There was a time in my life when I tried to get healthy; to lose weight and stop smoking, to change the long ingrained bad habits that had slowly accrued. I’d start and stop and go back again to the beginning. I would read health books, join gyms, go on diets and still I’d find myself some hungry tired night pulling through a drive through, a pack of cigarettes at my side.
Then my car died.
It was an old car, its odometer close to 300,000 miles, and the transmission fell apart. Some days the only direction I could go in was reverse. I sold the car for scrap and decided not to buy another one.
This was around the time of the BP oil spill and I couldn’t help but thinking of that black sludge pouring from the ocean floor whenever I’d think about buying a car. I was also in another health kick, trying to eat better, to exercise more, to quit smoking. A car had been my aid in many of those habits—the convenient mode to get what I wanted without much effort.
I had an old bicycle I was borrowing from a friend and I began to ride it to work, eventually buying a bike of my own. I was close enough to walk some days and there was always the option of the bus when I needed it. On weekends I could get to the farmers market more easily than a decent grocery store. Until I married a woman with a car, I lived without one and by the time we were married I could ride a hundred miles in a day and my smoking habit had been kicked not through will power, but because it hurt the new engine of my lungs and heart. I hated how I felt when I would ride my bike after smoking so it became easier to quit.
Now, six years later, my family still has only one car and I often go days without using it. I bike to work or sometimes run. I don’t go to the gym much because I usually don’t really need to. I’ve already spent an hour or more in aerobic exercise before my workday ends.
What I’ve discovered in this experience is something I now bring to other changes I want to make, other resolutions I hope to execute: infrastructure outdoes will power.
If you want to get more exercise then look for the ways you can make it impossible not to exercise. This could be making a choice, like I did, to get rid of or severely limit the possibility of using a car. It could be changing your work space so it encourages movement with the addition of a standing desk or ditching your office chair. It could be disabling the water in your shower so you have to shower in the gym. Whatever it is that works for you, change the infrastructure of your life so exercise is not a decision that you make but rather a natural result of your lifestyle, as artificial as the change might be.
This is true of food as well. Convenience will beat quality every time if you allow it to. Go to a regular grocery store and the easy options will make their appeal. But by being a part of a program like the Grass Roots Farmers Cooperative membership or a CSA for vegetables, you will have food that is all good, all healthy, and then you will have it to cook when you are hungry. Learn some basic kitchen skills and dinner will be ready before you could get in your car and make it through a drive through.
With time these changes in infrastructure will ingrain new habits in you. I’m simply not tempted to smoke any longer because the thought of it now makes me physically ill. The same goes for the fast food that was once a staple of my diet. The quality of the food is so low I can now barely believe I could eat the stuff.
It’s time for a new year and new resolutions. Skip them. Resolving to do something is unlikely to result in a new habit (at least in my experience). Instead change the infrastructure of your life to reach the goal you hope to achieve. Want to eat healthy? Make healthy food the most obvious choice. Your will and desires will follow your habits soon enough.
Here’s to a new year of healthier habits and a healthier way of life!