Milestone Reached

Most milestones are reached with fanfare. “It’s my 80th birthday today!”, “We’ve been married for 30 years!” or even “I’ve been smoke-free for two decades!” but this one snuck up on me. With a three-day weekend ahead I planned to go for a bike ride. I wasn’t sure where I’d go but it was going to be a longish one. I looked over the map in all four directions and couldn’t decide which way to go. Then I thought that I could get on a commuter train and start from further away for something a bit more interesting.

And then it hit me. If I did that I would break my streak. Up until now I have gone 112 days without using a motor vehicle. That’s almost a third of a year. Though I can’t tell you what the runner-up time in my life is, this is by far the longest I have gone traveling exclusively under my own power. As my fitness increased and the weather improved the distances have grown quite a bit. Here, using Google Timeline data is a reasonable estimate of what I’ve done so far.

So this looks interesting in a table, but else has this much movement changed? I’ve been measuring other things as well. My VO2Max (a measure of my cells’ capacity to absorb oxygen (one measure of aerobic fitness) went from 33 in April to 39 now, an increase of 18%. My resting heart rate has dropped about 10 points and is back down around 60 bpm. And my weight has dropped by 4 kilograms (about 9 lbs).

For most of this year I’ve also been tracking my mood on a scale of 1-5, rating the previous day when I wake up. That, also, has been tracking upward in a very interesting way:

Top line of the scale if 5, bottom is 0

So how did I manage this change? A few things come in to play with varying levels of effect. At a high level it was a matter of creating some habits and changing/eliminating others. To manage habits we need to have motivation, ability, and something to remind us to do it – a trigger. So for the positive habits (which also included other ones like daily meditation), I set up reminders. In the end, taking the exercise / car-free travel as an example, here are things I did to adjust those aspects of the habit:

Trigger: Reminders every day and tracking the streak. A three day streak is easy to break but now I’ve gone nearly three months with exercising every single day. If I break that I start at 1 again.

Ability: There are two sides to this. One is physical ability to do the exercise and get around without a car. That takes practice and is usually easier than you expect. But the other part, especially for exercise is to make it easy to do: to eliminate the potential excuses for not doing it. For me that means making sure I do the laundry often – there will always be clean workout gear. The other big common excuse for me is “Oh no! It’s too late, there’s no time!” So I build the time in to my schedule. 5-6 PM is always blocked out – and sometimes longer – for exercise. It is impossible to not have time because I made time.

Motivation: Here’s the secret about motivation. It’s a fickle mistress. Some days you’ll feel like running, cycling, going to the gym, or working on your novel and other days it will sound like the most hideous way to spend time. So rely on the trigger and ability to get you through. If you feel like going for a bike ride sounds stupid but all you need to do is put a pair of shorts on and go, then when faced with breaking the streak or just doing it, you’ll do it. Easy. (And here’s another secret – nine times out of ten it will be as enjoyable as always)

But, I can hear you saying already. “You’re lucky – you have so much free time, clearly! How many hours did it take to go all that distance?” Of course that’s true – but I think for me only half true. I have the time because I’ve made the time. Let me share another graph with you.

Social media use March to today (data via Rescuetime)

Here is a graph of my hours of social media use from the time I last rode in a vehicle. That peak, right about the time lockdown started? That is 28 hours. That’s an average of four hours a day. When I started looking at this I thought long and hard about it. There was a bit of fun coming from Instagram and Facebook, and, to be honest, a bit of stress as well – political arguments, pandemic news and worry. Was I getting my value out of those four daily hours? What could I do with them instead?

Time to get back to the habit controls – this time to make it less likely I’ll follow that habit:

Triggers: The biggest trigger for checking social media is its mere presence. I started by deleting the apps from my phone and have since deleted my Facebook account entirely. I kept Instagram but it only goes on my phone for when I’m doing something fun like a bike ride or an adventure that I want to share. Then it’s deleted again. All that’s left on my phone is email, text messaging, WhatsApp (which is low traffic for me), a meditation app and a few “loyalty apps” for various businesses like Starbucks and our local grocery store. With my phone rendered boring, I don’t want to use it as much. Instead I bought more books and left those around to also trigger me.

Ability: Deleting Facebook resulted in a huge reduction in my ability to spend time on Facebook! But spending time on my computer in general is not always productive. So simply turning the computer off all the time when not in use is helpful. Keeping the phone somewhere other than right next to me also made it harder to use it at all.

Motivation: Motivation for this habit remains pretty high. Social media is pretty compelling when the only people you regularly see are your family. This makes the previous two factors even more important. But this motivation can be reduced by finding ways to connect with others – email, zoom calls, writing blog posts, and so on does reduce it.

And of course, investing hard work early on does help make things easier. Just as pedaling uphill all day likely means you’ll get to zoom downward later, this has been my own experience with these habit adjustments. And the view from above is pretty nice.

My view from yesterday’s ride, mostly uphill in the beginning. The hard work meant a nice descent, reaching 68.4 km/hr. (42.5 mph) – a speed I am 100% sure is the fastest I have gone since March 14.

13 thoughts on “Milestone Reached

  1. You inspired me with your posts Todd.
    And yes we all have 24 hours but the way we use them decides what we achieve in life.
    These days I am trying to stay away from the political stress. The things which are out of my control. I feel sad for all the strange drama but I can’t help it.

    1. Thanks – I’m really glad. It makes me happy when I can inspire people.

      Political stress is really hard to keep away from – especially when the country of my birth is in such a state. But then I suppose you might feel the same way. It is strange to be in relative peace while all that is going on.

      And yes – as I get older I think more and more about making good use of the time I have in a day. The other day I had a less than productive day – I didn’t get everything I wanted to get done because of stupid decisions I made and felt hugely disappointed by the time the evening came around. It wasn’t a big deal – a very minor disappointment but I still felt it. And then I had a shocking thought. It is entirely possible that with wrong choices the same could happen in life. I could waste days, weeks or even years and get to the “evening” of my life and think “Oh man, all the things I wanted to do and I wasted my time scrolling…”

      Thanks for your comments – I always appreciate them.

      1. Getting disappointed once in a while is fine but don’t do it over and over. It is better to go with the flow.
        I say this beacuse I was doing the same as you if I couldn’t achieve what I wanted for the day. My husband rescued me. We should not be hard on ourselves. Let us enjoy what we are blessed with.
        Have a good Sunday.

      2. Oh that’s definitely not something I do. And most of the time I get disappointed in my own choices so that’s in my control.

        Sounds like your partner and mine are very similar. It is hard to stay in a negative mindspace with her around.

  2. I’ve actually taken two social media breaks since March — both times as I hit a breaking point with stress. This latest break coincided with the Udine Far East Film Festival — I’d bought a pass for it a while ago, and it snuck up on me just as I was melting down, but it meant that I spent my time –pretty much every waking hour — watching movies. I’ve seen things I’d probably never have the chance to. Shifting to a virtual festival this year meant that a festival I’d never be able to attend, well, I could watch on line. I’ll probably go back to FB now that I’m done (and I do miss your presence there, but I respect your choices), but I’m pretty sure I’ll be taking more breaks than I might have done in the past.

    1. That’s really good timing. And I do appreciate the increase in accessibility of things. We have people from Mexico and Germany in our improv class. Sage taught a storytelling class in Pune and performed in Vermont and Boston. I hope that continues post-pandemic.

      Avoiding most of the social media stress got easier for me when I drastically reduced the number of people I followed based on how their posts made me feel. Of course I’m lucky in that I didn’t have a lot of people in the middle who half the time posted great things and the other half drove me crazy with a dismal outlook or upsetting politics. And the other side of the “well-curated Facebook feed” coin is that if you make it more attractive you will be more attracted to it…

  3. I hear you about waiting for motivation to exercise. I never count on it. Instead I just work out Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I never enjoy it until 10 minutes in. Then I say to myself “why don’t I do this every day?” Of course by Tuesday I have no more motivation than I had on Monday!

    1. I don’t have as much trouble motivating myself to run now but in years past I would sometimes have to trick myself and say “Just run 1 kilometre and then you can go home if you want.”. That only takes about 6-7 min and usually by that point I’m enjoying myself and ready to keep going. In fact, it has never failed as a method to get me to do a full run.

  4. This is a very helpful post. I do not spend a lot of time in Social Media, inactive in Facebook and have reduced Instagram to a large extent. These days I am going to Instagram only every 3-4 days. I do have a exercise regime of 3 days yoga and 3 days jogging and meditate twice every single day. However, I always find myself struggling to manage time. I know where I spend a lot of time. It’s on phone calls with friends and family. And, at this time of pandemic i want to be there for people if they want to talk. Apart from this there are work calls too.

    1. Thanks! It sounds like you’re well ahead of me at this point and you’re managing time well. For me the goal is not some particular productivity standard but to get to the end of the day and feel like I used my time well. Connecting with friends and family and of course doing work sound like a great use of time – especially these days.

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