In Habitually Living on Purpose, I mentioned how I am focusing on habits this year in an attempt to live according to my Life on Purpose statement: My Life on Purpose is a joyful life of freedom, continuous learning, encouraged and supported creativity, insatiable curiosity, and prolific creation, driven by passion and a desire for excellence, powered by a healthy body and soul.
Even though it is near the end of the statement, I’ll start with the “powered by a healthy body” part.
As a game developer, I find I sit at my computer a lot. In fact, most of my waking day is spent sitting in front of the computer. When I had a day job, I had the option of walking to work, or at least getting up to walk to lunch or go to a meeting. I once took a pedometer and found that in a given day, I easily maintained about 5,000 steps without trying too hard. I got a bicycle and used it to travel to and from work so I could get some extra exercise in.
When I went full-time indie back in the summer of 2010, however, I obviously had a much shorter commute to get to work. My office is about 20 seconds from my bedroom, and rush hour turns it into a 30 second commute, usually because there is a cat pile-up in the doorway. I didn’t have to go anywhere for meetings, and lunch was also half a minute away at most since the kitchen was nearby. One day late last year I decided to pull out the old pedometer to find out how many steps I took in an average day, and I was barely hitting 2,000. And I haven’t used my bicycle since I haven’t needed to.
Now, I knew I should change things. Even before the Internet blew up last year about how dangerous sitting is, I had read about the health problems you can get for being too sedentary. And yet, I never did anything sustainable to fix my situation. Joining a gym was too expensive for my indie budget, and I felt like any moment not spent working was wasted time. So I sat and worked.
Impact of an Unhealthy Body
I wrote about an experience I had with a pulled back muscle in The Perils of the Sedentary Indie. Shortly before I was scheduled to go to GDC in 2011, I was visiting family in Chicago. I have a niece, and while playing with her, I felt a small twinge in my back. At first, it was ignorable. I stretched my arms over my head, but in the end, it just got worse and worse until I couldn’t move my arms, legs, or head without feeling a lot of pain. My weekend family visit turned into a physically painful week-long bed-ridden stay. It hurt to sit for more than a few moments, so I stood, and when I couldn’t do that, all I could do was lie down. And that entire week, I wasn’t able to play with my niece as much as I wanted to. In fact, when I tried to stand up, I guess I looked so awkward and in so much pain that it frightened her to see me like that.
A couple of months later, I was going to help my fiancée’s sister move out of her college apartment after graduation, and my back started acting up again. Right when I’m supposed to help carry heavy things, I was the most useless. It wasn’t as bad as that week with my family, so I could still walk and carry some things, but I felt terrible that I couldn’t be more help.
I was also getting sick more frequently than I could recall. I would get one-day colds, fevers, and stuffy heads, the kinds of sickness that suck the motivation to work right out of you. When you’re working at a day job with benefits, they pay you to stay home and get better, but when you’re on your own, each day you don’t work is another day further from your goals.
My Body as the Vehicle for Everything Else in My LIfe
Now, I’ve read a lot about the benefits of keeping your body in shape. Besides avoiding injuries and sickness, being more physically capable, and looking great in jeans, exercise also helps your brain. You think more clearly. You’re more creative. You feel more positive, which helps with motivation. So why wasn’t I taking care of myself?
Frankly, your health just isn’t that urgent…until it is. When you’re bed-ridden due to an injury or a germ, you can’t help but realize that if you had taken the time to take better care of yourself, you wouldn’t be in this mess. I imagine that the same could be said for people who have suffered heart attacks or other major setbacks. For years, you feel “fine enough” until you suddenly feel horrible.
Still, knowing that you should take care of yourself when you’re capable of doing so isn’t enough. We’d all be exercising regularly and eating right if that were the case.
For me, what changed was when I sat down and came up with my Life on Purpose statement. There was a lot I wanted to be and do, but I needed my body to be healthy. After all, it’s the vehicle of my life. A broken down car without any gas in it isn’t going to get you to where you want to go very fast. I can be the most creative person in the world, but if I’m sick or unable to sit down at my desk without being in a world of pain, I couldn’t channel that creativity into game development.
Habits for the Body
I’ve been doing yoga three days a week, although I wasn’t always consistent. Still, since I started doing yoga, I’ve yet to pull my back muscles. Even when I could feel a pain in my hip (probably from sitting too long), a session of yoga helps tremendously.
Earlier this year, I decided that to start, I would walk every day. I found that a path near the cemetery is about a mile, so I walk two miles by the end of the return trip. In January, I took a walk a total of five days, which was not a great start. But in February I did 13 days. In March I did 15. Both are still a far cry from walking every day.
In April I did 19. I was surprised because I felt I was doing very well last month. I checked, and I found that the only days I missed in April were a few days at the beginning of the month and weekends. So while I wasn’t walking every day like I wanted, I was walking five days a week consistently before the end of the month. It was progress.
So far this month, I have missed one day of walking, which was last Saturday. Weekends require more discipline because weekends have a lot less structure than my regular weekdays do. It can be hard to plan a walk when I don’t know what is happening. My goal for May is to make sure I don’t miss any more days.
Ok, so my habit isn’t quite perfect. I’m not walking every single day like I said I was going to. But it is still my goal, and progress towards that goal is still beneficial. I have probably walked more in the last few months than I have in the year prior.
I’ve even taken up running. A friend told me about the Couch to 5k program, and while I don’t have a strong desire to run in a 5k, it did sound like a good plan to follow to get back into shape. Walking is nice and all, but running will get my heart beating faster and get me ready for the days I have to keep up with my nieces (they love to run around in circles).
I installed the RunKeeper app on my phone, programmed in the first couple of weeks of the plan, and off I went. It’s like having a digital coach telling you when to switch intervals, so now along with walking on Tuesday and Thursday, I run Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Since starting at the beginning of April, I haven’t missed a day of running yet.
So between yoga and regular walking and running, my body is healthier than it has been in a long time. I’ve lost a bit of weight, feel and look stronger, and no longer worry as much about getting hurt just from picking up my nieces or playing games with them.
Looking back, I’m glad I started these habits. At the beginning of the year, I was an amateur yoga practitioner. Today, I’m a walker and a runner, too. Today, I have months of progress behind me. When I started, I was struggling with a lot of issues, such as finances and work, as well as worrying about my health. I realized that no matter how good or bad things get, or how much I can’t control, I can dedicate time to those things that I can control.
And no matter what my goals are, no matter how my purpose might change, I was going to need my body. And I can control how much exercise I get. I can control what I allow myself to eat. I can control the time I spend on maintaining a body that will help me achieve my goals.
By creating regular exercise habits, I make it inevitable that I’ll have a body capable of powering the rest of my life on purpose.