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June 10, 2003
Why is it so hard to go to the gym? When you feel so good having gone? When it is so clearly good for you? When it's fun being there and the people there are so encouraging and nice? When you know you'll die if you don't go?

It's because you won't die today if you don't go. Today you'll just sleep late or read a magazine, or have a second cup of tea, all of which feel a whole lot better than death and significantly better than going to the gym feels in your imagination. A body at rest tends to remain at rest, and is also a genius at coming up with reasons why it shouldn't get moving.

But going to the gym, like prayer, is a spiritual discipline. Yes: we have one body in a lifetime, and it's the temple of God. It's also doing the best it can to be well, and could use a little support. The most important thing about keeping any spiritual discipline is that you usually can't consult your feelings first in maintaining it. They won't help you. Never ask yourself "What do I feel like doing today?" Rarely will the answer be "Going to the gym and running on a belt to nowhere for half an hour." It probably also will not be "Saying Morning Prayer." The only thing that helps us keep our disciplines -- do the things we want to do for our good -- is a rule. I'm not going because I feel like going. I'm going because it's my rule to go. I'm not praying because I feel like it. I'm praying because it's my rule to pray at this time.

This sounds grim, but it is not. Here is why: the feelings which can't lead me, follow eagerly once the rule gets me there. The feelings will come soon, and they will be good ones. You're not going to become a machine. It feels good to have transcended the limitations of my feelings, not to have been their prisoner, not to have been hostage to rationalizations I know to be hollow ones. Everybody has reasons not to do good things. You can always come up with more. But do them anyway, and the gain in a sense of one's own worth and power is immense.

Think of a rule that will make sense: I'm going to walk to work, park far from the entrance and walk. I'm going to take the stairs, flex my calves twenty times underneath my desk every time somebody in the office says my name. I'm going to talk on the phone standing up, and rise to my toes repeatedly during the entire call. Start with something small, so you don't get discouraged. And make it a rule, so keeping it can be a contest, like when you were a kid and made silly vows not to step on the cracks in the sidewalk. And when you observe a piece of your rule, modest though it may be, you score a small victory.
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