Asking Amy Issue #9: Habit keeping

Also ... Walter Mitty keeping, The best kind of waxy buildup, and a broom to sweep your colon

The other day I was trudging along one of the backroads near my house – fighting my way through our usual multiple weather systems, which this time of year cycle through every ten minutes or so. This week has been particularly dramatic, with soft dawns followed by snow squalls, and the other morning a massive fog bank moved swiftly across our pastureland, swallowing everything in its path. Truly, I have never seen anything like it. 

My daily perambulations are taking me farther afield lately, and I am exploring roads and pathways right near my house that I have somehow never been on. Every day I come across something unexpected – brooks boiling with spring runoff and cutting through mini-gorges, rabbits racing through the greening skunk cabbage, and turkeys – lots and lots of turkeys. 

These exhilarating little discoveries are the best byproducts of my newest habit, which is to walk for an hour outside, every day.

I’ve been trying to either kick start my fitness or maintain a routine for the last 50 years – and I’d estimate that for about 40% of that time, I’ve had a solid routine of early-morning walking. When I lived in Washington, I’d leave little Emily sleeping in our apartment (please don’t call CPS), and meet my friend and neighbor Margaret down in the lobby at 6AM. We’d walk through our neighborhood for 2 miles, cap off our time with a trip to Starbucks, and I’d be back in time to get Emily to school. 

In Chicago, I fell in with a group of women in my neighborhood and we’d meet at the street corner at 6AM and jog along the city’s glorious lakefront for three miles. A couple of these women were “real” runners, and I was amazed at how different their experience seemed to be from mine. They seemed like gazelles; I was more like my little dog Molly — running happily for awhile, but then wanting to sniff (and pee). That routine lasted for several years – but that was several years ago.

(Fraud alert! Posing as a “real” runner for Runners World magazine was something of a stretch…)

After I moved back to my hometown, my exercise habit fizzled, faltered, and then sputtered to a complete standstill. I joined a gym but didn’t go often enough. I would occasionally walk to the end of the road and back, but – the habit didn’t stick. I felt bored, lonely, and completely unmotivated. Turns out, I needed my walking buddies to keep me on track.

The pandemic seems to have scared me into trying again (it’s HEALTHY, people!), and since around Christmas I’ve maintained a solid habit of outdoor walking and jogging. I’ve now passed my typical quitting zone, and – this feels real. And it feels great!

My most recent book to listen to on my walks is:  “Atomic Habits:An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones” by James Clear. Clear offers his own experiences, information about brain science, and lively anecdotes to discuss how habits form, and how to keep – or lose -- them. In my listening, I picked up some pointers. I also realized that I was already doing some of the things he recommends.

It turns out that some TINY changes have made this newer habit “sticky” – and my attitude toward this outdoor time has shifted from one of tolerance -- to enjoyment. I have turned an occasional practice into a daily habit.

What I have learned from “Atomic Habits” is that many of the little tricks and techniques I’ve been using for my own habit forming are “scientifically proven” to work. 

It’s science, people!

(Sorry, people, I’m all tied up today…)

I created positive visual cues: I double knot my sneakers when I wear them. When I come in, I used to just slip them off, leaving them double-knotted. Turns out, just looking at that double knot could discourage me from putting on my sneakers. Now – when I come in, I UNKNOT my sneakers, removing that miniscule impediment, and leave them near the door.

(Untied, I am ready to roll!)

I made things easier by staying at Week Two:

Years ago, I downloaded one of those “Couch to 5K” apps. I used it for awhile, but gave up on the program about half-way through. It just wasn’t fun for me. It was – too hard. I also couldn’t visualize myself running 5K, so … what was the point?

About three months ago, I reactivated the app. 

“Week One” was easy: 5 minutes of walking, 1 minute of running, etc. 

“Week Two” was a tiny bit more challenging. But – I slammed into the app’s paywall on Week Two. Did I want to pay $9.99 a month to continue on past Week Two?

MMMMMM. No. No, I did not. 

“What if I just stay at Week Two forever?” I thought to myself.

Now when I use the app, I slide on through Week Two. Week Two is my friend. Week Two is where I live.

“Hi, my name is Amy. I will never get to Week Three.”

I’m a Downhill Racer: I live in a very hilly area. For years, I let the hills hold me back. Jogging uphill was – too hard. I beat myself up for not completing my jogs, and so – I quit. 

This winter, during the thickest of the worst blizzards, I drove to a local factory and walked back and forth on their paved and plowed parking lot. No hills. 

Now – if I’m going to jog for at least part of my time outside, I mainly run downhill. Oftentimes I feel so good after making it to the base of the hill, I just keep going, loping up the next tight hill.

I use “temptation bundling.” This one’s easy: I save up an experience I want to have, and “bundle” it into my outdoor habit. I’ve been listening to audio books and favorite podcasts. My little “rule” is that I can only do my listening during my outdoor sojourns. That massive Cary Grant biography I just listened to was 17 HOURS LONG.

I stop if I want to. Giving myself permission to stop when I want to has had an interesting effect. It means that I also get to keep going, if I want to. And – I often want to. This has led me to wander off the beaten path – tramping through fields, stopping to take pictures, and sometimes — daydreaming.

That’s a habit I’ll try never to break.


Railey Jane Savage’s Junk Food: (Things I consume to feel better)


RAILEY WRITES: “Eyes forward but glazed. Attention paid to something unseen. Distraction incarnate. Such is Danny Kaye as Walter Mitty in the 1947 film, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. As Mitty swims in and out of his hallucinatory daydreams the transitions are marked with a repeated onomatopoeia, “to-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa,” that echoes in car engines, train tracks and sewing machines.

“In 2013 I brought home a giant orange cat whose purr was so loud it would rattle the windowpane. He was both aged and overweight, but easygoing to an extreme. He would drape his 20 pounds across the windowsill, or at my feet, or in my car, slowly shut his eyes and just purrrr-apurrrr-apurrrr. I named him Walter.

“Walter Mitty—the man—had a bad habit of daydreaming himself out of reality. Walter Kitty—the cat—was so easygoing that I lost track of my good habits. This is to say that Walter’s resonating purr and expansive belly were the most feline things about him. Whereas every other cat I know requires an unchanging routine to start the day and feel their best, Walter was happy to simply take things as they came. The laidback attitude that accompanied the purrrr-apurrrr-apurrrr was liberating and fun, but when he died a few years later there was nothing to fill his absence but continued bad habits. This took a long time and a lot of effort to undo.

“I miss Walter terribly, but have since gotten comfortable with a routine that works for me and my two current kitties, PoPo and Freja.

As the tape of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty whirred in my VCR, PoPo and Freja came to investigate. They sniffed at the sound before snuggling up to both sides of my lap, shutting their eyes, and purring themselves to sleep. And as the tape chugged and clanked through repeated to-pocketa-pocketa-pocketas, I joined them.”

Railey Jane Savage writes, watches, and lives in Ludlowville, NY. Follow her on Instagram @cartoonsandcats

Laura Likes:

Laura Lorson recommends GREAT STUFF.

Laura writes:

Well, outside, it's May, as seems to keep happening every year. That means we're headed into the season for graduations and wedding showers and all kinds of things that require a gift that's nice, but not weirdly nice, respectable but not crazy expensive, possibly for someone you don't know all that well. Here's my go-to suggestion: scented wax tablets from the (amazing, wonderful) Santa Maria Novella perfumery/farmacia of Florence.

(Mama Mia…!)

“They're wonderful little things, the perfect size for tucking in a drawer or hanging in a closet. They smell fantastic and last for ages. I like their (justifiably famous) potpourri, so that's the scent I always get, but they come in freesia and rose and lavender, any of which are a fairly safe option since most people like those scents.

You can also get them in the (also very famous) Santa Maria Novella Melograno scent, the translation of which is "pomegranate" but smells to me like a citrusy chypre -- I like it, but people raised on 90s perfumes that smell ethereally of fruit and flowers or clean laundry may not be such fans, so that's probably a little bit more of a roll of the dice. They're beautifully packaged, with florals embedded in the wax. It's the sort of thing one doesn't often think to buy for oneself, and I've never *not* seen someone's face light up when they unwrap them. If you're stuck for a quick (but nice) present, you might consider these. Little luxuries are always a treat. 

Here are some links, for your perusing pleasure:

Laura Lorson is a writer and radio editor and producer in Lawrenceville, KS. Do yourself a favor and follow her on Twitter: @prairielaura

Emily Mason’s Targeted Upsell

(Our consumer correspondent’s weekly wandering into the darkest corners of Internet marketing)

Emily writes: What the Internet wants me to buy:

What’s New?

“While scrolling Instagram the other day, I was introduced to Colon Broom. A dietary supplement to aid in digestion, as well as weight loss.

(How’d they get the broom inside that little container?")

Apparently, you take a quiz about your body, Colon Broom sends you a personalized mixture that you add to the liquid of your choice. You drink it, and then you are…

Swept clean, so to speak. 

I won't share the full details here, but suffice it to say that the ads and websites are incredibly blunt about what exactly the product does.


And by that I mean “WHYYYYY!?”

 I just wanted to look at pictures of clothes and artfully arranged desserts!

But no, alas I was forced to see exclamations about digestion, as well as expulsion, with additional declarations from alleged “people” lost pounds and pounds with no effort!

...Here I was thinking that sudden, rapid, and presumably explosive weight loss was a reason to call a doctor, or maybe a therapist.

But if the internet wants me to go all-in I guess I’m wrong!

Why am I seeing This?

I guess my decision to search for “ways to eat healthier” was a Very Bad Idea... 

Did they sell me?

Uhhhhhh...well, what do you think?

Dress it up any way you want: this is a laxative. 

I could explain the potential dangers of using a product like this without consulting a doctor, and why this choice of advertisement on a platform like instagram that’s frequented predominately by women and teenagers is alarming, but frankly Jameela Jamil does it better than I do. (click on the link to see what Jameela Jamil does so well).

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