Our daily lives are often structured around a collection of habits. We carry out a particular activity so many times that we barely need to think about them any more.
Some of these habits are good, some of them are bad, but even the most innocuous routine will influence other parts of our lives without us giving it a second thought.
A little while ago I fell out of the habit of riding my bike. I don’t quite know what it was, but without giving it too much thought, I found myself taking more trips to work by bus and less by bicycle.
The less I rode my bike, the less I wanted to.
I would wake up each morning and effectively talk myself out of riding to work. Reasons often included the weather, but a variety of aches and pains I was feeling for no good reason, or the stress of dealing with the collection of rat-runs that lie between home and the nearest safe route to work would feature high on the list of excuses.
Looking back I’m not sure whether I stopped riding because I wasn’t feeling well, or I wasn’t feeling well because I wasn’t riding my bike. It could be a bit of both.
I reached the end of last year with my Strava mileage goal roughly half what I had hoped it would be. I hadn’t been riding to work, nor had I been out riding with my friends.
Aside from the lack of exercise, I’d also lost the structure that my day needed. Various other parts of my life had fallen by the wayside too, including my diet. I wasn’t burning the calories I used to, but nor was I building up much of an appetite. The weight started falling off without me even trying, not to mention the atrophy from not riding and not working out. This led to more aches and pains.
The less I did, the worse I felt and the less I felt able to do. I was in a feedback loop of ever increasing lethargy and despair. To top it all off, I was no longer sure I could say I was someone who rode a bike. When you spend much of your spare time writing about cycling, this is a bit of a problem.
Good habits, bad habits…
I was someone who had good habits, but for various reasons, simply fell out of them. But what if your habits are bad ones? What if you find yourself eating or drinking as a coping mechanism? What if the coping mechanism you have found is fundamentally destructive, but gives you that dopamine hit that you can’t get enough of?
The unfortunate thing about habits is the ones that are good for you are often the hardest ones to keep. The habits that improve your life often take effort and willpower, whereas smoking, drinking, eating junk food, avoiding physical activity or compulsively checking social media are very easy indeed.
It’s frighteningly easy to fall into a vicious cycle. You may not even be aware you are in one until you reach the bottom of an abyss with an almighty thud. However, getting out of one is more difficult because we tend to try to over-reach. We set ourselves lofty goals that we will ultimately fail and end up feeling bad about it. We need to break our goals up into a number of much smaller actions that we can repeat over and over until they become ingrained.
Small habits may seem small, but they add up.
Yes, I stopped riding my bike consistently for best part of a year, but actually getting the bike out through the front door and onto the road is the final task in a series of smaller tasks, or dependencies if you will.
The bits that came before would include getting my clothes ready and packed for the morning; getting food ready for the morning; making sure my tires are pumped up; making sure my keys & security pass are ready; making sure my Garmin has enough battery life left; making sure my pump and spare tubes are packed.
Those are just the bits directly related to riding my bike. Getting a good night’s sleep; eating regular meals; removing social media apps from my phone and learning about myself to the point where I could correct my course before finding myself in another metaphorical hedge.
Each of these activities I’ve used over the past 12 months as an excuse at one point or another. If there was anything put in the way I would default to sitting on the bus for an hour instead of taking the bike and saving 30 minutes and some bus fare.
It’s the little things…
So, I set myself a goal a few weekends ago. I would ride to work every other day, but get the bus for the two days in between. Starting on the 18th June I’ve been doing my 11Km commute twice per day every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Every night I lay my clothes out, get my kit and food ready and get to bed on time. It sounds really boring, almost regimented, but it leaves me with no excuses come morning.
The first Monday was far more terrifying than I would care to admit. Having spent the past few years riding some big miles, getting on the bike to ride to town should have been no problem at all. However, by the time I reached Llandaff North it it was almost as if I had never been away.
Yes, it was tiring but we all have to start, or restart somewhere. A couple of weeks on and I’m feeling as though I’m making progress.
As an additional incentive I cancelled my bus pass…
In retrospect, it was probably my biggest mistake. It meant there was no financial consequence for not riding one day. From the 20th when this pass expires, each bus ride will cost me a fiver. If I don’t get the bus at all, I save nearly £70 per month, or £840 per year.
The deadline is set. I need to be riding five days per week by the 20th.
Most, if not all of us have goals. Things we want to achieve, places we want to get to.
The next challenge is to figure out how you are going to get there. Break things down into small parts –write a list of things you need to do to make that thing happen and start working through it, one step at a time.
Our lives are essentially one big project –the most important project you’ll ever work on. Wikipedia describes a project as a temporary endeavour designed to produce a unique product or service, with a defined beginning and end.
The beginning or initiation is largely out of our control thanks to our parents, but the ending is dependent to an extent by how well we manage the project. Sadly, it is definitely a temporary endeavour.
Most of us will be at the planning, monitoring & executing stage. It’ll have a financial element, so draw up a budget spreadsheet and see where your money is going. There will be skills you’ll need, so how do you obtain them? There will also be materials you need –a computer and a bicycle are the two obvious ones for us here.
What are the risks? What are we doing with our spare time that gets in the way, preventing us from executing that plan? For many of us these days it’s social media, or money and our dependence on good economic fortune. How can we mitigate those risks? Can we reduce what we spend, or can we diversify our income? Can we spend less time engaging in habits that are bad for us?
However you decide to manage your project, what is important is that you do manage it. At the end of the day, we are all a unique product, the outcome of what we hope will be a very long, rewarding project.