Making the habit

As I make this post, I have not yet gotten out of bed. I’m refusing to let myself get up until I write an entry for today. That’s right, I’m writing an entry one day after the previous one, almost like a… daily entry. I managed daily entries for a full week a while back and have completely dropped off since. This is the kind of pattern I struggle with in a lot of things that require self-motivation. It’s been the story of my life for years. And right now, if I so chose I could do absolutely nothing today. That is not good for me.

I’m going to talk about an example in which I eventually succeeded in forming a habit, to an extent. If we rewind about two-and-a-half years, we find a young man heading into the Missionary Training Center. The preceding year has not been kind to this young man and he has gained an amount of weight that he describes as “not inconsiderable”… Not that he was the paragon of fitness to begin with. He takes some pictures with the parts of his family that have gathered there, says goodbye, and begins his two-year life as a missionary. He soon finds out that his new weight (crap I’m going to have to get out of bed to grab my journal and double-check) (ooh nevermind it was actually in arms reach) is 19 stone. That’s 266lb, or about 120kg for any international readers. This is quite a shock to this young man! He knew he’d gained weight, but not that much! That was at least two stone more than the last time he weighed himself!

6th October 2011. That suit? Really uncomfortable.
6th October 2011. That suit? Really uncomfortable.

OK forget this third person narration. The journal really brings back those memories… I was bummed out, to say the least. And I didn’t know how much to hope for, how fast I’d be able to turn my weight situation around. I started to make a list of things I wanted to do when I got home, but one got in there that was more a goal of something to do before I got back. It makes me smile now, because of what I wrote there at a later date. I wanted to “Return weighing 15 stone at the very most”. The addition says this: “30/3/12 Already reached! WOO!”

To give a more accurate idea of the timescale, I will say that I entered the Missionary Training Centre on the 6th of October, 2011. So by the 30th of March, 2012 I had already dropped four stone. Whoa, how did that happen?

Well, despite how instantaneous that may seem, it’s interesting to note that I actually made very little progress in the first two months. They feed you really well in the MTC, and I’m quite surprised I lost any weight at all there. Then I begun my mission in Ashford, Kent. It’d probably take too long to explain, but suffice to say my options for exercise there were limited. Then, after six weeks, I was stationed in Wembley. Ah, Wembley. For several reasons it will always hold a special place in my heart. The weight loss is only one of those reasons.

I. Love. Wembley.
I. Love. Wembley.

The great big thing that helped me lose so much weight was simply forming one habit. We lived in a building right next to Wembley Arena, which itself is right next to Wembley Stadium. Every morning we would get up at the usual time of 6:30 and run to, and around, the Stadium. This, to me, was MURDER. It was Winter when I got there, and I’ll always remember the frigid wind that would unfailingly assault us the moment we got to the top of those stairs. It was dark when we got out and it’d be dark when we got back. For the first few weeks I felt like I could throw up at any second when i got back from these runs. But we did them, and most importantly, we did them consistently.

Even then I didn’t notice the difference at first. The running itself became easier, but it was still a couple ofmonths before my appearance underwent any obvious change. But when it happened it was the best thing ever. Missionaries I’d not seen in a while would be visibly taken aback when they saw me. I had one of the leaders in the mission, a great tall ginger scotsman, come up to me to tell me I was “the epitome of diligence”. And it got better. I lost more weight. By the end of that stay in Wembley, I was 13 1/2 stone. Under nine months into my mission and I had lost 5 1/2 stone, or 35kg, or 77lb. It was SO COOL. And it happened because of that one habit. I can’t reasonably attribute it to anything else. I made zero effort to change my diet. All the walking that came with being a missionary hadn’t made a difference so far. Running around Wembley Stadium for half a year had helped me lose almost a third of my body weight.

5th October 2013. Same suit (I kept it just for that day). SUPER baggy. [I'm going to reupload these pictures when I find my external hard drive]
5th October 2013. Same suit (I kept it just for that day). SUPER baggy. [I’m going to reupload these pictures when I find my external hard drive]
I think the main reasons I succeeded in making those runs a habit were twofold: First, I took advantage ofthe change of circumstances. I set a pattern early on. It’s so much easer to start a new habit when you’re also in a new place with new people. To change while change is happening around you is natural. And, as I have discovered, so much easier than trying to keep up that habit in an place that hasn’t changed much in years.

This is seriously the best picture I could find of us together. The wigs are funny, but very unflattering!!!
This is seriously the best picture I could find of us together. The wigs are funny, but very unflattering!!!

The second reason was my companion at the time, Stephan Lundahl. For the first half of our time together we had our moments of friction, and those moments often happened shortly after 6:30 in the morning. I remember those irritated thoughts: Alright, alright, I’m getting out of bed! Dude, I can’t do this, I can’t run all this way without taking a single moment to rest. How are you so energetic? You’re doing star-jumps ahead of me now? Are you mocking me, Mr. Swedish ex-military? What do you mean, one more circuit!?

He kept pushing me until I learned to push myself and I love him for that. To this day, whenever I’m on a run, I refuse to let myself stop until I reach my destination. No matter how tired I am, I know I can still move forward. By the end of our 3-month period as companions, I was really sad to see him go. Having someone to push you makes a lot of difference in forming a habit.

And ultimately, those are the two things I’m missing at this point in time. I’m living in Colwyn Bay, where I’ve spent half my life. There’s not a whole lot of change that happens here. And as far as motivation goes, I just have myself to fill that role. And that is tough. It’s tough to get in the right mood to write a blog entry, and then do that every day. Same goes for my runs. My weight-loss has been in one big plateu, all because I just can’t seem to do it consistently.

It’s a shame to end such a feel-good story an a bum note, but such is life. And as I keep telling myself, the story isn’t over. I can get down to twelve stone. I can develop a writing habit, and even make a career of it. If I can’t maintain that attitude, I’ve already lost. Cliché but true. Let’s just hope this much longer entry than I was intending to write isn’t a case of me starting a marathon with a sprint.

-Jesse

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