There’s an odd pressure when you’re trying to exercise the muscle of discipline, it’s tempting to want everything you do as a part of that to be the best that it can be. Sometimes you need to just push through and exercise that muscle. When you’re starting out, quantity is often more important than quality. You need to get used to doing something regularly before you can focus on doing it better, otherwise the fear of not good enough can hold you back and prevent you from making the progress you want to make.
Back in January 2015 when I realised I was ill, and consequently started a course of antidepressants, many people encouraged me to exercise. I had been a keen cyclist and they encouraged me to keep at it and get out on my bike as much as I could. I was told, and in fact read many times, that exercise was a great way of countering some of the symptoms of depression. My issue was that the thought of going out on my bike caused me anxiety and stress, both things which I was trying to avoid and so I dismissed the notion as not for me. Nearly two and a half years later I’m starting to understand a little of what the mysterious they were talking about.
About a month ago I moved into a new flat, one which I’m living in on my own, it’s great to have my own space again. As a consequence of that move I’ve been doing a lot more walking. It’s located in such a place that I can walk to pretty much everywhere I need to go on a regular basis. I can walk to my shifts at the coffee house, my church, a couple of supermarkets, as well as the centre of town, and I’ve been doing that as much as is practically possible. It’s become a time that I enjoy, an opportunity to pop my headphones in and listen to some music or catch up on a few podcasts.
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve begun to notice something, when I don’t get my daily walks in my mood suffers. The realisation has come home to roost this bank holiday weekend. On Saturday and Monday I didn’t really go out. I stayed home in my flat tinkering on my websites, making a few adjustments, watching some TV shows, what most people call relaxing. And it has been just that, but today I noticed the heaviness creeping in, it made me realise what effect going out for a walk has on me.
It’s not just the small amount of exercise that a brisk walk provides that I’ve missed today, it’s the intentionality of going for a walk. Instead of the day just passing by, the act of walking to work is intentional and provides an element of structure to my day. I need to schedule in the time for my walk to work otherwise I won’t get there on time letting people down. It helps that my walk to work is a pleasant one down an old railway line, that’s what’s in the photo at the top of this post, for a moment I can be lost in the wonder of looking at the trees and greenery as I walk. It provides a chance to look at God’s creation and see how the same place changes from day to day. It’s a chance to walk and listen to some new music or the latest podcasts, in my own little world that’s outside in the wider world. It’s a chance to pop the headphones out and walk listening to the birds and rustling of the trees. When the sun’s out it’s especially enjoyable, but even on a rainy day I look forward to my walk to work.
Almost by accident I’ve discovered that the act of walking to work provides me with a moment of calm. In that walk there is nothing I can do for my design business, nothing I need to do for my coffee house shift, no tweets or Instagram photos to catch up on (unless I want to walk into my fellow walkers or be run over by the many cyclists), I can just enjoy the simple act of walking.
At the start of every year, I, along with millions of others around the world, make resolutions. We decide, often quite flippantly, to do certain things. It could be to change a habit, lose weight, or to get fitter and just “be healthier”. But 99% of the time they are lofty goals that last only a couple of weeks, a month or maybe six weeks if you really try hard, but they rarely last.
As I began thinking about my resolutions for the year, I made my usual trip to the dictionary for a definition.
• a firm decision to do or not to do something.
• a formal expression of opinion or intention agreed on by a legislative body, committee, or other formal meeting, typically after taking a vote.
• the quality of being determined or resolute.
It struck me that a resolution is much more than the lofty ambitions we make at the start of each year. They are intentional. A committee will not vote a formal resolution into place without having a firm intention to follow through with it. Yet very often we determine what our new year’s resolutions will be simply by a fleeting desire or a momentary decision. We base them on nothing more than what we think is going to be a beneficial thing for us to do. We’re not intentional in our thoughts and often do not stand firmly behind our decisions, evidenced by the same resolutions recurring year after year. In stark contrast, a real resolution is intended, it has purpose, it is designed.
• something that is intended; purpose; design;
A resolution is pointless if we have not considered why. Why do we want to get up earlier? Why do we want to use our time better? Why do we want to be fitter? All of these are good things but why do we want to do them? If we decide to do these things without thinking about the real purpose, they will never stick.
To make them stick, we must go further than think about why we want to do them. Once we have a firm motivation in place, we must design that resolution using our motivation as a basis. As it says in Proverbs chapter 14 and verse 15:
“A simple man believes anything, but a prudent man gives thought to his steps.”
If we resolve to just do something without thought we not only waste time, we waste our intentions and we waste energy. It’s hard enough to gain momentum when beginning a new thing that has a clear motivation, but gaining momentum on something without a clear aim or goal? That’s likely to end in a failure which has an impact on other plans we make. Once we are discouraged by something it’s very hard to recover the confidence and enthusiasm that we need to start something. The memory of failing at one thing lingers at the back of our minds and saps at what little confidence or belief we have about the new thing.
If you’re reading this as it approaches the second half of January, and you’re struggling to stick to the resolutions you made only a couple of weeks ago, I encourage you to stop for a moment and ask yourself why you wanted to do them in the first place. If you can’t find a concrete answer, maybe it’s time to reconsider. So many times I’ve heard someone declare they want to do something, but because of a lack of a defined destination they struggle, become discouraged and lose all motivation. A complete waste of that initially well placed intention. Don’t waste that limited supply of energy you have trying to build momentum behind something that’s just a shallow thought. Instead put it into a resolution that has a destination, something that has value.