A Virtue of Vigour – 5: A Good Habit is a Virtue

The first four steps have really dwelt on what you might be doing wrong. Once you’ve worked through all these it is time to start doing things right. We often think of habits in the negative sense because we associate them automatically with bad habits. For example, picking your nose, chewing your pen (still one of mine), or in more extreme cases, drinking and gambling. But there are good habits too and a good habit is a virtue.
It is important that you don’t just stop doing things but that you start doing things as well. More importantly for this step though is that you keep it up. Going back to the first step is a great place to start here.

Simple virtues that most people have are generally related to manners. Most people will say “thank you” when they receive something without thinking about it and ask for something by saying “please”. It is easy to forget that we are generally trained to do this by our parents or during our schooling. People who don’t use these pleasantries were often never taught to. This includes other virtues such as table manners, littering and personal grooming. People who have children or people who are young enough not to have forgotten will understand well what I’m talking about.

Training in virtue doesn’t have to end when we reach maturity though; it is something that can continue to be fostered and developed throughout our lives. As a simple example, I got into the habit of picking up rubbish I see on the ground and placing it in a nearby rubbish bin when I am able to do so. I also got into the habit of cleaning up tables in food courts and restaurants after I finish even though there are indeed cleaning and waiting staff there to do so. I should note, that I only mention these as examples and not to advertise these virtues. I have not been doing these things a lot longer than they have and both were developed by suggestion or by emulating others I saw doing them. The point here is that I now do both of these things without thinking about it. I just do it and I would feel kind of odd if I didn’t. More importantly, for my purposes here, it can be applied to healthy living.

One thing that happens once you have good dietary and exercise habits is that you start to feel it when you break from it. Those that regularly exercise will get a feeling when not exercising similar to that felt when you haven’t showered. You will feel dirty and the only way to feel clean (oddly enough), will be to get yourself covered in sweat and actually requiring a shower. A similar feeling will happen to those with good dietary habits when they eat fast food or something else that is particularly unhealthy. They might feel gross or bloated simply from eating one hamburger or something particularly high in sugar. It might even cause stomach problems if their diet has been particularly strict for a long period of time.

This is where you want to get with exercise and good eating. You should practice it until it becomes something you don’t think about. Something that you would just feel was wrong to miss like bathing, eating and sleeping. The good aspect of this is that the instructions are quite simple – you just need to keep doing it until you do it without thinking.

To get yourself to this point, scheduling becomes very important. You need to set aside two or three times a week where you will exercise and keep to it. At first, you shouldn’t even move days backwards or forwards and simply stick to it. Make sure that you have a general plan for what will you do and work through to the end over and over. After a few weeks, it should start becoming regular for you. After a few months, it should be a habit.

With regard to your diet, this is a little bit more complicated. Regulating your meals is much more complicated and having the same food on set days, will be at the very least – boring. But related to what was covered in earlier steps, as you slowly modify your dietary habits, you will find it easier and easier to keep to this. If you feel that having set regular meals would be something that would work for you, then that is definitely something that you can do too.

The major difference with examples of virtue above is intensity. With picking up litter, I haven’t progressed to the point where I’m carrying a garbage bag and actively searching for litter. It is just something I do when the opportunity presents itself. This is not so for exercise. When exercising you should be adjusting how much you exert yourself and ideally increasing how much you challenge yourself in order to see overall improvement.

The big reward for all of this that will be noticed is that through further exertion and better diet, you will actually find you have more energy rather than less. Even though at first you will feel you aren’t getting enough energy and you are using far more than you are used to, you will actually feel even more invigorated.

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