‘Scheduling requires choices. Scheduling one activity makes that time unavailable for anything else.’
The subtitle to Gretchen Rubin’s book Better than Before could be Habits are the Invisible Architecture of Everyday Life. In her chapter, fittingly titled in all-caps, ‘IF IT’S ON THE CALENDAR, IT HAPPENS,’ she writes about the power of scheduling an activity as a much more likely way to solidify a hope, impulse, or requirement into a bona fide habit.
Rubin, author of the blockbuster bestseller The Happiness Project, is an original and accessible writer with good insights on assorted topics. Both of her books have tons of sound ideas, backed up by extensive research, on how to form good habits. Exercise is one of her key values and she has devised many ways to get more of it into her life. ‘Habits,’ she reminds us in Better than Before, ‘grow strongest and fastest when they’re repeated in predictable ways, and for most of us, putting an activity on the schedule tends to lock us into doing it.’
Is this why it is easier for some people to make an appearance at a prescheduled movement class than just show up alone at the gym? For years I have tried to encourage students to attend their exercise classes regularly, and if possible, at the same timeslot each week. For the most part, this approach appears to work. I’ve heard from students that they find live scheduled online classes easier to attend than to find the push it would take to do a DVD or a pre-recorded class. One student told me that in the summer when there were no live classes, only pre-recorded ones, she was able to make a class mostly every week, but only by clicking on the recorded class at the same time as she usually did that class.
Practicing or maintaining a beloved habit—whether it be reading, meditation, getting to bed early, or exercise—means giving something else up. Often something pleasurable, such as watching Netflix instead of a quiet activity like reading, or sipping an extra glass of wine instead of starting your preparing-for-bed ritual. Partaking in one habit means you will not have time for another. In this way, successful habits are often closely linked to values.
What is your relationship to physical activity?
Whenever I feel like exercise, I lie down until the feeling passes.
-Robert Maynard Hutchins
Every day you read a new article or news clip about the benefits of exercise. You’ve read the studies that attest to how exercise rejuvenates ageing bodies, calms stress and anxiety, lowers blood pressure, and lessens the risk of many diseases—but stop and ask yourself: do you yourself value physical activity? If so, and you are being honest, then great. If not, why do you not value exercise as much as other activities in your life? We are all so influenced by media, friends and spouses that we sample fitness trends or ignore fitness recommendations without a sense of who we really are, and what we really need. Or like.
Maybe you have a very good reason not to value exercise. Perhaps you had a sketchy relationship with PE classes growing up. Or you currently have physical limitations or are recovering from chronic pain or an injury or surgery. You are daunted by the idea of forming an exercise habit out of fear of aggravating a sore knee or pulling an unused muscle. Then more energy must be put into place to get started. Rubin reminds us, followed up by research, that just beginning is the most important step in the starting process. ‘Don’t get it perfect, get it going.’
I used Rubin’s philosophy—It’s Enough to Begin—when I started to create this blog. And I followed up with her emphasis on scheduling. I had pages of ideas about a book I might want to write with the working title Adapting Pilates for Our Longer Lives. But how to transform my pie-in-the-sky daydream into something concrete? Someone suggested starting with a blog, and/or video, but I didn’t have the technical knowledge to post a blog. Nor could I, in the middle of a pandemic, hire someone to come into my house and film me doing a mini-video, complete with up to the mark audio. I was on my own. Luckily, I already had the habit of writing each morning instilled in me, so that part wasn’t hard. Rubin reminds us, ‘good habits are a tremendous help: they make the starting process automatic.’
As for all the rest, I had to just start. And I had to schedule. I forced myself to take a half hour each morning to go online and read up about video filming. I adapted my lighting and sent emails to colleagues who might answer questions about microphones. It was hard, scary, and quite frankly not that interesting to me. But I wanted the outcome. Why? Because I valued it. I thought of how much more helpful a video imbedded in a blog would be for my students. So I set up a schedule, learned what I could, and took the first step.
Don’t underestimate the relationship between the forming a new habit and how much you value it. If you value something it will be easier to strive for it. If you’re returning to exercise after a sedentary lifestyle or are felled with pain, your first step may be to call a physiotherapist and schedule an appointment. It’s a hassle. And it will cost you, too. But if you value yourself, you can schedule it. Make the appointment and follow through. And go back to the physio as often as necessary and stick with the exercise plan.
Embarking on this new habit, or maintaining the habit you already have in place, can change your life, but it can also impact positively on the people around you. Wellness is not only a huge prerequisite for engaging in and enjoying so many things in our lives, but it can also lighten the burden on others, especially as we age.