Master the mundane
Like most members of the 21st century workforce, I spend the majority of my workday sitting in front of a computer screen1. In addition, I have to afford several hours of commuting time every day (usually spent in the train).
That’s what I have been doing for approximately ten years now.
Despite the absence of physical tasks during these hours and the bad eating habits one is usual prone to, I’ve managed to maintain my appearance and my weight since almost twenty years, and I was more successful with this than virtually everyone I know in my age bracket (the 37-42 year olds).
Apart from some hair loss, my appearance (which is not awesome by the way, but decent I suppose) is very similar to my 20s.
Save for a brief period after my military service when I spent too much time playing video games, I’ve never struggled with my weight.
I can’t offer anecdotes how I dropped from 120 kg to 75 kg, because I never exceeded the 79 kg mark, or felt below 73 kg in my adult life (presently I am about 76 kg).
My story is not very exciting. An article about the same monotonous routines since decades is uninteresting and quite unusable from a sellers point of view.
1 currently I’m a language student, but technically there is barely any difference
Twenty years of sports in a nutshell
I’ve once counted the kilometers that I ran the last two decades as part of my trainings-regime. I’ve been running all but daily, 10 km the bare minimum. That makes 365x10x20 = 73.000 km, at least.
Almost twice around the globe.
I bought new shoes every three months, that means four pairs a year or eighty tattered pairs for the dustbin since 1999.
I’ve been making 100 push-ups and 20 pull-ups every day for ten years. I’ve been doing rope jumping since five years regularly.
I spent hundreds, if not thousands of hours on the Judo or the Yoga mat. I biked countless times to Bamberg (70 km), to Regensburg (100 km) or through the Pyrenees when I was in France.
An average of two hours of exercise per day since twenty years.
The lazy beginnings
First, I don’t think I am genetically gifted. I am rather short (around 1,72m) and gain weight, in principle, very fast (which has on the flipside some advantages for building muscle).
There was one thing in school that I hated, and that was physical education.
I had asthma and other severe lung problems as a kid. I was too weak to finish one single 400 meters lane. I couldn’t throw anything properly, or jump very far. The only thing that I was capable to do all right was kicking a football.
As teenager I was bone-idle, ate a lot of junk food and played too many video games (like most teens still do these days).
Only the membership in a football club with a regular training schedule spared me the fate of getting a fat and pimpled teen back then.
What is your benefit reading this
Okay, you are still here.
The question emerges if there is more than anecdotal value in this short article, since I have no magic pill to sell and just boast about my self-discipline.
But maybe it is interesting, how I started at about age 19.
Released from the military service, I had a small belly from eating too many pizzas and sweets during the night-shifts in a military police unit.
One day, after a morning spent with the usual sedentary activities, I decided to make a short run for 10 minutes because the weather was so nice. I didn’t enjoy it, but I felt somehow good afterwards. The next day it was 20 minutes. A week later it was an hour. And half a year later it was my first half-marathon (time was almost two hours, but anyway).
Running became my second nature. It was no longer an effort to run or think about it, I simply did it because it was part of my daily routine (the behavioral scientists would describe this as: cue – routine – reward) .
Do you think you can copy a habit of that kind?
I conceived a sequence of of morning rituals a couple of years ago, and I deliberately picked exercises that I hate most: push-ups and pull-ups. After I am done with my short work-out, everything starts to flow.
It is little effort afterwards to take a cold shower or memorize some vocabulary in the train when I commute to my workplace, and even less effort to deal with tedious paperwork.
It is no effort to run in the evening, and then do rope jumping. It is my second nature or at least a habit, like surfing the net or reading the newspaper for other people.
The habit loop
Besides the illustration of the so-called slight edge principle in this blog-article, you might consider questioning your own routines, and identify the bad ones.
The cue is rather tricky to find, but sometimes it is boredom or a certain time of day when people start eating unhealthy carbohydrates or surfing social media (the routine).
The reward is also not always so obvious. In my case (doing my workout) it is exhaustion and feeling every muscle.
In other cases, it could be a distraction or simply a short opportunity to socialize.
The key is, to replace the unwanted routine for the particular cue and the particular reward (The Golden Rule of Habit Change).
The power of habit and the phenomenon of procrastination represent basically two sides of the same coin.
We can try to outwit laziness and bad habits, as I do it more or less successfully.
But the fact of the matter is also: there is no substitute for hard work, and there is no such thing as shortcuts.
Persistence and consistency (aka discipline) over a long enough period of time doesn’t always guarantee ultimate success, but they are the bare minimum precondition to achieve anything substantial in life.
- The Power of Habit – Charles Duhigg, rh Books 2013; ISBN 9781847946249
- The Slight Edge – Jeff Olson, Greenleaf Book Group Press 2013; ISBN 9781626340466