Tiny Upgrades

I started running again recently.

Back in my college years I ran five to ten miles per day as part of my intercollegiate Ultimate Frisbee workout routine. That continued to a lesser degree, just a few miles a day, when I left school and moved out to LA. Though by then my gym regimen had become more about exhausting myself so I could get to sleep after a stressful day at work than anything else.

Even that disappeared within a year of hitting the road and beginning to travel full-time, however, as many of the places in which I lived weren’t conducive to a regular running habit. I developed alternative, body weight-resistance workouts I could perform in any sized space; workouts that didn’t require separate shoes or clothing that would occupy real estate in my bag.

Now, the better part of a decade later, I find myself living in an apartment building that has a newly built gym on the bottom floor. There are treadmills in this gym, among other things, and about a month ago I decided to invest in some simple running shoes and a prosumer-grade fitness tracker to keep tabs on my heart rate while I run.

I’ll be here in Memphis with access to that gym for another five months. That means I have about half a year to decide whether or not I want to make this type of exercise a habit, once more. Whether I want to be a person who runs.

I already have a corner of my living room set aside for working out. Yoga mat, medicine ball, a few free weights and various other small, specific exercise accouterment. Taking time each evening to intentionally engage my body for about twenty minutes is something I look forward to, and I find that having this equipment just there, right out in the open, ready to be utilized, ensures I make use of it in short bursts throughout the day, alongside that planned period each evening.

Having this new excuse to change into workout clothes, to put on different shoes and go downstairs, to intentionally be in a different space for a set period of time while engaging in a very different activity than what would be feasible in my flat—that’s a new thing. That’s a different experience, and one that breaks up my day nicely.

This new habit—this concise, unimpressive-in-athletic-terms running routine (I’ve got a long ways to go before I’m back up to even five miles per session)—is a tiny upgrade to my day. It’s a small thing that has made an outsized difference. I smile when I think about it. This routine has improved the quality of the time I spend and the things I do before and after it each afternoon.

The actual health benefits produced by this habit are humble. But the perceptual difference, the way it has influenced my attitude and my energy levels and my happiness? That impact is tangible. It’s been an obvious upgrade; which is saying something, as I already felt happy and fulfilled.

I experienced a similar “ah ha, everything has changed” perceptual shift when I decided to make preparing new recipes a regular part of my week. I experienced another when I started my podcast, when the necessities of that project took root and reshaped how I spend my time. Deciding to regulate my social media usage and delete certain apps from my phone, and removing shortcuts to others from my laptop browser also made a noticeable difference. Likewise for turning off all the notifications on all my devices.

Lifestyle changes needn’t be massive and paradigm-shifting to be valuable.

Mental and physical adjustments needn’t be obviously positive beforehand to add value to your life.

Habitual pivots needn’t be dramatic and noteworthy to be worth the effort.

Personal evolutions needn’t be revolutionary—needn’t involve a change in labels or even self-perception—to represent qualitatively positive growth.

Some of the decisions you make in this regard are quite substantial and require a wholesale casting off of old perceptions and rituals and routines so that you can make way for the new. But others will be concise, miniaturized versions of the same: something you may not even think to mention when relating your day to a friend or family member but which can nonetheless, over time, make your life incrementally or infinitely better.

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