The Blessings of a New Habit
By Julie Matheson
One year ago this week, we were on a camping trip through Idaho, Utah and Montana, and I had been annoyingly waking up each day with hives. I knew this, for me, was due to a weak heart. Exercise really isn’t an option for me. I have to do it. I have to keep my heart strong or, as I have learned, I get hives. When my heart is strong, no hives and all is well. It’s a pretty simple equation.
My daily workout, which consisted of jumping rope (5 sets of 100 reps), 30 pushups, five arm exercises, and a 3-minute floor routine doing leg circles, had become erratic. Sometimes I’d skip a day, sometimes two. I love this workout because we travel a lot and I can easily pack a jump rope and gym shoes in any bag. No excuses.
That day I got fed up with my hit or miss allowance on what I wanted to be a habitual, daily routine, and a consistently strong heart. I said, “That’s it! I’m challenging myself to do this workout routine for the next 100 days without missing a day.”
A friend of mine told me about the practice of art whereby you draw the same picture everyday for a set number of days and watch how your relationship to your drawing changes each day. I wanted to do this practice with a workout routine and see how showing up to the same activity each day changes over time.
Only day 59 was iffy, I’ll admit. I was in bed late at night with pajamas on, scratching my head, wondering if I forgot to workout that day. However, I knew I did a long bike ride along the Boise River so I counted it.
The first 100 days went well, so I upped my goal to 200 consecutive days without missing. When I made it through 200 days, the next obvious goal was to go 365 days without missing my workout, which is this week.
What is it about having a goal that makes someone do something they want to do anyway? It defines the desire. It makes it actionable. It makes it describable. And, once I can describe some activity to myself, I can describe it to others, find my commitment to it, and gain support. My husband knew this was my goal, as did my friends. So then they would ask me, “How is your daily workout goal going?” And, my husband could help remind me – “Did you get it done yet?” Then I could proudly report, “I haven’t missed a day.”
In the end, it all added up to more than just the above for me. Here’s what I learned:
1. Commitment feels good. When the timing is right and the goal is clear you can make anything that you really want to do actually happen. Each day builds on the next and consistency feeds itself.
2. Simple and clear is key. It was tempting on strong days to double the routine and do 1000 reps with the jump rope and 60 pushups, but given the real goal was daily consistency I needed to stay steady and not spike it or wear myself out. I needed to stay kind with myself.
3. Get it done early. In the first 100 days I would sometimes workout in the morning and sometimes in the afternoon or evening. I’d fit it in wherever I could. What worked best, however, over the long haul was to work out first thing in the morning. When it’s important, do it first. Check it off the list.
4. Choose a goal that’s exciting to you. It’s better to be propelled by a goal than pushed by a “should” or “fear” or “obligation”. I really wanted to do this. Because I was pulled forward by a positive, clear goal that excited me, I didn’t feel resentful.
5. My very favorite learning is how doing something consistently, like a workout, reveals the subtle variations of my mood and physical ability in how I showed up to it each day. Sometimes my workout felt very long or surprisingly short even though it was the same routine. Turns out, it was actually easier to workout everyday than every other day.
As for the hives issue, it vanished. Another bonus: I feel consistently strong.
Whatever new habits one wants to attempt, the sense of accomplishment bleeds over into everything else that needs to be done. It feels good to set goals and to follow though. One positive outcome leads to others.
Is there any new habit you would like to add to your life? Consider making it a goal over a set number of days, stick with it and see what you learn. Goal setting is purely you committing to you.
What’s next for me? I’m going for year two. And I’m adding a consistent yoga practice to the mix. I’ll report back!
Julie Matheson is a holistic mental health counselor and author. Her new book is now on Amazon
in paperback, Kindle, Audible and in bookstores near you – Lotus Flower Living: A Journaling Practice for Deep Discovery and Lasting Peace: Untangle Your Mind and Heart Once and For All.
You may listen to the Introduction at LotusFlowerLiving.com/book.