Do you want to get in the habit of running every day? Then for god’s sake, stop pushing yourself to run every single day.
I know, it seems counterintuitive, but let me explain.
When someone claims that they’ve turned something into a daily habit, that they do that one thing “every day”, they usually don’t literally mean every single day. Sure, that might be possible, even expected for some of the more passive habits (I hope you’re brushing your teeth every day), but running isn’t one of them.
When I was in High School, I used to say I ran every day.
Why? Because I ran cross country and track and found myself running around the wooded streets of our little town like a maniac six out of the seven days of the week for practice.
On that seventh day though, my teammates and I would give our feet a rest from the road. On some “rest days,” we would exercise different muscle groups by biking, doing core, or some intense stretching rather than hitting the pavement again; other days, like the day after a big meet, we would go to McDonald's, stuff our faces and do … well, nothing.
It wasn’t in spite of that single rest day that I could confidently say that I was running every day, but because of it.
If there’s anything I learned from my years running competitively, you can’t keep up the habit and make it to daily practice if you don’t consciously choose not to make it at least once a week.
If you don’t do so, it won’t just burn you out physically, but mentally as well.
As with any habit you’re trying to form or keep up, you need to allow yourself exceptions to your own rules in order to keep them going.
If you don’t make exceptions, you’ll trick your mind into thinking you’ve failed before you’ve even given yourself a chance to succeed.
Think about it this way: Let’s say you start up a new “run every morning” goal for New Year’s (a classic). You wake up the first day with intense enthusiasm — enough to get you out of bed in spite of that champagne hangover and out onto the road or into the gym.
You run, you finish, and you feel accomplished.
You manage to keep this up for a whole week, and you quickly feel as if you’ve finally cracked this whole “running every day” thing.
Except no one’s told you that almost no one runs every single day.
By week two, your shins start to hurt and you begin feeling sluggish. You don’t have that same pep in your step as you did on that first run on New Year’s day, and waking up in the morning feels more like a chore than a Christmas morning adventure.
Somewhere around week two or three, you fail to get out of bed for your run.
When you finally do stop hitting snooze on your alarm, you feel awful about yourself. Although your body is clearly telling you that you need a rest, your mind is dead set on that everyday goal and screams “You’ve failed! Once again!”
Here comes the great irony: If you just took that one day as a sign that your mind and body needed a rest, you could’ve kept up your habit.
If you just let yourself chill for a beat, then set your alarm to run again the next day, your running habit would have been left intact the next day. Allowing yourself that one day and making it a habit to let yourself “fail”, at least once every week, would most likely have been the thing to keep you from throwing in the towel on another New Year’s Resolution.
Unfortunately, most people never get to that mindset. Instead, they give up, overcome by the disappointment of a single blight in their perfect streak.
At the end of the day, I’ve found that you fail yourself a lot less often than your mindset does. The all-or-nothing mentality has got to go if you ever want to achieve a daily running goal — and that goes for every other habit-based goal, for that matter.
My advice? Don’t take the “every day” part of running every day so literally.
Calling something a daily habit should just imply that this is something you’d do on a regular day, five to six days out of the week. Off days or recovery days shouldn’t be seen as failures or blights on an otherwise perfect record, but rather as essential parts of your daily habit upkeep; parts of the greater daily habit system that help keep it running smoothly.
Neglect to respect those days and you’ll continue to throw a wrench in the whole thing.