This post from Elly Blue on Bicycling is a little old, but each time I come back to it the more I think about how my cycling “habit” has developed, especially now as the weather is turning warmer (i.e., there’s really no excuse unless it’s gale force wind hurricane monsoon drench downpour).
When I first moved to where I currently live in Maryland, I was excited at the prospects of being able to commute by bike. Not only did I live near a Metro station, but I also had easy access to bus transportation, and as it turned out, a bike trail to take me straight to Bethesda, where I work.
There as really no reason why I couldn’t, shouldn’t be cycling to work.
And it wasn’t a difficult concept to grasp. I knew the benefits. I had the ambition and the excitement. I knew that having easy access to a trail that passed behind the office, it was the opportunity to get started.
But I had just one tiny problem.
In her post, Blue explains the power of a regular habit:
For years I commuted daily by bike, and I did have a routine—gathering up my work things, putting on a jacket, double-checking for lights, wallet, and phone, and finally the crowning moment of donning my helmet. Each of these small actions led inevitably to finding myself flying down the road on my bike seat, which is its own reward. I developed these habits slowly over the years without thinking much about it, but it always felt a little off to skip any of them, just as taking the bus instead of my bike slowly faded away as a serious option.
People often berate themselves for not biking yet, or for driving sometimes, or taking public transit instead of riding 25 miles daily. This habit of mind is a disincentive to cycling. Habit building works best when you start with very small changes, only make one at a time, and make them small and measurable. Riding everywhere all the time might be daunting, but starting out by riding to your monthly pickup soccer game is manageable and fun. The small habit of always returning your lights and helmet to their spot by the door will make a more regular habit of riding that much easier to develop. Baby steps.
When I first tried to make a habit of biking to work, it wasn’t necessarily the doing that was the challenge.
I had all the fixins to just start the commuting voyage: the bike, random collection of gym shorts and shirts, pannier, etc.
It was developing that state of mind that was the hardest. The state of mind that biking to work wasn’t some laborious chore or a cheap shot at getting my 30 minutes of exercise per day.
I’ll admit that starting out was a tough go. When I started late last summer, there were mornings where I opted to bus to work so I can get the extra 10 minutes of sleep.
Although I didn’t bike as much in the winter, just the fact that I DID bike those few days in cold temperatures was enough to help me appreciate the effects biking had on not just my physical well-being but my mental health as well. I also found that those few days were I pushed myself to ride on cold days helped develop my state of mind. I was also able to create a ritual of sorts that, in essence, is a commitment to myself that yes, tomorrow I am biking to work.
Surprisingly this wasn’t all that hard to achieve.
After a few “sleep in” days, I realized that if don’t have my gear ready the night before, the temptation to sleep in a little longer and take the bus was too great.
So I started packing my stuff right before bed. This seems to work (so far), and I find that it has a nice psychological “pep talk” like effect on me. I’ve come to like the idea of packing my pannier and getting everything ready for the ride, making sure my shoes were ready, my granola bars set, the Tupperware of fruit pieces ready to go.
I’m not accountable to anyone. No one necessarily cares if I actually get up to bike to work, but in some ways just the act of prepping everything the night before creates this sense of accountability to myself. Like if I failed to get up and get dressed for the bike commute, I was failing myself in some way. Like I had taken away the chance to “cleanse” myself for that day.
Biking has a very meditative aspect to it, even if you are very alert of your surroundings so as not to crash into a car or a deer.
As Blue said:
The important thing is that any of these things, for many, is a motivating trigger to the act of getting out the door and on your bike.
Next step: really turning the bike into my primary and expanding its use in everyday errands like grocery shopping. And also maybe joining the locals for some rides. *eep!*