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Replacing Bad Habits with Good Ones

Until I quit drinking, you would never really know I had a problem with alcohol.

We were the quintessential “high-functioning” family – two young kids, every excuse to have a little bit too much wine from time to time. We both had great careers, a lovely family, and we travelled all around the world and didn’t blink when we went out for dinner every week. We spent winters in Mexico and travelled to England several times a year (where my drinking fit in perfectly, thank you very much). 

We lived the good life.  

The thing about alcoholism, however, is the disease is progressive. Thursday became the new Friday. It was easy to come home and have a glass of wine after a long day of work because you deserve it. It’s easy to stop counting the bottles in the recycling box or hide them. When I decided I was going to quit drinking – which was a dramatic decision and worthy of a whole chapter, not simply a blog post – I had to take a bad habit and put a good one in its place. 

I put running in its place.

In the afternoons, when I had usually reached for the Sauvignon Blanc, I put on my running shoes and hit the trails of Toronto; when we went on a big family holiday to Spain, I ran the waterfront every afternoon while everyone was gathered having Spanish cava. I started training again for half-marathons and put in long runs on the weekend. I have been a runner for a long time, but I became a passionate and committed runner in sobriety. I ran four half marathons within a year and became goal-focused. But I had two goals – making it to my first year of sobriety, and to shave time off my races.

In Atomic Habits James Clear writes that we don’t necessarily create new habits – we create new neural pathways and become different people when we change our habits. This is true of health and wellness. Whether you are drinking too much, still can’t quit smoking or you find yourself eating ice cream at night even when you know you don’t want to, replacing bad habits with exercise will be a life-changing choice.

John Stanton, the founder of The Running Room, was a two-pack a day smoker when he decided to quit and replace smoking with running. He has gone on to inspire millions of people into the sport and argues that exercise is the key to changing your relationship with food. “When you start to exercise you think of food as fuel rather than pleasure,” says Stanton. And if you can’t run yet – start with walking. 

“Most of us can walk – which is why walking is so appealing. You also get all the benefits of running through walking, with far fewer injuries,” says Stanton. “Walking is very invitational, allows us to get back into nature, and we can use it as a break from work.” 

Finding something you love to do is the key to maintaining an exercise regime you will stick with. If you don’t know what that is, go back to your childhood: did you love hanging from the monkey bars? Maybe aerial classes will be for you; do you have a high-stress job? Find something that will lower you’re your blood pressure, like yoga.

Other Exercise Habit Hacks:

  • Put your gym bag, shoes and a portable snack like overnight oats in a mason jar. Have it by the front door as you go to leave.
  • Find a walking or exercise buddy at work who will hold you accountable – make workout dates.
  • Join a gym close to work or home – research shows that if you have a membership within a 15-minute walk of home or work, you will be more likely to go.
  • Reward yourself: have a calendar, and treat yourself to a new outfit or take yourself to the movies when you have hit 10 workouts for the month.
  • Put post-it notes on your fridge about why you are exercising – remembering that 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise is key.

Exercise is a habit that, once ingrained in your life, will provide you with happiness beyond anything you can imagine.

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