When ‘just do it’ just doesn’t do it

“Just decide once that you’re going to do it,” said my sister-in-law in a recent conversation. “Then you don’t have to keep deciding every day if you’re going to do it or not, because you’ve already decided.”

We were talking about the small ways we trick ourselves into making and keeping hard commitments. I had told her that way back in my 20s when I quit my pack-and-a-half-a-day cigarette habit, I outsmarted my cravings by acknowledging that if I were still a smoker I would want a cigarette right about then, but that since I was no longer a smoker I didn’t really want one after all, and then I went out for a walk. It worked for me.

She countered with a story about her decision to run a mile every morning before breakfast. She just laid her running clothes out near the bed each night and pulled them on before she was quite awake and went right out the door. “I didn’t have to make a decision each morning, because I had already decided,” she said. It was a simple trick, but it worked for her. She kept to her plan, buffed up, dropped 20 pounds and felt terrific about herself.

So, last month when I signed up for a fitness class at my local gym that meets at 5 a.m. three mornings a week, I adopted her strategy. I simply decided I would make the commitment and keep it, no question of whether I “felt like it” or not on any given morning. I would just slip quietly out of the warm bed in the pre-dawn darkness (I set my clock for a quiet 4:30 alarm), struggle into my spandex in the bathroom and drive into town for the class.

It worked for a while. I liked the class a lot, and the people in it, and the facility. I felt the benefits within a few sessions – better stamina, the beginnings of some muscle tone where before there was none and the general glow of self-righteousness that comes with working up a good sweat at the start of the day. So there was a tangible reward for my effort.

AIso, I had a workout buddy, my neighbor up the hill. She didn’t just sign up for the class with me, she agreed that we should switch off picking each other up, lessening the temptation for each of us to burrow deeper into the blankets and grab another hour and a half of sleep. And that was a real help in making and keeping my commitment.

But I got sabotaged by my own body. Because for some reason, after the first couple of weeks, I couldn’t sleep the night before class. I’d find myself lying awake at 1 a.m., 2, 2:30, 3 … watching the clock tick toward 4:30 and knowing that despite my best intentions and my pact with my neighbor, I in fact had a decision to make that morning.

As hard as it is to get up at a normal time and work a productive day after a lousy night’s sleep, it’s even harder to get up two hours early, when your bed partner is slumbering peacefully beside you, go knock yourself out at the gym and then go work a productive day. I missed a few classes, groggily texting my neighbor my apologies and then crawling miserably back to bed, feeling like a heel for letting her down.

The real test came when she decided on short notice to join her husband as he made his way down the coast to Florida on their sailboat. “This is my last day of class,” she burbled happily on a chilly Wednesday morning as she slid into my passenger seat and clipped the safety belt. “He needs me.” It was a blow, but I could hardly blame her.

Still, my resolve was strong. I told Douglas, a little defiantly, that I would carry on, that I would outsmart my insomnia, finish my 6-week round of classes and sign up again for the next one. But I just couldn’t do it. Sleep is too basic a need, and the problem was getting worse instead of better. Maddeningly, it was apparent that it was the class itself that was somehow stressing me out, because on weekends and non-class nights, I’d sleep like a baby. An exhausted baby.

So, reluctantly, I have given it up. I emailed the instructor my regrets and what I’m sure sounded like the oldest excuse in the world. And now I’m sleeping well most nights and trying to figure out a Plan B fitness routine. Because it really is important to me to stay healthy, active and able long into my senior years, and my delightful morning strolls down to the end of the road and back are not going to make the grade.

Are you making an effort to stay fit? How do you make the time for it, with all your other commitments? I’d love to know what’s working for you.

Meg Haskell

About Meg Haskell

Meg Haskell is a curious second-career journalist with two grown sons, a background in health care and a penchant for new experiences. She lives in Stockton Springs. Email her at mhaskell@bangordailynews.com.