Building, or Rebuilding, the Habit of Exercise is Difficult. Here Are Two Signs You’ve Done it.

I tell my boys to be an example to others, with the warning that you can always provide an example, even if it’s an example of how not to behave.

33 years ago I joined the McMaster University karate club, under Sensei Arrogant Douchebag. The man was a decent enough practitioner of the style, but his teaching was a perfect example of how not to be a good teacher.

But this is not a tale of a shitty teaching style.

Because of the University term structure; a 3-1/2 months’ term, followed by a break, followed by a 3-1/2 months’ term, followed by summer break, each year broke down into two large influxes of new students, who had 3 months training time, followed by the belt promotion tests.

For those who made it past the first two weeks, and actually lasted to at least their first grading, as that grading approached, there was a tendency to ramp up training to make up for time missed due to assignments, mid terms and such.

Along the way, Sensei A. D. mentioned the concept of overtraining. You can put so much time into your training that any further efforts are actually detrimental to your progress. He may have been a shit teacher, but there was definitely a pearl of wisdom there.

I find myself hovering around the edge of overtraining with my efforts to get back in shape. Lately, I’ve noticed a certain lack of motivation to get out and walk, or bike, to maintain my daily fitness regime. In the evenings, it’s been getting to be a bit of a chore to drag out the yoga mat.

At the same time, I’m noticing aches and pains that aren’t healing and I’m wondering if I’m getting into that area of overtraining. If you don’t give your body time to recover and heal, continued training is an invitation to injury. Injury is an invitation to losing your momentum, having to take real time off to recover, and then having to begin again at the beginning.

I’ve always overcome the resistance, and maintained my daily exercise, but lately with a certain level of difficulty.

Until yesterday.

Yesterday I declined to go for my noon time walk because it was raining, I really don’t like having cold, wet feet, and the weather was starting to clear. I told myself that I’d put off my walk until after work when the sidewalks would be dry. Accepting an excuse not to do something is a big red flag that you may be about to go off the rails.

The day wore on, I was getting tired, and as I got into the evening organization last snacks, bath, teeth, and bed for the boys I found myself getting a little antsy. I hadn’t got out for my walk, which nagged at  me until I went. Red flag averted.

Then, coming in on my own bedtime, I was getting drowsy and thinking I’d just do a bit of meditation and some relaxation poses for my daily yoga. Until I got on the mat, got into the routine, and cruised through a complete posture yoga set.

I think I’ve finally broken through the third major barrier.

The first barrier is:

  • start.

The second barrier is:

  • show up every time and do it.

The third barrier is:

  • develop the habit.

It can be hard to know if you’ve truly developed the habit, or if you’re simply fighting to maintain routine, or to keep a streak going. One of the signs of having broken through is the desire to do the work, even when it’s hard, even when you don’t think you’re up for it. Another is finding yourself doing more, or better, than you had planned or expected.

I had both of those signs yesterday, and I think that I’m finally crossing over into exercise once again being habit.

The next challenge comes from understanding that new habits, especially new good habits, are fragile. It doesn’t take much to break a new habit, so my next challenge is to maintain the habit while it takes root and flowers.

This needs to be done while still allowing my body the time to recover and heal, so I’ve been dialing back on the intensity of my walks. I don’t think it will be enough, though, so I’m also going to take a day off for recovery. But not before I’ve done at least another week of daily workouts…8 weeks seems a nice number to use as a milestone.