Habit Experiment: August Recap, September Kickoff

August Recap

I kind of derailed myself this month. My habit for August was exercise, and to jog your memory, here are my goals:

1) Walk a minimum of 10,000 steps per day.

2) Do 30 minutes of resistance training each day.

3) Keep a log of my exercise and internet use.

The first week I did great. I didn’t keep a log of my internet use, but I kept track of my steps and my other exercise, and I walked at least 10,000 steps every day but one. In fact, I found 10,000 steps so easy, I decided to increase the goal to 20,000 steps a day for the following week (keeping the 30 minutes of daily resistance training), and then just to make it even more fun, I started writing every morning for 30 minutes before my first walk (January’s habit).

And then…I hit the wall.

The third weekend in August I attended a silent meditation retreat (I’ll post about that eventually). The week preceding the retreat I only broke 10,000 steps one day, and I didn’t do resistance training even once. In the week since the retreat, I’m meditating every morning (November’s habit), but I’ve not gone for my morning walk even once. In my defense, my cat got sick the day I got back from the retreat, and between emergency vet visits, clean-up of feline bodily fluids, and endless loads of laundry, my mornings have been rather hectic.

With my cat essentially in home hospice care, I know what the ultimate result will be, but I don’t know how long it will be until then, nor do I know exactly what kind of care the intervening days/weeks/months will involve. But I’ll do my best to fall back into my exercise routine and be gentle with myself in the process.

On to September

In the meantime, September’s habit is:

Drive Less

The impetus for this habit is three-fold.

First, I feel guilty for driving as much as we do. Like my daughter says, we’re hurting the polar bears by driving so much. Then, of course, there’s the political impact of using gasoline, and although my Jetta gets good mileage (~35 miles/gallon highway), driving less reduces demand for gasoline, which reduces the United State’s reliance on foreign sources of oil, reduces the need to tap into sources in ecologically sensitive areas, and reduces the impact of oil spills and refinery pollution and accidents which cost lives, both among humans and among other animals.

I know my VW’s fuel use and emissions are a drop in the bucket, but little bits add up, and I want to do what I can before we get to crisis mode (either a political or an environmental crisis), and I’m forced to make a major lifestyle change I’ve not even begun to put into action.

Second, I just don’t like driving. Okay, so I love road trips, but the daily slog from point A or point B I would much rather spend face-to-face with my children on public transit or walking in the sunshine and fresh air.

And finally, I want my children to grow up with the habit of getting from one place to another by their own power. I want to participate in raising awareness of alternatives to driving on the roads of central Massachusetts. My spouse already does this as the only employee at his company who bike commutes, but I want to get the rest of the family in on the action. We’re just a few people, but who knows who might drive by us out walking or biking one day and think, “Wow! If a mom and two kids can do that, maybe I can, too!”

We had been doing very well with our driving habits until we moved to Massachusetts. According to the EPA, the average vehicle miles traveled in 2011 was 11,318 miles per year (943 miles per month). In California where we became a one-car family, we drove about 8,000 miles a year. In Utah, we drove 5,000 miles a year. And those numbers include about 1,500 miles a year in road trips across long Western distances, so our everyday driving was really very low (about 300 miles per month in Utah).

Our Lifestyle Doesn’t Match Our Values

But here in the sidewalk-less, public transit wasteland of the suburbs, we’ve been averaging 12,000 miles a year. Considering that we’re a one-car household, our average mileage is quite low for a U.S. household, but this number represents a lifestyle that doesn’t match our family’s values, and I want to make a change.

For September, I’ve developed a mileage budget. I’ve determined that we can do all that we usually do by auto in 783.4 miles per month. This includes grocery trips, music lessons, dance class, soccer games, homeschool co-op, library visits, work trips to Boston for my spouse, and a couple of longer-distance trips to visit family and friends in the region. This incorporates some changes I’ve already implemented, such as choosing a flute/piano teacher, ballet school, and youth soccer program in our town and keeping to a once-per-week library schedule.

If we keep to this budget, we’ll be driving about 9,400 miles per year, a reduction of more than 20% over our regular driving habits.

Considering Car-free Options

In addition to keeping to my mileage budget, I’ll also keep an eye out for ways that I can decrease our driving even more.

I’ve already just about got my five-year-old able to walk the 4.8 round-trip miles for our weekly library trip, so if we can make that a habit, we can cut nearly 20 miles per month.

I would love to bike to more of our local destinations (within 5 miles of our house), but since we’ve got narrow roads used by cars that are unaccustomed to sharing the road with bicycles, it’s not particularly safe to do so. (It’s not even really safe to walk in some areas, but I refuse to stop walking.) We go to our church about a dozen times per month, and if we could bike there, we could cut nearly 100 miles more per month, which makes biking very, very tempting. I’ll be looking into tandem/trailer options that might help make this a reality.

My goals for September:

1) Drive 785 miles or less for the month.

2) Experiment with car-free travel options to local destinations.

I’ll work on these in addition to my Exercise More goals. Luckily, they go hand-in-hand, so I get to multi-task! I love multi-tasking; when it goes well I feel like a well-oiled machine. When it goes poorly…well, we don’t really need to talk about that, do we?

Points to Ponder:

Does your driving lifestyle match your values? If not, what are some changes you can make to narrow the gap?

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