Habit Forming

by Tom Swift

One way to form a habit is to make the matter your day’s first priority. If something is important to you, after all, you put your attention to it first thing.

This is where the writer-lifter runs into trouble.

For here’s another parallel: the later the day gets, the harder it is to lift — the harder it is to write.

I exaggerate but only by a little. (And, of course, this does not apply to all writers or all lifters. Some are night owls. Some have schedules that allow them to work mid-day. Others can do their work at any any hour equally well. Note: We don’t like this last group very much.)

For those of us who work full-time daytime hours (at the paying jobs, I mean), whatever amount of free time we have for these other forms of “work” is found on the edges of the day: you go to the gym before work, or after. You write before work, or after.

I don’t know about you, but after work I want a pizza. I want a steak. I want to get outside — if it’s nice out. I want to lodge my butt on the couch — if it’s not.

Lift? Write? But I just worked all day!

Given such realities of life and life energy, I have made it my habit to lift as soon as I can in the morning. And this works. I have been a stable 5 a.m.-er for years now. I get my sweat in and then I take on everything else in the day. It works, yes, but it doesn’t leave much morning time for writing.

As I have found it easier to navigate the stress of the day with a workout sans a writing session than I have with a writing session sans a workout I have … if I must choose one or the other … well, then, now you know why daily writing is a less fully formed habit for me. (The need to do something to put me physically into my body is real and strong and what I must do.)

Which leads me back to the matter of finding the sweet spot between intensity and frequency. When it comes to lifting, I am trying hard not to try as hard. I am, in other words, embarking to stay on the low-end of the making muscle continuum: schedule rest days (rather than wait until my body tells me I must take one), shave extra sets during workouts that only serve to make me more tired, focus more of my attention on compound lifts — these sorts of tweaks.

The good news is that cutting back might be better for both my writing and my lifting.

There is a prevailing view across the American fitness space circa 2019 that in order to make progress in the gym you have to hurt yourself. Every day. No puke, no gain. (I know this view well. I did CrossFit for five years.) This is not only not accurate, it is misguided; exhaustion for its own sake is, simply put, counterproductive. Sure, you have to put in the work. But that is different than saying you must be writhing in pain on the floor in order to have done that work.

Yet I fight against that sort of ingrained ethos every day. I tell myself more is better, that heavier is greater.

No. Not always.

I don’t have it all figured out. Not in the least. But that much I know is not true. In writing and in lifting there is truth in the adage that steady wins the race.

Enough is enough. In lifting. In writing. In most anything. You just have to find it.