There’s that old saying “The heart wants what it wants”—penned by Emily Dickinson and made infamous by Woody Allen—but what about when the heart wants what it doesn’t want? How do we reconcile ourselves when we want something and don’t want it at the same time?
Yesterday morning I ran outside for 22 minutes. This may not seem like a feat—especially in the wake of Sunday’s marathon in New York—but I’m really proud that it happened. For one, the weather has recently turned, and it was cold out. (I’m a newbie to running outdoors, and hadn’t previously run outside when it was less than 50- or 60-something degrees.) Also, I was by myself and not meeting a gym or running buddy; there was no accountability in the moment if I decided to chuck the plan.
Mostly, I’m proud because I simultaneously really wanted to run and really didn’t want to run. Waking up early to run outside in chilly weather is a textbook example of the opposite of my nature, along with activities like: bungee jumping, wearing stilettos (I couldn’t even spell “stilettos” right the first time), and cooking anything that involves raw meat.
I’ve been thinking about how our natures can evolve. About how habits form, and how they can be replaced. I’ve been thinking about willpower, and read about it, too. I know it’s a bit silly to wax poetic about a 22-minute run, but the example of that little run allows me to concretely examine some of the history and energy and habits behind what it takes to change.
So here it is, the anatomy of a 22-minute run in 40-something degree weather:
1. Couch to 5K — Gives me a structure and clear goals.
2. Previous gym and running buddies — Made me accountable and took me to the gym (or to run in the park).
3. Shared Google Spreadsheet with Becca — We log our fitness plans and what we end up actually doing. This is what currently holds me accountable, and also shows me the whole month at a birds-eye view.
4. Realistic schedule — I’m also trying to write in the mornings, so now I alternate. I think I found a good groove… we’ll see.
5. Mental tricks — I kept moving the goalposts by telling myself I only needed to run five minutes, then ten, and so on. Even before that, I told myself that if I put on my running clothes and still didn’t want to run, that would be okay.
6. A fitness Facebook group — I don’t use it frequently, but I’m part of a fitness Facebook group that is sweet and supportive and has the option of tracking via a shared Google Spreadsheet. That definitely inspired the spreadsheet I have with Becca.
7. Yoga — My fitness plan became more clear when (thanks to a friend) I started going to a nearby yoga studio. I wanted to find a complementary physical activity that was more embodied than running—and yoga is the perfect match of embodied fitness and meditation, which I also need.
8. Not wanting to join a gym — It feels stupid to pay money to run twice a week when I can just… run twice a week.
9. Trying it — I hated the idea of running in cold weather, but realized I had no idea what it was like. And actually I was really warm by the end.
10. Warm clothing — Speaking of being warm, it’s hard for me to get out of bed in the mornings, especially if it’s chilly in my room, and even more especially if it’s to do something initially-horrible-sounding like going for a run. So I picked all of my running clothes out in advance on Monday night, and put them under the covers with me. Voila! Warm clothes on Tuesday morning.
I plan to go running again on Friday. Is there a feat of changing-your-nature that you’re working on?