A few months ago I decided I wanted a visual record of my workouts, so I drew out a 6 week calendar on the back of some old French homework. This isn't the first time I've done something like this to track my wellness, but in the past it's been more about counting calories or measuring my weight. Something about this new system is working in a way that those systems never did. I color code the different things I write (gym workouts, yoga, cycling, days that I smoke or eat really poorly, occasional measurements) and don't own a scale, so every now and again I'll measure my waist, hips and thighs just to get an idea of any changes. I try to be conscious of what I eat, but for the most part I'm just not. I'm doing bad if I'm eating out a lot; that's really the only food rule I have. I've been doing this for 9 weeks now, which is incredible, as I'm often shocked I'm still in grad school, still have pets, haven't lasered off my tattoos, etc.. There was an instant motivation to keep going as soon as I could see at a glance how often I'd been working out, so much so that now, 9 weeks in, working out is starting to feel reflexive. Except that I don't really know what that means.
There's this outdated idea that doing anything for three weeks will help to make it a habit, but more realistically some believe it takes about 66 days to form a habit. That's about 9 weeks, right where I'm at, yet I don't feel like exercise has become a habit. I still begrudgingly drag myself off to the gym most days, whine until I'm 3/4 into my workout when it finally starts to feel good, complain about how boring it is, hate my gym clothes, hate the gym, hate everything. I do it, but there's a part of me that genuinely hates it just as much as I did when I first decided I wanted to make it a regular part of my life. There might always be a part of me that hates it.
That being said, I'm not constantly sore anymore (or I'm used to it), and I can go up and down stairs without thinking I'll fall to my death after a day of squats. On days when I don't go, I feel listless, my back feels tight, I don't feel good. My mile time on the elliptical is at 7 and a half minutes. I recently added up the average number of miles I'll put down in a regular week between the elliptical and a bike and immediately began challenging it, knowing I could do more. Exercise isn't a habit, it's not something I ever really want to do, but it's starting to feel like something I do.
The difference between a habit and something you do wasn't clear to me until I read that a habit isn't a mindful activity. Exercise is constantly mindful because you have to keep going, you have to keep it interesting, measure, compare, do math. When it gets boring you have to make it interesting. If you're going for a run you have to adjust your playlist first. If you're on week 9 you have to change up your routine. A habit is me biting and picking at my nails. I never think about that until I see I've ruined the manicure I did less than 24 hours ago. I was really hoping exercise could become an automatic part of my daily routine, like I would Edgar Allan Poe black out every day and go to the gym and shower and I'd come to over a bagel and Kiah would be like, "What have you done?" and I'd have Michelle Obama arms and not know where they came from. It's hard for me to accept that that's just not going to happen because that's kind of the whole reason I started working out in the first place: I did think eventually it would become a habit. Now I know that it won't. I have squats today and I'm sitting here inwardly pouting about it because squats suck, but I'm still going to make myself go. That's probably as habitual as it's ever going to get; hating it, but doing it anyway.
BONUS: I'm always retooling my gym playlist because it's the most important part of exercise and I need to feel a sense of control when I'm putting myself through near-daily torture, so I thought I'd share. Also, everyone always needs new gym music. Right now my first song is "Popular" from the hit musical Wicked and the second song is "Pop That," the first lyric of which is "Pop that pussy, bitch," so you know it's a good mix. There's an AlunaGeorge song 3/4 down meant to separate the fast music from the slower music because I like more chill, rhythmic stuff when I do weights. Enjoy.