Changing a Habit

changing-a-habitNot too long after I returned from walking the 500-mile Camino to Santiago my mother said, “Your brother-in-law is very impressed.”


“Yeah. He gave you three days.”

“Three days? He didn’t think I’d make it past three days?”

“Your sister Liz gave you a week.”

I laughed and realized they had every reason to be skeptical. I was not a hiker, nor did I consider myself athletic in any sense of the word. The last time I attempted anything even remotely close to this was when I walked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon 10 years earlier. By the time I came back out, my boyfriend was carrying both of our packs and I was in tears.

So if you think you’re not in good enough physical shape to walk the Camino, there is hope.

How to do it? I followed the advice of Leo Babauta of Leo was an overweight, unhappy smoker. Six years later this father of six was a runner, a non-smoker, and the founder of one of the most popular blogs on the Internet. What did he do? He changed his habits. One very small step at a time. And that’s just what I did.

  1. Just start — and start very, very small. My goal was not to walk a certain distance or for a certain amount of time. My first goal was this: get out the door. I didn’t fret over having the right shoes or the right clothes. It didn’t matter. As long as I got out the door. After a week, I grew my goal — but not too much. I decided to do one walk around the block — and I lived on a very small block. 
  2. One habit at a time. Yes, I wanted to learn Spanish before the Camino. And learn to meditate. And a friend wanted to teach me to knit. But I said no to all of those. My goal for the next month was to make just one change: Walk every day.
  3. Pick a trigger. This was key. The idea is to pick something you do every day, then add your new habit on after that. E.g., after I ate my daily cup of yogurt, I washed out the cup and then took off. If I was traveling, or friends were visiting, or anything was coming up that would disrupt my plan, I thought ahead to when I could get that walk in. Often, it was as simple as telling the friends I was visiting, “I’m preparing for the Camino by walking every day, so I’ll have to fit that in at some point each day I’m here.” Many times they’d offer to come along.
  4. Enjoy. If you don’t enjoy it, why do it? I learned to savor those walks. I loved the silence of the early morning, the birds chirping all around me. I started to notice how much better I felt having walked each day.
  5. Be accountable. The friend I was living with got up later than I did. The first thing she asked when she saw me was, “Did you already do your walk?” Every time I said, “Yes,” she told me how impressed she was or how happy she was I was sticking to my goal. Housemates aren’t necessary, however. Social media sites make it even easier to be accountable. When I decided last November to write 50,000 words in a month, I posted word counts on Facebook almost daily. Friends responded with words of encouragement, which kept me going.

And there you have it. Five steps. That’s it.

Was it easy? Not always. There were days it was 25 degrees outside. There were days it was pouring rain. Then I recalled reading about people who had walked the Camino in the rain for weeks. Or who had crossed the Pyrenees in bitter cold. And off I went.

This wasn’t the first time I’d used Leo’s plan to start a habit. I write for a half-hour every morning — and have been for over a year now. My latest change? Meditation. March 1, I started with just two minutes every morning. A couple days ago I increased it to four. I’m starting small — very, very small.

What habit would you like to start? What very small step could you take to get started?