On beginnings that Stick…

I am about halfway through my expected “4000 weeks” and it’s just now, that I’ve finally established a healthy, dare I say, life changing habit. I’d like to share how I came to this breakthrough, with the hope that it helps you establish your own healthy habit. As you might suspect after a brief survey of articles here on exploring-art.com this story starts with a book. 

Atomic Habits - book featured on an e-reader

Atomic Habits is another trendy self help read that I thoroughly enjoyed reading. However, alas, the first attempt to apply what I had thought I learned was a total failure.

I committed one of my common mistakes, which was trying to do too much, and over complicating the routine. I also failed as the tactic to make it harder to do the wrong thing wasn’t a sufficient barrier for my pleasure seeking ways. Let me explain. I had tried to implement a regime of  daily exercise by putting the exercise bike in front of the TV every night along with a fresh set of workout gear. The rationale purveyed by the book was this would make it easier to get on the bike and ride than to move the bike out of the way and enjoy the TV. The experiment was a total failure. The bike got put away while I told myself I just didn’t have the energy. 

Sometime passed and my irritation at my inability to form and stick to a single good habit returned. If I didn’t make some improvements soon, activities I once took for granted like the ability to complete the Grouse Grind, or hike Mount Finlayson, might be beyond my ability to do reliably. 

In the face of this internal conflict, I of course turned to my trusty traveller’s notebook, my practice of self reflection flexing its muscles, wielding its mighty mechanical pencil and… 

Some of the wisdom from the Atomic Habits came back to me during this reflection period. One was to keep it simple, maybe even more simple than the stationary bike, another was it had to be something I could do everyday, and lastly rather than making it easier to do the right thing, maybe it had to be something that I actually enjoyed… like you know…. all my vices. 

What could I do everyday, that was good for me, that I actually enjoyed? And then the idea struck me… I could go for a walk! An outdoor walk. I’m inside all day working on my computer, I love fresh air and being outside. A speedy walk would get my heart rate up and would be unlikely to hurt my knees or legs impacting my ability to do it again the next day. Could I commit to finding 90 minutes everyday to speed walk 8 kilometres? The walk itself would be less time, but there would be change and cool down time. This was less of a time commitment than going out for a long bike ride… and if I kept up a fast pace, it would be great exercise…

I was compelled to try… and to my surprise it actually stuck. After a few weeks of getting out for this daily speed walk, I’d get down right anxious if a day had gone by without my 8k… like a day without my 2 cups of coffee. I had done it! I had established a healthy daily habit. 9 months later, I’ve lost 30 pounds and I feel great. And as the saying goes – I’m not done!

So how do you begin a healthy habit that will actually stick? My advice to you is:

  1. Choose one thing you can do everyday 
  2. Make it something you actually enjoy 
  3. Force yourself to do it, until it becomes second nature 

I was beginning to believe the myriad of books on habit forming and task management that I’d read just weren’t for me. That given a busy work schedule I was just too spent to master my own personal administration, and that some downtime spent numbing my mind on the couch was my just, pleasurable, reward. I was beginning to believe that I could force myself to do something for a while, but it would never become part of my entrenched daily routine.

I was wrong! I’m grateful that after more failed attempts than read advice, I have finally formed a healthy habit. And I believe you can too! Drop a comment below if you need some ideas on what might work for you or further convincing. And good luck making the most of your limited time… may your good health be preserved by the formation of a good habit! 


Here is the One Heart Five Habits book review that never finished the editing cycle back in March 2021. Re-edited for brevity and its new context.

Upon turning 40 my doctor diagnosed me with hypertension. This is bad news as hypertension is known as the silent killer. It is a major contributor to cardio vascular disease, the number 1 attributed cause of death globally.  

I ordered a smart blood pressure reader and flummoxed my doctor with unusually high readings for  someone so seemingly healthy. 

We experimented through trial and error with some meds and found one that worked. My blood pressure readings  improved but remained too high. My diet didn’t seem problematic to me, I thought to myself, I don’t eat fast food, I don’t add salt to my food… we eat fresh vegetables and fruit… we walk for exercise… anywhere from 3.5 – 10km excursions… I didn’t understand how my diet could be the problem. My doctor recommend the Netflix show Gamechangers and a few other research and inspiration activities but nothing struck me. I didn’t do much in terms of followup, other than take my meds. 

I am not entirely sure what caused me to search the internet  but I came across a book I hadn’t heard of, called One Heart Five Habits and added it to my virtual library. I devoured it. It was an exceptionally easy and inspiring read. What struck me most about it?

Despite the fact that I was pretty convinced that the salt issue didn’t apply to me, the book convinced me that it did… Eating out, even at a fancy restaurant, you’re going to get more salt than dining at home. Tips for looking at the labels of packaged foods to assess salt content, resulted in realizing that even my organic, premium choices for home were still, quite often, too salty. 

I felt like I ate plenty of fruit and vegetables… until I took the challenge of eating 8 servings of fresh fruits or vegetables in a single day… ditto for water. That’s a lot! I was no where near that level, and still struggle to fit that much in over the course of a day – even while working at home! 

One Heart Five Habits was also super encouraging, setting  and reinforcing a tone of “every little bit helps…” it’s not an all or nothing equation. Each alcoholic beverage you skip, helps. Each extra walk, each serving of fruit, veg or water… it all contributes. I found this motivating. 

I enjoyed the book so much I was happy to pay the $6 for the app to track my progress. The app was super basic, there was a couple of rough edges in the user interface, and I think I even spotted a typo. Its privacy details weren’t updated in the app store at the time of writing, and it didn’t integrate with any of your other heath apps, so you’re manually transcribing your weight, blood pressure, minutes of exercise etc. That said the UI is pleasant, gives positive feedback when you tally yet another fruit or vegetable consumed, and I found it quite effective for tracking my progress.

So, how were my results? 

After 3 months (Jan – March 2021) I was trending down both with respect to weight and blood pressure, despite suffering through some stressful life circumstances. However, I struggled to maintain the regime and after making a career move I proceeded to gain back more than I’d lost. I gained a total of 26lbs between May 2021 – April 2022.  I was the heaviest I’d ever been. Which was also no good for my blood pressure.

As I mentioned in my last post, A Skeptics Interrogation of A Skeptics Guide to Stutz, it’s at this point April 17th 2022 that I made the internal commitment to speed walk 8k (meters) a day and thereby proceeded to lose all the weight I put on and more. And more importantly I’m not done! Next week I’ll share more on how I landed on this commitment and why I think I’ve been successful keeping it for more than 9 months. 

Pick a theme and shape your year

2020 was like no other… At the macro scale we had Covid-19, the horrendous death of George Floyd, and other unarmed people at the hands of law enforcement, and the world’s most powerful democracy in a state of unbelievable dysfunction with a people divided seemingly beyond reconciliation. On a micro level a death of a close colleague, a tragic accident befalling another… in a multitude of ways 2020 has been a shocking year. 

Focusing on the USA and those injustices may seem hypocritical from the north, as Canada has its own historical and current injustices relating to Indigenous people and First Nations. I can only say that both collective struggles are real and totally unacceptable. Our species collective treatment of “other” is shameful. Though there were certainly stories in Canada’s press illustrating our ongoing and tragic fumbling of this critical issue, the headlines from the States seemed an unprecedented and relentless torrent. A tragedy, a tempest and a teapot. 

And yet on macro and micro levels there are things to be grateful for. There are lessons, reasons for continued hope, and things we can bundle together to forge a better year in 2021. In an effort to be intentional with respect to the year ahead, this post reflects on personal, admittedly insignificant, things that I am grateful for from 2020, and articulates my theme and areas of focus for 2021. I encourage readers to consider their own theme and areas of focus for a better new year. 

Before we move on I would like to briefly celebrate each individual who;  showed up or mailed in, (totalling record numbers), to vote in the American Federal election, participated in peaceful protest in support of Black Lives Matter, and/or donated to the same, or similar. While the work is far from done, it’s a relief that there will be a change of leadership in the USA. And while this is not a silver bullet in addressing what ails us as a species, it’s a step in the right direction.

With recognition of the global current affairs out of the way, let’s get on with it.

What am I grateful for on the micro? 

  • Covid has strengthened my key relationships, and I’m thankful. My marriage has been one of the lucky ones. The challenges and sadness of not being able to see my parents, brother, close friends… illustrates which relationships are most important. It hurts, but it also helps. 
  • My friend of 30 years, who I’ve been sharing a renaissance of computer, turn based, gaming with – because neither of us are as busy socially and it doesn’t require us to be physically together. 
  • My e-sports community. 
  • Technology despite its challenges, in 2020, was pretty grand. 
  • Thank you Apple, Taylor Swift for your two albums, Conway, Sony, Dell and yes you, Wings and Horns for giving me comfy threads that I feel great in and can wear everyday… even workdays. 
  • “Marie Kondo-ing” my closet. 
  • Thank you Dolphins Resort for hosting my smaller than expected 40th birthday, socially distanced, each guest with their own bathroom, during the relatively quiet Covid period in the summer, on our relatively isolated island. 
  • I’m starting 2021 more than 12 pounds lighter than I started 2020. My average blood pressure, both systolic and diastolic were on average down 11 points in 2020 compared to 2019. Working from home, in comfy clothes, has allowed me and my wife to get out during the lunch hour, if there were no meetings booked, to get in an aerobic walk… a replacement and improvement on the steps we’d typically get moving between meeting rooms and various stakeholder locations. The data suggests my health is improving and I am grateful; however, there is more work to do. 

A theme for 2021

If shocking was the theme of 2020, then my theme for 2021 is resilience. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we must be stronger, we must have the ability to more firmly affix our own masks first, such that we can better manifest Dr. Bonnie Henry’s call to be kind, be calm and be safe. And if we could do that, to quote Louis Armstrong, “What a wonderful world it would be…” My strategy in support of building personal resilience in 2021 is to focus on three things; health, savings and self-care. 

I’ve got some leads on these areas of focus and maybe I’ll write more about them in future posts. Happy New Year! What’s your theme for 2021?