A Virtue of Vigour – 7: Pushing Beyond Routine

Keeping good exercise and dietary habits is important and something you should be proud of. However, this does not necessarily mean you should just rest on your laurels and keep doing exactly what you’re doing without change. You will notice as you go that exercise you previously found hard becomes much easier to the point of just being a routine. Similarly with your diet, you should start finding it just normal to avoid certain foods and eat well.

This is well and good and if this is all you want it can be the point where you stop. But if you want to take things further, you’ll need to go beyond this. This is particularly so with exercise. A simple example would be with weights. If you were doing three sets of thirty lifts with some 20 kilogram dumbbells every day, this would gradually become something that while certainly not harmful, would not give you any growth in strength. You would merely be maintaining what you already have.

What you want to do to improve is monitor would you are doing and what you can do and maintain a steady challenge. Luckily, your body is able to tell you this quite clearly simply by the amount of strain you feel. If you’re not strained by that tenth push-up anymore then it is time to go a few more until you are. If you finish a run at a distance and aren’t exhausted like you used to be, then take it a bit further until you are. This is where you will really get the value of exercise.

This is much easier to do of course when you have a specific goal in mind. As mentioned earlier with running in marathon. In a marathon, you know exactly how far you need to be able to run so it is easier to push yourself by progressively increasing the distance you run. Similarly if your goal is to build a lot of muscle, it is again easier to see what you need to do to get there. In other areas it can be less clear as such as if you play sports regularly and find you cope quite well with the exertion throughout the game, it is easy to be complacent.

Perhaps it is better to think of it in terms of work. It is common for people to become dissatisfied with their job due to the dull routine it becomes whenever you master the skills required. This doesn’t necessarily apply to low-skilled work but work across a variety of professions.

In my own professional life I know the times when I was happy with my occupation were all times when I was working very hard and often towards a goal. When I really felt like I was achieving something and getting things done. Not all jobs offer this in a clear way as not many people get to see a completed house like a builder or a successful operation like a surgeon. But there are ways within your own work to discover this nonetheless.

You will likely find that people working in more dynamic and challenging working environments are a lot more satisfied with their work overall. These will often be people that do significant overtime and take their work home with them. Also, as mentioned people who do physical labour such as building or maintenance. Why would this be? Well, for the same reason as exercising until you’re exhausted feels good. The sense of accomplishment that comes from finishing something you found challenging.

If your job is to attach exactly three hundred widgets to a piece of machinery every day and you become adept at this, it will likely become boring. If however there is a sense of competition and you’re motivated to go beyond this, then the job will become more challenging and rewarding as a result.

The same can be applied to pushing yourself further with physical fitness. This is a big part of what drives professional athletes to and why they are willing to give up so much in pursuit of the goal.

A final point relates to the previous section about falling back into old habits. If you are constantly engaged and pushing yourself beyond what you were doing before, you are far less likely to fall back into old habits.

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