How a positive daily habit changed my life

Today I didn’t really feel like it. It’s December and the air’s damp and cold, the ground is muddy, and I’ve had a bit of a headache for a couple of days.  So maybe any other year I would have not bothered and thought, ah I’ll run another day.  But not today; not this year. This is story of how a positive daily habit changed my life.

I set myself a 30-day challenge

I set myself a goal to run at least a mile every day for the month of January 2020.  I had done this same one-month challenge the year before and found it quite tough, so I wanted to revisit it at the start of this year.

This time, in January 2020, it was a breeze compared to the year before and I enjoyed it so much I decided to keep going after January.  One month quietly led to the next and I hadn’t been thinking about it too much.  But it turned out my kids were secretly keeping count…  Before I knew it, we were counting down how long to go until I reached 100 days.

Seeing my family get behind me on my challenge gave me a huge boost, and I must admit, it flipped the “must complete this” switch in my head!  (I have love/hate feelings towards that particular switch, because I often find I have an idea and then can’t stop myself from feeling that I “must complete it”.  Many a late night has been spent, working on long drawn-out tasks that I’ve imposed upon myself and then refused to give up!)

Anyway, day 100 arrived and my husband and kids joined for my run that day to celebrate, and the kids made us a cake 😊

This inevitably led into conversations about getting to day 200, and having cake again…  I was saying things like “oh, I don’t know”, “I’ll just see how it goes”, but by this point I knew I was in all, really, if I’m honest.  I kept saying that I would stop anytime if I got fed up or injured, but inside I was starting to feel that flicker of determination that I was going to do this for the whole year.

The joy of running with company

I had wonderfully varied company and routes over the first couple of months in the year.  It was a privilege to have that time with friends to bond and share as we ran and chatted through the weeks.

Here in Scotland, COVID-19 came along in spring 2020 and lockdown with it.  I realised how grateful I was for my daily running habit.  When restrictions were at their tightest, we were allowed out once a day for exercise and my daily mile became something I treasured.

With my husband working from home it meant he could join me a lot of the time, and when he did it was an absolute joy.  It became our time together out the house to chat, share things, make plans, just be together.  I realised it had been a long time since we’d regularly spent time together on our own; mostly due to the age of our children and the fact that we had got into a habit of tag-teaming when we wanted to get out for a run or a cycle.  However, this daily commitment I had made meant I was going out every day, so it gave us an excuse to carve out time together a few days a week.

Running is such a sociable activity – we paced ourselves depending on how each of us was feeling, and there was no focus on the speed or the distance – it was all about the fresh air and company, and as long as we hit the minimum one mile we were happy.

My kids also joined me now and then throughout lockdown.  Especially on days where they were feeling a bit cabin feverish, it was a lovely way to help them get outdoors and moving.  They chatted away while we ran, and my heart swelled as they shared their thoughts and interests with me.

Different locations

We were lucky enough to fit in a holiday in the summer of 2020 and the daily mile kept me company amidst breath-taking scenery in the Scottish Highlands and Western Isles.  One day on the Isle of Lewis, there was a summer storm (the washing was blowing out horizontally from the washing line and we were joking that it wasn’t getting dried because the wind was going around it rather than through it!).  But I went out anyway, ponytail blowing sideways and wind taking my breath away.

I was rewarded with the sight of the stormy waves crashing onto the beach, and then the joy of coming back to the cosy holiday cottage and a warm cup of tea.

Nature’s rhythms

We have a “field” near our house; it’s really a bit of farm wasteland, and I’ve run through it all year.  To me it’s like a mini wilderness sanctuary on the edge of the town.  I’ve seen the wildflowers and weeds flourish and fade as their seasons come and go; each one with its own time to shine.

For a while the field was a yellow mass of buttercups with bunches of nettles to watch out for, then it was a purple array of rosebay willowherb.  The willowherb soon turned white with fluffy seeds that blew everywhere, while the colours in the field subsided to the beautiful pale shades of the late summer cow parsley.  The height of the plants evolved too – at its peak in the spring and summer I was running through armpit-high vegetation, and now in December it’s back to low lying ground cover and lots of mud!

The types of birds varied as well: the ever-present crows were around the whole year, but the beautiful swooping, twittering house martins appeared for a brief couple of months in the summer, and then the sky filled with the sight and sound of geese way up high overhead as winter gradually approached.

And time on my own to think

Along with the wildlife, I’ve observed the seasons of my moods and thoughts throughout the year.  Running gives you space to let your mind run along with your legs.

At the start of the year, I had certainty in my job.  Although not that certainty is necessarily a good thing.  It was safe, but too safe, and I knew deep down I needed to be stretched out of my comfort zone.  I could sense that I needed a change, but I just didn’t know if I was ready yet, or if I could even find the time to stop and think about what it was I wanted to do.

It seemed too overwhelming and too much effort to try and make a change, so I was taking the path of least resistance and staying where I was.  It felt mildly uncomfortable knowing that I wasn’t doing anything to change my situation, but I kept pushing back the thoughts and telling myself “now is not the time”.

The impact of lockdown in spring shifted my focus quickly away from myself and back to the job in hand, as my work efforts became centred around survival and getting to grips with the fast-changing situations.  My thoughts were consumed with work again for a few months, and any ideas of a career change were parked at the side.

However, that need for a change bubbled up in me again (as our thoughts from our soul often do, gently nudging us to let us know they are still there) and as the months went by, I started to find online learning and research to help guide me in the right direction.

When the shift happened

My breakthrough “ah-ha” moment came in the summer while I was lying in the garden for 10 minutes listening to a podcast.  It was a beautiful day and I was gazing up at the white blossom on our tree and the blue sky behind it, amazed at how high some of the birds are when you really look for them.  All of a sudden my future career popped up in front of me… I could see it, I could feel it! I was going to help people become their best selves.

I will forever remember my run later that day.

I was in the field again, full of its summer blooms, and my mind was running wild – picturing my future life, how I would feel, what I would be doing, how I could help people… how free I would be.  It sparked a summer of change for me, and my thoughts shifted firmly towards the future.

I left my job in the autumn, and went through a few weeks of adjustment to the upheaval and change.  It was a big decision – while it seemed everyone else was worried about job security because of the pandemic, I had gone and quit my job.

The reality of what I’d done was not lost on me, and I shifted again into action mode.  I spent my running time thinking of ideas and actions, busily planning ahead, sometimes listening to trainings and podcasts.

Going into winter, I had started to make some progress with my business plans, and the daily run often gave me a chance to think through my ideas and come up with an answer.  There’s something about getting outside from indoors, taking our eyes off the screens, looking around at the scenery, maybe listening to music, that just sets our mind free and often lets it untangle the mass of thoughts going on inside.

What I’ve learned from 2020

This year’s been a difficult one for people in so many ways, so it’s not fair to try and summarise in terms of whether it was “bad” or “good”.  That all depends on each person’s particular experience.

All I can say is that for me, this year gave me the chance to slow down and remember what’s really important.  I went on my own little journey of self-discovery and I think the repetitive daily habit of running had a lot to do with that. 

Setting out to do something small every day, and achieving it, does wonders for your self-belief.  And once your self-belief starts to build, you realise that you can start aiming for bigger things in your life.

The power of positive daily habits

So as we approach the end of the year I just have a few days to go.  A whole year of running a mile a day.  It’s been my constant companion throughout this year of change.  And what I realised today was that it’s become such a habit now that I hardly notice I’m doing it.

I didn’t really feel like running on this particular day, and I suppose any other year I just wouldn’t have bothered.  But it was a commitment I made to myself this year that became a habit.

And once something’s a habit, it’s easy for us.

We don’t have to negotiate with ourselves; we don’t need to put in much effort to do it.  It’s what we do.  No questions asked.

Constantly using willpower or trying to push ourselves to do things is hard.  But habits, once we establish them, are easy.

After a year of running, I feel strong and healthy, I feel determined… I feel changed.  So let’s do small things, and make them a habit.  They have the power to lead to great things.

Could a daily habit change your life too?

If you’d like to talk to me about your aspirations and how you can become your best self, book a chat and let’s explore it together.