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Do (Almost) Nothing
I have just completed my first run of week 8 in the Couch to 5k programme. I can now jog for 28 minutes without pause, and I have never been able to do this before in my life. Just 8 weeks ago, I could barely manage a minute. How did this happen? Here’s my story from a few years ago…
I rose, bleary-eyed at 5:20. Optimistically, I’d set my alarm for 4:30. I knew it was optimistic. I didn’t beat myself up for “sleeping in”. Beating yourself up gets you nowhere. So does riding a bicycle on a turbo-trainer indoors, but that’s a much better kind of nowhere. So I headed for the bicycle and set my tea-timer for a strong brew (4 minutes). I turned my trusted La Pavoni on and climbed onto my Cannondale and spun the wheels at a low resistance until the tea timer went off.
That’s it? Four minutes? Call that exercise? Yes. For a sedentary man, this is enough, to begin with. Crazy is what I did decades ago; after a period of sloth, I’d throw myself into an intensive exercise session and then spend a week broken and forget about exercise for a while. If you want something to stick, reduce the resistance. Make it impossible to sensibly avoid.
My target for tomorrow morning is the same. 4 minutes. I don’t care how comfortable I feel at the end of the four minutes. This is not about ramping up. It’s about building a valuable habit. When the habit is fixed, I can increase the duration. The habit is all that counts. We are creatures of habit. We walk without thinking. We talk without thinking, hell, we often work without thinking. We use patterns of patter, muscle memories and ways of working. When I exercise as casually as I brush my teeth, I can up the duration. That will work.
There is almost nothing this idea can’t apply to. Want to save money? Commit to putting away one pound a day. Can’t afford that? No problem. Commit to putting away a penny a day. Make it a conscious routine to say you’re going to save some money when you’re putting that penny away. Save it. Every day. Same time. Set the alarm on your phone. Before you know it, it will be fun, and you will find ways of saving more. In the same way that for a smoker, a sneaky extra cigarette feels naughty, but nice, so will exercise, so will saving.
Want to be happy? Make a habit of smiling at people for no reason at all. Obviously don’t be a creep about it. That should go without saying. Don’t stand outside someone’s window smiling. That’s not happy, that’s erm, against the law I think. Just think about smiling with someone genuinely, warmly, the next time you speak with them, no matter who. When you are asked how you are, don’t search your feelings, announce your feelings to yourself and to your conversation partner. Respond with “I’m great!” or “Fantastic” or “Very well, thank you!”. Pretty soon, you will feel great. You will feel fantastic. You will feel very well, thank you! Before you know it, you will be a happy person. Works for me, and I was the most miserable bastard the world has ever known. Ask my friends. I was funny, but I was miserable. I was kind, but I was miserable. I was generous, but I was miserable. I didn’t want to be miserable. So I announced, on a daily basis, that I was happy. Now I am pleasantly surprised when people say they are inspired by how happy and positive I am. It’s true. I’m positive. I’m happy, but it started with just a smile a day, a response a day.
Valleys don’t form out of rock overnight. Drops of water do that over aeons of time. One drop doesn’t make the valley, but it is drops that do that. And the drops become a torrent becomes a river becomes carver of majestic, sweeping valleys.
You can’t climb Everest in a single bound, standing in the foothills of the Himalayas. But you bloody well can climb Everest if you really want to!. You learn to climb. One step at a time. And one day, like me, you are at the peak, every fibre of your being humming with gratitude for the journey you committed to taking, one tiny step at a time.