I’ve started parking twice as far away from work.
It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while, but (as so often happens) it took a couple of unpleasant experiences to overcome my inertia and get me to actually do it. First, my car got broken into in the parking building that I used to use, and then (to add insult to injury) I was fined a couple of days later for not displaying my parking ticket correctly.
I’d had my eye on a slightly cheaper, but more distant parking spot, and finally decided to try it out. Much to my surprise, when I checked just now on Google Maps I discovered that it’s twice the distance: 1km instead of 500m.
Now, why on earth would I deliberately park twice as far away from work?
Because I was having trouble sticking to my exercise program.
Fitness by default
The time I’ve been fittest in the past was when I had a contract in Wellington, the capital, which is known for its hilly terrain. I was staying in a motel near the top of one of those hills and working most of the way down the hill, and that 10-minute walk twice a day had me feeling great. And as it happens, the route from where I park to where I work is also down a steep hill.
I’ve talked in How to Practice about how I need to link my personal development activities into my daily life in order to succeed at them, and this is another example. By creating the habit of parking where I have to walk 2km a day, I ensure that I actually do exercise daily.
I’ve done something to my shoulder, which means I can’t currently do pushups and work towards that aspect of my fitness goal (to pass the US Army physical fitness test for my age). That’s demotivational. And with the weather and one thing and another, I’ve not been getting out and running, either. The daily walks are a good holding pattern, building basic fitness while I get the shoulder right and get through a couple of deadlines.
Why be active?
Why do I want to be fit? For better physical and mental functioning, and overall wellbeing. It’s not about my appearance (if it was, I’d have given up months ago – when I take my shirt off, I still look a lot more like Iggy Pop than Hugh Jackman, despite doing 4000 situps in 4 months.) For me, the benefits of physical fitness are being well and feeling well.
Everyone is vaguely aware that physical activity is good for you, just as eating vegetables is good for you, but not many people could tell you why. In fact, most of the science has been done in the last 10 years, and there’s still plenty left to learn. We’ve known for a long time that exercising improves heart and lung function (because our bodies adapt to challenges by becoming stronger), but there’s a lot more to it than that.
Firstly, being active increases your blood flow. Not only does your heart become stronger and pump more efficiently, but your blood vessels actually start to penetrate more deeply into your tissues. That means they carry more oxygen and nutrients in, and more carbon dioxide and other toxins out, and so all of your body systems are healthier.
That includes your brain. Your brain uses a disproportionate amount of your body’s energy, about 20%, so increasing the flow of blood (and therefore nutrients and oxygen) to it makes a big difference.
Not only that, but exercising actually causes your brain to make new cells. And, by processes that are still being investigated, it appears to rebalance your brain chemistry – which improves your mood, and hence your sense of wellbeing.
Moving around stimulates your brain. It has to keep you balanced, it has to coordinate complex movements, it has to monitor the environment and the changing sensory data it’s getting. Your brain loves this. It’s like taking a dog for a walk (which is another fine way of making sure you exercise, by the way).
And a recent study at the University of Illinois suggests that there are other benefits to your brain from participating in actual sports: improved reactions and the ability to focus in a high-distraction environment.
All in all, you end up getting more energy. It seems odd that exerting more effort leads to getting more energy, but it does.
How to be more active
Jonathan Mead at Illuminated Mind posted a good insight the other day: Environment is greater than willpower. What he means by that is that setting up our environment to encourage the action that we plan to take works better than driving ourselves to take that action in the absence of a supportive environment. Get the environment right, and the actions will happen almost by themselves. (That’s the principle behind my 12 Hacks to Reduce the Amount You Eat, as well.)
I sometimes say that a lazy person picks the shortest distance between two points, but a smart lazy person picks two points that are close together.
For me, that works paradoxically in this case: By picking two points that are physically further apart (my parking place and my work), I move two other points mentally closer together (wanting to exercise and actually exercising). The annoyance associated with parking closer to work (in a place with bad associations for me) is greater than the resistance I have to the walk. And because I’m feeling the physical fitness benefits as well, I’m even more motivated to keep doing what is good for me.
I use my own irrationality to achieve my rational goals. It’s a kind of irrational judo.
So here’s your assignment.
Take a look at the suggestions in my How to be Healthy post. Pick one of the seven factors I talk about, and think how you can structure your life (using irrational judo) to make it easier to do it than not do it.
Then do that restructuring. And, as always, I’d love to hear about your results.
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