On Wanting To Get Back To Good Habits

I don’t know why we humans fall out good habits that we like and make us feel good. But we do.

I’ve listened to people say they need to get back to the gym for years; or back to a certain class, or back to school, or back to not smoking, but always back.

And I went through it myself recently even though I know it doesn’t work. People are awful at going back. I think a big part of it is not wanting to do the same work you’ve already done.

As an example, taking an off-season from running seemed like a good idea because I trained running continually for around a thousand days. I ran summer and winter for two years in a row and then thought I’d take a winter off to work on other strength and fitness.

Coming back to running though I’ve hit pain periods and sticking points that I must have dealt with first time round yet now I’m resentful of them. The first time round seeing my mileage go from 4, to 6, to 9, 12, 17, 21 kilometers was a joy. And I’m most certainly rising through the numbers faster and smarter now but I feel perpetual disappointment when I’m dragging ass at 8k.

It’s like if you wrote something and it got closed unsaved. Despite the fact that you just did it and could not be in a better position to do it faster, better, stronger – you don’t.

We humans hate to waste our labour, ever.

So when we’ve lost progress we tell ourselves we’ll just do the same thing again to get it back but then we don’t. And most insidiously we don’t do anything else either. We know the answer to the nagging feeling, the answer is to go back, so you don’t look for anyway forward.

For me it was my morning routine. I had a really tight, up before the sun and getting shit done morning routine for a long time – honing it for years now – and its only downside was not knowing what to do with myself at 2pm because I’d already done so much and it felt weird to just do more.

And you’d think that the lay off wouldn’t effect it that much. Things should have gone back to the way they were when I was unemployed, like, 2 months ago. But partly it was the dread and trauma of the COVID pandemic just messed me up, no other way to put it, we all had to grieve in the start of these dark holidays. Beyond that though was the feeling that I’d already done this level. I got through my period of unemployment and come out stronger and optimistic. And then I was a few steps into the next level of this metaphoric Mario game and suddenly, nope, first level again with the difficulty cranked. Thanks, I hate it.

Telling myself I was going to get back on the path, back to the same strategies was only bumming me out as I watched myself not do them. I was comparing myself to an idolized version of myself and, of course, feeling like a failure all day.

So I had to think forward. Rather than going to bed thinking tomorrow I’m going to x,y, and z as my morning routine – I started doing them before bed so I’d wake with nothing to do; or rather, nothing to resent not doing.

It created the emotional free space to do something else without getting a mind full of should-do-firsts, and it stops me from self-comparing all day and tracking how far off course I am.

To extrapolate this out for public consumption, my point is if you want to get back to not smoking take up running, if you want to cut back on drinking focus on cooking, something forward, something where it’s okay to be a beginner and see if the consequences can back fill. Because you won’t want to smoke if you’re running, you won’t want to drink a bunch and feel garbagey if you’ve made a delicious healthy meal.

It doesn’t work with books though. I feel like reading but don’t feel like reading what I’m reading so now I’m 1 or 2 chapters into 5 different books.


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