I’m in the business of what you might call habits. Between running the Whole Life Challenge and working as a fitness coach for the last 7 years, you might say my focus is people’s habits – what they are and how to shape them so people get what they want. I’ve been thinking a bit about habits recently and I’ve begun to wonder if habits, as I’ve been thinking of them, really exist.
I guess one of the reasons it’s on my mind is that we put a lot of stock in habits. We want to “have” better ones – healthy habits, work habits, study habits, personal habits – in the hope that for one thing, our lives will be better, and for another that it won’t be so hard to do the things that we think really suck. When we “form them,” we come to rely on them, like they’re doing the hard work for us.
At the same time, no one really prides themselves on being “habitual.” Like, no one ever really said, “Hey, that guy is really interesting – a real creature of habit.” It’s almost like we want to train ourselves to go on auto-pilot for the hard decisions. If we train ourselves, we can hope that habit takes over when decision time comes. But it seems like that’s asking to zonk out during the hard part – “Otto! Take over!” Do I really want to sleep during the hard parts? That’s pretty much where any transformation happens.
The funny thing is, the habits that we’re talking about are different from “instincts.” Like, if I’m a race car driver, I want instinct to take over when another car spins out in front of me. I don’t want to have to think when there’s no time to think. That’s different from the kind of habits I think I’m talking about. No matter what, when it comes to getting work done, going to the gym, eating carrots instead of cookies, I still have to do something tough each time. That cookie doesn’t zip by. It just sits there. Waiting. Oh, the cookie has time.
And that’s really the rub, I think. The reason I wonder if we really have habits in the way we think of them. When it comes to cleaning the bathroom, going out for a run, starting the project you dread, you always have to make the choice. You might make it faster the more you do it, but you always do the hard work. Maybe developing a habit is just the practice of making hard choices.
If you were an archer, and you practiced until you could split an arrow, you probably wouldn’t say it was habit. You practiced making the hard shot, and now you are skilled at it. I think this is why I’m finding myself up against habits. It’s like saying you weren’t responsible for making the choice.
Quick story before I’m done. Last week I woke up to take class at 7am. The moment I opened my eyes I thought, “I don’t think I need to go today.” I checked the workout – Cindy. “Oh, I don’t even need Cindy.” I climbed out of bed. While brushing my teeth, I thought, “OK, clean up and then you can go get coffee.” I finished up, did what I needed to do to get out of the house, and headed to the gym. As I parked my car at the gym I thought, “you really still don’t need to go. Nobody’s seen you yet.” Walked inside. Halfway through the warmup, as I was running back from Berkeley, I thought, “you know, I could just do the warmup and call it an active recovery day.”
This went on all the way through the workout. In the end I didn’t have enough habits in my quiver to deal with every crux moment. It was just the ability to ignore the chatter that doesn’t align with what there was to do. If that’s a habit, then it’s a habit. But I think it’s something deeper. And you all do it, too. Just like Putting My Butt On the Pillow every day, I have to make the choices. No matter how many times I do it, I have to do it again the next time.
What do you think? Do you think habits really exist? Are you just strengthening your ability to align your actions with what you know there is to do? Or is it all the same thing?
A) “Cosgrove’s Evil 8”
**Hold onto bar during each circuit**
**Rest 90sec between each circuit**
B) Max reps in 2min
Sandbag ground to shoulder (100/70)
And Coming Friday
Max Effort Bench press (BW / ⅔ BW)
Max Effort Pull-ups