Although I’m a natural couch potato, I’d managed to form the long-standing habit of going to the gym regularly — and then we got our delightful puppy Barnaby. And suddenly my habit was gone.
Fortunately for me, I’d written a whole book about habits, Better Than Before, so I understood what had happened. The “Clean Slate” of my new relationship with our puppy, and the changes caused by taking care of him, had wiped my habit away — even though it was a habit I’d been following for years.
A few weeks ago, as I was telling my my sister about this problem, in episode 41 of our podcast, Happier with Gretchen Rubin, it suddenly hit me: to make it easier to get back in the habit of gym-going, I needed to make gym-going more convenient. It was time to switch to a different gym, one that was close to our apartment instead of being near my daughters’ school.
So, as I describe in episode 42, I did switch gyms. In fact, because I hate doing that kind of paperwork, when my husband asked me what to get me for my birthday, I said, “Get me a gym membership at your gym.” and he did. Win-win! He got me a gift I really wanted, and I got a new membership without hassle. The new gym is more convenient, and I have indeed been going more.
I was there this morning, and I faced a choice. At this new gym, the locker floor is on the second floor, which is a couple of long flights of stairs up. This morning, I saw some people standing in front of the elevator, and I thought, “How ridiculous to take the elevator to go to the gym! Start exercising now by taking the stairs!”
But then I thought, “Wait, I hate climbing these particular stairs. I’m weighed down by my stuff and by my heavy winter coat. The elevator sure looks appealing.”
And I stood there, thinking about exercise, and habits, and excuses, and convenience, and the advice of every exercise-habit-expert in the world, which is to take the elevator. And I debated…elevator or no elevator?
And I decided, “Yes, I’d get a bit more exercise if I climb to the second floor. But not much more exercise. And taking the elevator seems so delightful, like such a treat! I really love not having to climb to that second floor. And if I feel like it’s pleasant to come to the gym, I’ll be more likely to come regularly. And I’ll get more exercise by taking the elevator at the gym than by skipping the gym.”
So I took the elevator. And I loved every easy second of it. Then I changed and worked out for forty minutes. Sometimes, to push myself hard, I have to go easy on myself.
A version of this post originally appeared on Gretchen Rubin’s website, where she writes about her experiments in the pursuit of happiness and good habits.