December 12. “The beginning of a habit is like an invisible thread, but every time we repeat the act we strengthen the strand, add to it another filament, until it becomes a great cable that binds us irrevocably through thought and act. (Orrison Swett Marden)
When I started my Journey toward better health, I had a lot of really bad habits. I have talked about them in the beginning posts on that blog. It took a lot of concerted effort to break those old, bad habits in order to just get started. I had to change my eating habits, my exercise habits, even my commuting habits; all in an effort to get a handle on my health and to stop the ship from heading in the wrong direction. There was another side to the habit equation as well. It was the side where I had to build new habits that would take hold in my life and serve me for years to come. That was equally as difficult.
I have written that when I first started on this journey, I hated the idea of exercise. I don’t really know where that hatred originated. When I was a child, and even into my college years, I was in great shape. I was never a gifted athlete, but I was very active and persistent. I played baseball until I was 16, and even tried out for my college team. I was playing racquetball 3 to 4 times a week sometimes. I rode my bike everywhere, sometimes taking 10 or 15 mile trips without thinking twice. As I got out of college and started a family, some of those activities took a back seat to being a father and husband, that is understandable. What isn’t understandable is how much I came to really hate exercise over the years.
I would go sometimes through stretches where I was more active. I have a food journal from 2006 that includes information on how I was playing racquetball with my son on a regular basis at that time. But it was short lived.
When I started going to the gym in March, I really didn’t like it. Not only did I not like how I felt on the machines as my muscles and joints were being used again, but I didn’t like how I felt. I felt awkward, self-conscious and ashamed. I was certain at first that people were staring at me and judging me. It took a month or two for me to realize that everyone there had something they were working on, and that no one had time to judge anyone else. My confidence started to grow.
Today I look forward to my trips to the gym. Last week when I was ill, and didn’t get to work out for 6 days, I really missed it. I was excited to get up these past 3 mornings and return to that routine. And the reason is because exercise is now a habit.
When I first started down this path, I missed the fast food, the pizzas and the Kit Kat bars. I don’t so much anymore, they are just something I used to do. Now, when I miss out on walking or making trips to the gym, I miss it. It has become one of my new habits.
This quote also reminds me of a program I once watched on the History Channel about how the Golden Gate bridge was built. In this documentary they described how the cables which support the suspension bridge are made up of thousands of thin, steel cables which are wound together. It took a period of months of constantly winding the cables, one after another, and anchoring them to the concrete at either end. No one of those strands is strong enough to support even a small portion of the weight of the bridge, let alone the cars and trucks which pass over it on a daily basis. But, when those strands are all wound together they form something incredibly strong.
Similarly, no one trip to the gym, no one denial of a food urge, no one healthy choice has made a significant impact on my health. But taken together, wound tight with all the other similar choices, my habits have become a steel cable to support a healthier life.
Today my reflection is on the enormous power of habits, and how each choice I make – good or bad – has the potential of supporting the cable of a habit that can be with me for a lifetime.