Like everyone, sometimes I catch up with people I haven’t seen for years. After the formalities of “how are you” etc., the most frequent question I get is “Are you still running?”
The answer is invariably “Of course, never stopped doing it.”
Those who do not run are surprised because they almost take it for granted that running-like, say, modeling or Thai cooking-are passing passions. In short, one would think that a person would start running, perhaps run the first half or even the first marathon, and then either feel satisfied or by now not very curious about what’s next. Or maybe just bored.
Then I asked myself what has allowed me to never get bored of running in the almost 15 years I’ve been doing it.
The simplest answer may also seem the most trivial, but trivial things often hold great truths. Do you want to know why I never got sick of running?
The fact that running is as integral a part of my life such as eating, working, sleeping, and being with friends or family has eliminated that part of the running experience that can drive you away from it. You have already understood: I am referring to the fact that running is tiring, requires commitment and perseverance.
Yet think about how many things you do every day that are certainly not more fun:
– wake you up
– brush your teeth
– clean your house
– drive to the office
And the list can go on for quite a while.
The bottom line is that every day we do things that are not exactly what we would like to do and yet we do them, for two reasons:
– because we have to
– because it takes relatively little time to do them
– because no one else can do them for us.
Therefore, the secret to always wanting to run is to make it a habit. Easy, huh? Not really, not least because-at this point you might wonder-if it were really so immediate, why not also make it a habit to, say, being on a diet, learn to play the piano or cook?
What I mean is that, as with running, there are activities that require application and method. For them to become habits then it takes some tricks. Here they are.
1. Connect running to some activity
According to writer James Clear, author of the best-selling book “Atomic Habits“, the first step is to anchor the habit you want to build to a signal, to a gesture that you do automatically every day. For example: every time you go on your lunch break, and maybe not every day, go for a half-hour walk. Or: every time you talk on the phone walk around. The importance of this first method of approach is that it is capable of creating automatisms (and thus, prospectively, habits) by linking to other automatisms that require no mental effort: you can in fact do them without feeling fatigue or rejection. You just do them.
2. Make it something you like to do
How to accomplish this? Easy: tie it to serene and even joyful moods. Now I can see you with Grumpy cat’s face thinking, “I am never joyful!” Instead you are, believe me. I for one link the thought of running to at least three states of mind that make me happy: being offline (“When I run, I’m on vacation,” Sandro usually says), being able to listen to podcasts, and most importantly, how I will feel afterwards: relaxed, happy, fulfilled. While taking a shower.
These three thoughts are absolutely irresistible and always overcome the resistance that can assail me to the idea of going out for a run.
3. Make it easy
We realized that one of the secrets to making running a habit is to eliminate the frictions, the difficulties that keep you from perceiving and experiencing it as such. What are the main contingent difficulties involved in running? Few really, and easily to overcome: get dressed, and take the first step. The first is solvable by preparing the things you need in advance, especially if you run in the morning after you wake up. The second simply requires putting one foot outside the house and getting started. You are already out, you are ready to do it: do it!
4. Get satisfaction
It is difficult to get used to something that is unpleasant or gives us no satisfaction. In running, the satisfactions are of two kinds: immediate (feeling good after doing it) and time-dilated (losing weight, regaining fitness, getting faster). The former are perceptible right away, the latter unravel over time and are not immediately visible. How to make them obvious? For example, with a journal in which you mark the outings you’ve made, the weight, the feelings. Rereading it will give you an overall picture of your fitness, both physical and mental. From that you can take pleasure in observing the changes in your body and mood, or you can also figure out what is not working properly. What is important is that in order to assume a habit, the mind must perceive the benefit in terms of endorphin release and mental and physical well-being.
If you establish what we call a “vicious-virtuous circle” (i.e., something that makes you addicted but to ultimately do you good), the habit is now established and running will no longer seem like a boring thing or something that does not belong to you. It will be automatic and yet always-or very often-rewarding.
And it is hard to resist what makes us feel good. Impossible, indeed.