I’ve talked before about the interconnection of habits – how when we slip up on one habit, we risk taking down other connected ones. How, for example, the amount of time I spent on social media was inversely proportional to my daily assessments of how my day went. I have seen a similar correlation between the amount of sleep I get and my productivity at work. If I get more than 7-7.5 hours of sleep in a given day I’m usually quite productive. Less than that and I don’t do as well.
In part I’m sure it’s due to cognitive function. If I’m exhausted and having trouble thinking it’s harder to get things done. But there’s another factor in play, I think, and that is willpower. Yesterday I watched this happen first hand.
The night before I was up too late and as my time I wake up rarely changes, I got about 5.5-6 hours of sleep. Not optimum. Work was relatively OK despite that. However I noticed something else happening. I kept snacking. Even as I had a fridge full of healthy snacks – and I ate many of them, I also added an excessive amount of fruit, nuts, and donuts to it. I’m not judging – eat what you like – but if I eat too much sugar I end up on an energy roller coaster, feeling sleepy, grumpy and mostly useless. And of course that just exacerbates the sleepiness.
I really noticed the difference that sleep and excessive snacking made when I stopped work for the day. Now it was time to start dinner and go for a run. I wanted nothing to do with either. Even a simple pasta salad seemed exhausting. Daegan helped me do the prep for that and I popped it in the fridge. But then it was time for a run. Everything seemed overwhelming. I have to change my clothes, find a mask to wear in the building to get outside, figure out where I want to run, then actually DO the run which now thanks to my increased fitness is approaching an hour long. On a normal day this would be viewed through a totally different lens: “I’ll quickly change, pop outside and go for a lovely run in the 25 degree summer sun. And hey! Look at me able to run for almost an hour now! Way to go!”
Fortunately for me, this would be my 94th straight day of exercise. There was a lot of motivation to do it no matter what. And so out I went. And do you know what? Before my 5 minute warm-up was done, I was glad to be there. Look at what I would’ve missed:
I had to watch my pace, though. I kept slowing down, very consciously thinking “Oh, I’m tired…” My heart rate said otherwise. I could do better – and so I would speed up a little more to give a proper workout.
And then I got to the hill out of the ravine. It’s only 350 metres (1148 ft) but it’s relatively steep. “But I’m tired” started up again in my head, but this time, my response was not to slow down and walk up as I have on other hills but simply to think “I know.” There was only a kilometre or so left in the whole run. And so I determined to give it my best shot, determined not to switch to walking no matter what. I found a song with a good beat for keeping a pace, turned it up and headed up. At the beginning I couldn’t bear to look up. I knew if I saw how far the top was I’d get discouraged and slow or even stop. So I looked at the ground in front of me, peeking up to ensure I didn’t run in to anyone. My mind threw excuses at me much of the time telling me I didn’t need to work so hard. After all, choosing to run was an arbitrary choice. What’s chasing me? Nothing. So why not stop? I countered by offering a reminder that when the ground flattened out at the top it would seem so much easier and there would only be 500 metres left to go. No problem! And so, sometimes literally step by step I pushed myself up that hill.
And in the end I did it. I ran up the whole hill. Last month I did it in three minutes 16 seconds (with some walking). Three years ago when I was in better shape from regular running I did it in 2 minutes 54 seconds. But yesterday? Yesterday I did it in 2 minutes 49 seconds. It may only have been by five seconds, but I beat my personal record. In other words, being tired didn’t impair my ability to do well. Only a negative attitude could’ve accomplished that. And to that internal voice saying I should just take it easy (or skip the run entirely) I say something that I often told my son when he was little and upset:
“How we feel is not the same as how we act.”
In his case he could feel upset but not yell or act out physically. He could do other things with those emotions that were constructive – channeling the energy in to art or writing or exercise. In my case the feelings are different, but the reality is the same. I might feel tired or lazy. Running (or getting work done) might be the last thing I want to do. But that only means there’s a discrepancy between what I want to do and what I need to do. In my case, an exercise streak and some good music were all it took.
What do you do to bridge the gap between how you feel and how you act?