Well folks I’ve finally done it! This week I’ve made a breakthrough and ridden to work 3 times, it’ll be 4 tomorrow. I said a few weeks back that I intended to start riding to work but it just didn’t come off for one reason or another. Maybe it was the poor weather, maybe it was the fact that I had a run of dropping off our little girl and picking her up making it virtually impossible to get into the office at a reasonable time, or maybe, I just wasn’t that organised and didn’t feel like it.
In hindsight I think the main obstacles were of my own making. Granted, the weather has been much better this week, warm and sunny every day and Mrs MHW’s schedule has been such that she has done the nursery run four out of five days so that’s helped too. But actually the biggest breakthrough has come from getting organised and putting my feelings to one side, particularly that voice at 5:45am that says ‘Don’t ride in today, why don’t you drive to work and listen to a podcast on the way, you’re too tired, you’ve got a scratchy throat better to rest up and take it easy, etc’.
On Sunday I cleaned and ironed the clothes I wear at work, drove to work, and then put them all in my locker with my toiletries. My workplace has great shower facilities and a drying room to dry your towels and any kit that might get wet. That meant I didn’t have to ride to work with a great big heavy bag on my back, something which I know would have become an excuse not to ride. Each night I also prepared my lunch and healthy snacks for the next day to take in a small rucksack which meant I didn’t have to spend money at work on food.
I also made my mind up to ignore any negative feelings when I woke up and instead just get up, put my cycling gear on and head out the door. As Steve Peters says in The Chimp Paradox, don’t listen to your inner chimp who tells you that’s it’s going to be too hard to ride because you’ve not ridden for a long time, it’s too cold etc. They’re just feelings and emotions and have no control over what it is you actually want to do. Whenever I felt the urge to give in, I thought about how disappointed I would be in myself if I didn’t ride in, particularly as I’d prepped everything to remove any excuses.
I’ve got to say, that first ride on Monday morning wasn’t the most pleasant experience of my life! Despite the great weather, within a few minutes of starting out, my legs reminded me of how long it’s been since I’ve ridden so early in the day. The route to work is mainly uphill which doesn’t make for an easy time though it’s a nice feeling at the end of the day knowing that less effort is required to get home. I took it easy on the first couple of mornings but by Thursday evening I felt pretty good; my legs had got some rhythm back and my breathing was starting to be more in sync with my effort. The wind was behind me on Thursday too so I had a blast on the way home, extending the route slightly as I was having such a good time. I already feel better for getting this regular exercise in. It’s taken little effort but already I can sense some aerobic fitness starting to return. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a long way from actually being what I would call ‘fit’ but small consistent steps will get me there.
I’ve been eating better as I’m in control of what food is available to me each day, and my sleep has improved massively, though that may have something to do with Mrs MHW learning some new sleep training techniques which are working wonders with little MHW to the point where she is sleeping through the night without waking. The ups and downs of mood and energy levels throughout the working day have levelled out and though I’m eating more I know that’s due to expending more energy. I don’t eat before the ride into work which takes 50 minutes so that’s all fat burning and when I arrive at work I eat some porridge to fill up the energy store.
My mindset has become more positive as a result of the exercise. That fast blast on the way home made me feel like a big kid again, and reminded me of why I fell in love with cycling in the first place. It’s become easier to be organised and my mind is clearer at work, possibly because I use some of the time during the ride to think about what I’d like to accomplish when I get to the office and maybe because the exercise is acting as a stress buster so my anxiety levels are lower.
On the financial side of things, I’ve spent less money on car fuel, saving roughly £20 in one week; if I can ride in most days in a month I think I could save £60-£70. That would be extra cash to plough into debt reduction. I’ve spent less money on food at work too. I’ll have to spend some money on bike cleaning stuff to keep the bike healthy but that’ll cost under £10.
I already feel like this commitment to riding into work has become a habit. On the first couple of mornings that I woke up I had that same old familiar reluctance to get on the bike and with taking the little one to nursery on Wednesday I didn’t know how I’d feel on Thursday morning. The answer? Brilliant! There was no doubt in my mind when I woke up that I was riding in. The usual misgivings had disappeared and it felt relatively normal to put on my bib shorts, base layer and jersey and get ready. It made me realise how quickly a habit can be formed. Now whether that’s because I’m already experiencing the benefits I’m not sure but I would say so.
Behaviour and Reward
All human behaviour has a feedback loop. We have life experiences which we either like or dislike. The results of those behaviours and the sensations we have are either stored as positive memories or negative. The positive ones create the kinds of feel good emotions that I’ve discussed above which are inevitably fed back into ourselves, and they subsequently become habits. The stronger the feel-good emotion which the behaviour or experience creates and the closer in time it is associated with that positivity the quicker the habit is formed. I believe that all of us are motivated by reward, be that financial, emotional, success-based, etc, even the most altruistic action engenders a feeling of having done something good for someone else which itself is a reward (the subject of altruism is something that I’m fascinated by – the romantic in me loves the idea of true human altruism), and so we form habits all the time. In some ways, we need them as they bring routine and structure to our lives.
Clearly not all habits are good, and some tip over into addiction, a state of mind where the individual is no longer in control of the habit and craves the feel-good reward. Unfortunately the feel-good factor generally declines with time and so some people work harder and harder to achieve the same feelings as before to the point where they can do serious damage to themselves. I’m not talking here about substance misuse as an addiction, though clearly they harm the person involved; there are other simpler addictions which can be just as harmful such as working too much in order to receive praise, obsessive exercising to return to previous high levels of fitness, giving up too much of your time to help others at the detriment of your own personal life, investing your money rather than paying off debt because investing feels good and you can see your money increase almost instantly.
Behaviour and reward are ongoing facets of life; the older we become, or the more experiences we are exposed to, the more we’re able to reflect on those experiences and determine which of them were beneficial. For me, sorting out our finances, looking after my health better in terms of eating and exercising, and spending as much time as possible with my family make me feel so good that it’s unsurprising they’ve become habits; habits that I don’t want kick anytime soon!