A friend of mine recently forwarded me a video from Mel Robbins. She says the simple secret to changing any habit is to keep that first promise you make to yourself when you set your alarm at bedtime. In the morning, no matter how sleepy you are, no matter how much you want to snuggle in, you get up when that alarm goes off. It’s the first promise of the day, and it helps you realize that the promises you make to yourself and keep will help you achieve goals that seem distant. Just take that one first step.
I do believe in making promises to myself and in keeping them. When I started my journey to a healthy lifestyle in 2016, I promised myself that if I could do the work of losing the weight and becoming healthier, I would figure out what I needed to do so that I would never gain the weight back. That first promise only focused on my weight; at that point, the idea of exercise hadn’t yet seen the light of day. I figured—and for the most part, I was right—that if I lost all the weight I needed to lose, I would likely be able to lower my blood pressure and have less joint pain. I was able to get off a total of five medicines as a result of that weight loss. The diagnoses on my medical record: hypertension, esophageal reflux, morbid obesity, asthma—all are followed with the term “resolved.”
When I started to exercise, I promised myself I would do so five days a week, no matter what. That was over three years ago, and for the most part, I have kept that promise as well. It is rare, except for vacations and holidays, that I forego that part of my day. For a long time, I would trudge down to the basement first thing in the morning and think to myself, “I’ll be thanking myself later.” Forty-five sweaty minutes later I would say “thank you, Margie” as I headed back up the stairs.
See, that’s where the time travel comes in! I tend to think in multiple time frames, and the Margie that is in each one of them. I still keep that initial promise to the 2016 “Just-Starting-Out-Margie” as much as I keep it to myself in this time. It is natural for me to look at the long view of whether or not I should indulge in something or refrain. Even if it’s a special occasion, I tend to think about whether my weight is doing well or if I’m at the top of my range. I think about how I’m going to feel the next day if I put on a couple pounds. It might be the only time in a couple months that I have an opportunity for some homemade dessert, but if I think that future Margie is going to be upset, then I refrain. The next day, as I get on the scale, you can hear it out loud: “Thank you, Margie!”
I practice this religiously on my dreaded Monday cardio workout. I haven’t gotten over my hatred of it, even though it is doable: thirty minutes of interval training on the elliptical. It’s not torture, for heaven’s sake. Okay, that’s debatable, but still…it’s time-limited. You might wonder why I even keep up with it if I hate it so much. The fact of the matter is, the first time I did it, I was coughing and clearing my lungs the rest of the morning. I had already been doing strength-training for over a year, but clearly my lungs had missed out on any systemic improvement. So, yes, I made a promise to myself: once a week, no matter what, I would do the cardio. I have the option of any day—it’s turned out to be Monday simply so it can be finished for the week right at the top. It has been a long time since I have had to clear out my lungs.
I have the routine down pat. The first fifteen minutes, I read. That becomes kind of tough but I make sure I read and listen to music and keep my mind off of what I’m doing. The next fifteen? I close my eyes and count my steps, because I know that 1400 steps will get me all the way home. When I’m 140 steps in I thank the future me who just completed 1400 steps, because at this point, I’m thinking about giving up. What would it hurt if I did twenty minutes instead of thirty, after all? I know the resistance gets hard somewhere between 200 and 250 steps, and again around step 400, so I power through that. The last couple minutes I sprint as hard as I can, because I want to know that I’ve burned at least 350 calories at the end. When it’s over? I think back immediately to my “140-Steps-Margie” and say: “You’re welcome.”
Make yourself a promise. Keep it. Then thank yourself.