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Blog Bernard Letendre

Personal development

An exercise in willpower

I just came back from my morning run and I mean this quite literally: I came through the front door a few minutes ago, went up for a quick shower, grabbed my computer on the way down, flipped it open and started writing the sentence you’re reading. The topic came to me two blocks out (working title: How Do You Make It Stop?) and I had the whole thing outlined in my head by the time I got back.

It wasn’t a very long run: down an eerily quiet Duplex Ave to Eglinton then up again past Lawrence – a smidge over 5 kilometers, 25 minutes start to finish. I picked up the pace in the last 500 meters, which I thought was a nice touch, and yes, I do know that some septuagenarians do better.

It was quiet and peaceful and the air outside was vivifying but to say that I really enjoy running would be an exaggeration. I made myself go out three times this week and I’m very glad I did but putting my runners on is definitely an exercise in willpower. I have found it remarkably easy, over our two months of confinement, to come up with excuses for not going out.

I previously wrote, regarding physical activity, that it’s much easier to keep it up if you can find something that you really enjoy. I also wrote that I don’t believe I would have persisted for forty years in the practice of judo if, in the early days, I hadn’t found in the dojo the kind of supportive environment and other conditions that allowed the nascent habit to take root in me. Over the years and decades, going to the dojo multiple times per week just became normal.

It became easy.

This, in contrast, is not easy. What I’m attempting to do, when it comes to running, is to form a new and hopefully sustainable habit in the face of decidedly lukewarm interest, during a period of physical distancing that makes it difficult – make that “outright impossible” – to rely on my traditional ally: bonds of community and friendship. I am trying, in lieu of an inherently collective pursuit infused with a higher purpose – an activity that I love – to substitute physical exercise for its own sake.

I have, in this quest, a few things going for me. First, I genuinely want to stay fit and healthy. I believe deeply in the importance of physical activity – for its physical as well as mental benefits – and know there would be a steep price to pay for inactivity. In addition, I like to think of myself as someone who stays in shape – I see it as part of who I am – and the desire to live up to your own self-image can be a powerful motivator.

Another source of motivation is knowing that one day, the dojo will reopen and our judo classes will resume. It will be a while I fear—indeed we may not be back until a vaccine has been developed. But that day will come and when it does, I want to be ready for my students and my training partners. A Zoom meeting with some of our club members last week served as a reminder of what we have lost but also, of what we have to look forward to.

It is unlikely I will ever develop a great passion for running but perhaps I can muster the discipline and motivation to keep it going for the next twelve to eighteen months. For now, staying fit will have to remain an exercise in willpower.

If you enjoyed this article, don’t miss its companion piece here.