I’m not quite so strict, and might miss a day here and there, but when you start out it’s important to stick to a scrict schedule to make the habit become almost automatic.

That’s why I like the idea of the blogging challenge, as I have to do it every day for thirty days. I’ve also made it part of my routine by having it be the first thing I do in the morning.

Start small

As I mentioned in my original post, when starting out I would just run a short 1.7 mile route. This made it fairly easy to overcome any reluctance to get out there, as I didn’t feel overwhelmed by having to run a long distance. Over time, as the habit forms, you can increase the time you spend on it, or not, it’s up to you.

Writing 250 words a day is a realistic and achievable amount, which doesn’t put me off. (Usually I will end up writing more than that, but that’s ok).

Focus on the benefits

It also helped me to focus on the benefits of the practice. There were days when I really didn’t feel like running, because it was cold outside, or raining, or I was just too tired, but I made myself do it anyway, sticking to the routine, and then for the rest of the day I would focus on the positive feelings I got after a run – increased energy, a feeling of accomplishment, and a gradual sense of improving fitness. Whenever I feel like skipping a run, I think about missing out on those benefits, and it’s usually enough to get me out the door.

For me, some of the benefits of blogging include improving my writing skills, interacting with the art community, and having an outlet to express myself in writing.

One thing at a time

Don’t try to develop more than one habit at a time. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but you’re much more likely to succeed if you nail one habit before trying to create a new one.

Running is already a habit for me, so now I can focus on blogging for a while.

How do I know when it’s a habit?

I’ve heard people say it takes a month of daily repetition to form a habit, but I think that probably varies depending on the activity (hopefully it applies to blogging!)

For me, the key is in the ‘hard to give up’ part of the definition. If you practice daily, eventually it becomes such a part of your routine that you should find it becomes hard to miss a day. You’ll do it automatically, without really having to think about it, just like a smoker reaching for a cigarette, and if you do skip it, you may feel some sort of withdrawal symptoms.

If you find yourself in this situation, congratulations! You’ve developed a good habit. Keep it up! 🙂

Colbert-High-Five

So… what good habits are you going to work on? Leave a comment to let me know.

Learning to Love Running

This is something a bit different. I’ve decided for the time being to turn this site into more of a personal blog and just post about whatever I happen to be thinking about at the time. I’ll still post about art and post my paintings, but it will be interspersed with other stuff too.

I’ll be happy if running and I can grow old together.

~ Haruki Murakami – What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

I’ve recently got into running in a more serious way than ever before.

In the past, I’ve always been a bit sporadic about fitness. I’ve tried many different activities to stay in shape, including martial arts, mountain biking, and sometimes running. But with running, it usually came from a feeling that I was getting out of shape and should do something about it. I’d start with good intentions, and run a few times a week at first maybe, but inevitably I’d get bored, or things would get in the way and after a few weeks I’d find that I just wasn’t motivated to keep it up. Some of my running spates lasted longer than others, and I even ran a half marathon in 2009, but after I’d achieved that goal I pretty much stopped running again straight away. Just a month ago I remember saying to my fiancée that I wasn’t interested at all in running any more.

This time feels different. I’ve been running 6 days a week for the last 3 weeks, and I’m feeling good about it. I’m enjoying it. I’m looking forward to my daily run and starting to feel fitter, more energetic, and even happier.

So what’s changed? (I hear you ask) 🙂

Start Small

To be honest, I’m not 100% sure. I don’t really remember what prompted my decision to start running every day (probably the ususal feeling of sluggishness and that I really ought to be moving around more), but I decided I would start small, and just run a short route (around 1.7 miles) near my house every weekday, and a longer run (whatever distance I felt like) on Saturdays.

I think part of what has kept me from running consistently in the past is that I always tried to do too much too soon. Keeping my daily run pretty short means it doesn’t take very long, so I don’t feel like it’s a huge time commitment, and I can build up my fitness gradually until I feel like running further. After three weeks I’m already noticing that the run is much easier, so I can run faster and I’ll probably start running a bit further soon.

No Tracking

I also used to track my runs with a mobile app so I could see how far I’d run and how fast etc. Now I don’t track my runs any more (except in terms of steps, using the FitBit wristband I got as a gift from WooThemes, the awesome company I work for). Not tracking my runs somehow seems to let me enjoy running more, as I’m not thinking about my speed or distance, or sharing my run on Facebook when I get home 🙂

I tracked my short route once, just to see how far it was, so I know I’m currently running about 1.7 miles every weekday.

Flexibility

Another thing that helps is that I have an awesome job that let’s me work from home (or wherever else I happen to be), and pretty much work whatever hours suit me best. So since I started daily running, I’ve been starting work at 7am, doing a couple of hours, then going for a run around 9am. I love being able to run in the morning, and it breaks up the working day, giving me a mental break as well as a much needed energy boost.

Before I had this level of flexibility, I had tried going running early in the morning, or in the evening after work, but I found it hard to do either of those consistently, especially in winter, when it’s freezing cold, and only light for about 8 hours a day.

Inspiration

I think inspiration is probably the most important factor in doing anything consistently, and sometimes you have to create that inspiration. Just a couple of days after I started running daily, I bought the audiobook Born to Run, and started listening to that while I was running. Listening to stories about ultramarathon runners and some of the science behind how humans evolved into amazingly effective distance runners is very inspiring, and kept me going through over 11 hours worth of daily runs.

I’ve also started reading Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, which is a personal memoir centered around the author’s habit of running every day (like me, he started this practice at the age of 33, something I didn’t realise until I started the book, about 2 weeks after I started running every day!)

I think these books have rekindled a sense of enjoyment in running, so I’m no longer seeing it as something I grudgingly have to do to keep fit, but something I really want to do, and the fitness is just an added bonus.

The Great Outdoors

Finally, perhaps the thing I like most about running, is getting out into nature and seeing the beauty in the world (cheesy, but true). My local running route takes me through a park that overlooks one of Sheffield’s valleys, where I can see for miles into the Peak District, a view that never gets old.

And yesterday I ran another favourite route, about 5km around Damflask reservoir, and had to stop to take a quick photo of the autumnal colours. The photo doesn’t quite do it justice, but how can you not enjoy running with views like this?

damflask-reservoir

 Will it Last?

I can’t say for sure whether I’ll keep this up, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt this way about running before. Somehow, I’ve learned to love it, and I can’t see me giving it up any time soon.

I’ve even entered next year’s Sheffield Half Marathon again, and while my main aim is to enjoy the race, I’m also quietly hoping to get under the 2 hour mark, beating my 2009 time of 2:00:29. I think if I keep up this running habit, it shouldn’t be a problem 🙂