The Value of Habit

For over 18 years I have had a morning practice. It goes something like this. Awake before 4 am (usually without the need of an alarm). Do some contemplation, meditation, prayer, writing… as best feels appropriate for the day. Eat something light. Check emails.

On Tuesday’s, Thursdays, Saturdays an Sundays I am running by 5 am, sometimes at 4.30 (Summer on a Saturday, where it is daylight, warm and beautiful). The run is between 14 and 25 k depending on the day and what I am training for. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday I leave home at 6 and do a squad swim for a total of 3.8 kms.

This practice is such a habit that I simply no longer argue with it, just as most people don’t argue with cleaning their teeth before bed. Some days if I am traveling I mess it up, or miss. And if I am very tired, or not well, I will surrender to not training and enjoy fully the sleep and rest.

While many of my companion runners have an obsessive approach to their training, over the years I like to think that I have transcended the obsession, and it has become about supporting my health and vitality on the physical, emotional, spiritual and psychological levels. (Occasionally I slip into obsession which means my energy is more consuming than peaceful and I need to recalibrate.)

Here is how my daily habits support me.

My body thrives on staying moving. I am a visceral, embodied kind of person. After two days of not moving I feel sluggish. My elimination system starts to back up. There is a lethargy that appears that I find physically uncomfortable. I am more tired when I don’t train than when I do. I am also not as bright and vital.

I am a morning person. I love the dawn, the beginning of a day. It is where I feel most alive. (Mind you, I get a good sleep, at least 7 hours, so I am rarely sleep deprived). It is also where I am most creative, and most connected to source. Its my best time. I love to celebrate aliveness at this time, through movement.

My sport is all outdoors. Even in the pool, it is outdoors. At least several of the runs are beside the Pacific Ocean, and the others in the forest. Nature is the greatest nurturer. The ocean is my spiritual home, the birds and trees and forest a place for me to feel free and beautiful, and in awe.

When things in life are not going as planned, and I may be suffering from despair, if it were not for my morning practice, I may succumb to the despair and not get out of bed. This is a simple truth. Many times the very act of putting my feet on the ground just after 4 am each day keeps me from falling into the abyss. I do not know what I would do without it.

The conversation I get to have with my body, the tuning in, on a daily basis, builds a muscle that is quite an extraordinary gift. I am able to tune into even the slightest ‘off’ signals. Not all dedicated athletes do this tuning in. Many override the signals. But time and experience are wonderful teachers, and overriding signals always ends in break down. I practice listening with exquisite attention.

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I have struggled with committing to other practices like meditation. Even to writing this blog every week, which on one level is good as it shows I am as human as anyone, and not a habit machine. I fall down.

I do think we need to question some of our habits, actually question all of our habits on regular occasions, as at some point they may no longer support the best in us.

Habits that nourish and support, that keep you alive, that engage your body, mind and spirit, that allow learning, communion and joy..these are good habits. At some point in the building of habits we get that they support us in far greater ways than the pain of getting out of bed and doing them. And this is where the argument stops. This is where the choice to practice becomes life serving, and sometimes life saving.

Study the habits you have. Are they life serving?
What are the habits that you know will be life serving if you did adopt them?
What stops you from adopting them?

For me, I know there are a few other habits that will be life serving. To dance and sing more, for entirely no reason than to dance and sing. To laugh way more. To spend at least 10 minutes each day in the silence of a question, not seeking for the answer, just being with the question.

5 Comments on “The Value of Habit”

  1. Pauline Duncan-Thrasher

    Love your message and the visuals of really early morning great habits.
    We may not all be joggers ( I’m sure not) but your message is valuable for all of us who want to maximize our time to treat ourselves and our world with the joy and abundance we deserve. Positively,
    Pauline

  2. Pingback: What to do when we wake up in the blues « Chris McDougall's Blog – Screw Business as Usual

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