I have written a lot about why to live a healthy lifestyle, and I’ve written a lot about how to live a healthy lifestyle, but I’ve tended to focus on the bigger picture.
Why do it? For your health, your stress, your sleep, your weight, etc. How to do it? Make a schedule, show up, and stick to it.
But what if this stuff doesn’t work? I had a conversation this past weekend that got me to thinking about this. My wife has a friend who wants to exercise for all the reasons I’ve noted, stress, sleep, diet, exercise, yada, yada, yada. So she starts something and realizes some of the benefits. Then…something, she gets derailed, falls of the wagon and slips back into old habits.
We were chatting this weekend while our boys were playing in the park, and she mentioned she was jealous of the discipline my wife and I have to just keep on going, keep on doing it, maintaining the routine and lifestyle. I didn’t really put much thought into it, exercise is just part of the background noise of my life.
Tuesday rolled around. Among Easter, a sick child, and another child’s birthday, I’d missed a few gym days. Then Saturday I stayed up ‘til way too late watching movies, so I was both out of my routine and sleep deprived. After work all I wanted was to go home, eat dinner and go to bed. What I did was grab my gym bag (pre-packed Monday night), get in the car and head for Hot Yoga.
Well, Tuesday’s class was…bad. Really bad. Iron Price bad. I almost threw up halfway through class bad. But I held my gorge, paced myself and pushed through.
When I was chatting with my lovely bride about this I noted that I don’t think it’s discipline at all. It’s just…my life. She offered that her friend has a point; going out and doing it, in spite of the exhaustion and feeling like crap from the Easter overindulgence, is a discipline in itself. That sticking to the routine is as much a discipline as starting the routine. Let’s unpack that.
In one of those odd little coincidences in life, James Clear was writing about Newton’s Laws as applied to productivity. It’s a pretty cool article in which James draws an analogy to Newton’s laws and “getting stuff done.” Exercise is “stuff,” so let’s talk about that.
Newton’s First Law: an object in motion stays in motion, and an object at rest stays at rest, unless acted upon by an external force.
What does this mean for a healthy lifestyle, centred around regular, vigorous exercise?
If you have done what I advocate; make a schedule, show up, and do the workout, you are a body in motion. I have my pre-planned workout days and if nothing happens (no external force is applied) I continue to go to the club on those days. It’s just what I do.
And then sick child, birthday parties, Easter, etc. get in the way and I miss a few days (an external force is applied). But here’s the deal; missing two or three workouts is nothing. Sure, as I get older, the price I pay for indulgence and skipping is a little higher, but that is balanced against the momentum of decades of exercise.
I’ve always been fit. I’ve always exercised. Think of the second law:
Newton’s Second Law: force is equal to the product of an object’s mass times its acceleration, F=ma
If the mass is the routine, and the acceleration is equivalent to how long I’ve been doing it (in other words, just how cemented into my life it is) then the force necessary to stop it is huge. A few days off, a bit of sleep deprivation, the iron price of going back to the gym, these are relatively small forces, certainly not big enough to overcome the routines and the years.
This is especially so if you include the psychological component. I’ve paid the price before. I’ll pay the price again. I know what it is and I know it sucks, but I also know I can pay it. I also know how great I’ll feel afterwards, physically from sweating out the chocolate, and psychologically from killing the stress, and especially from the pride of paying the price. It feels good to overcome the challenge, to push through, to get to the end of the workout and know you did it.
Finally, the third law:
For every force, there is an equal and opposite reaction force.
If a force is applied to you, you apply an equal force back. When you walk, you push on the earth, and the earth pushes back. If you have a strong exercise routine, and something comes up that pushes against it, it pushes back. If your normal state is to work out 3 – 4 times a week and something pushes to change that, you naturally push back to keep it.
So what does this have to do with my wife’s friend?
I think it comes down to not lasting long enough to get past the discipline part. Inspiration and motivation wear off. Discipline can only take you so far. You must have it so internalized, so routine, so much a part of your life that the force of a few missed days is too small to stop it. Once you get going, it actually takes more energy to stop than to continue.
Wait, wut? Andrew, did you just say that doing something is easier than doing nothing? Yes I did. Let me bold that.
Once you have incorporated a healthy lifestyle into your daily life, it takes more effort to stop it, than to continue it.
Think of a train. Once it’s up to speed it takes tremendous force, over a long period time, to bring it to a stop. Inspiration and motivation get it started. Discipline gets it rolling, but to get that train truly up to speed, rolling unstoppably down the tracks, you need routine. The longer you stick to your routine, the harder it will be to stop, and the greater the benefits that you will accrue.