Muscle-memory and personal branding

I have written about my daily 5-kilometer running routine many times in the past.

1. Get healthy and enjoy your drive… while reading a book!
2. Habits

But this post is about the breaks in that routine and how it affects me.

I started this daily routine back in 20008/09. I started running around Kaikondrahalli Lake on Sarjapur Road, in the morning, close to my earlier home. I have no idea why 5 km, but it became my everyday habit, like brushing, bathing, or sleeping. In any given year, I manage to run the 5 km for almost 250+ days (the rest of the days: travel, work, illness, occasional weekends off, laziness, etc.).

In 2014, I shifted this routine indoors to the new apartment’s gym that had a treadmill since I didn’t have good enough running tracks near the new place.

And during the pandemic, since access to the gym was cut off, I bought a treadmill at home from Decathlon.

On the treadmill, I manage to complete my 5 km in about 40-42 minutes. The way I do it is that I walk briskly at 6-speed for a minute, and then a 9-minute jog at 8-speed, and repeat the same 4 times. By the 38th minute, I usually reach 5 km and give myself a slow walk as a reward for 4-5 minutes more.

Now, about those breaks.

At times, I’m forced to take longish breaks in this routine. Like our family drives to Coimbatore that usually last a week or more. Or, when I travel outside the city, for work, or on vacation.

When I get back from a break, I realize that I’m not able to pull off the 9-minute run. So I break it down into smaller bits – 1-minute walk, 4-minute run, and repeat that 8 times.

As I do this for a week or two, I regain my earlier form and get back to it.

I recall the adage “Practice makes a man perfect”, but I realize that it is not for the mind alone. It’s for our bodies too.

We train them to be in a particular condition by doing it repeatedly and when there’s a break, the body, like the mind, forgets that particular form. And it takes time and effort to get the body to recall that form again.

I have seen this with pushups too. You start small and keep on improving your count, the more you do regularly. On day 1, I can barely do 5 push-ups, but if I just stay at it, day after day, and gradually increase it just by one every alternate day, by day 30, I’m able to do 15-20, or more, easily.

In a way, I’m probably sticking to my routine to understand the process of aging. At some point, as I age, I’d be unable to complete the 9-minute laps and that would be the realization that my body won’t cooperate as much as it did earlier, and that I need to change my routine, food habits, and everything to suit the new normal.

As I have mentioned earlier, the way I think of physical health (above) is vastly similar to our efforts towards personal branding.

The most important element of personal branding is not sharing content on social media platforms (the ‘what goes out’). That’s perhaps the 10% effort.

The most important element is ‘what goes in’ – that is, what do you read, what do you consume in the form of content? Is it all relevant and specifically geared towards your own personal brand definition?

This reading/content consumption is a habit and requires building content pipelines so that it comes to you, instead of you going in search of it while also wasting time in the search.

Most of us neither have well-equipped content pipelines nor do we make a conscious effort to read/consume purposeful and relevant content. Mostly, we wing it and leave it to serendipity.

But this purposeful content consumption is like my everyday 5 km running – it takes effort to be at it. The more you do, the more you fill your brain with seemingly random dots that don’t make any sense then and there. But over a period of time, the more dots you have in your head, you consistently start to see the large picture and find that you can connect the dots more effectively than many others! This is an especially joyful discovery I arrived at as I started reading more regularly.

Writing online too is a habit. And takes rigor to stick to it as a process, whether it is daily, weekly, or fortnightly. It’s a cycle really – reading, thinking, assimilating, articulating, and writing. My thumbrule is ‘Read 10X more than you write’.

The same work trips, drive to Coimbatore, and vacation breaks that interrupt my daily 5 km run also interrupt my effort towards reading, thinking, assimilating, articulating, and writing. And it takes time to get back to my everyday routine – sometimes even more than it takes me to get back to my physical routine. I feel, in a way, the body is easier to train and reorient than the mind!

We used to be told that we should complete the basic education—school, undergraduate, and post-graduation—together in one stretch, or else any break may make it difficult to get into the grind of relentless studying. I can understand the relevance of that very clearly now (even though I did not, earlier).

This is a standard phenomenon even in nature. For instance, in a grassy field, if you notice a path where no grass grows, it is because animals or humans have walked on that route again and again. Because it is a regular affair, the grass, in a way, remembers not to bother growing there. But if animals/people stopped walking on that route for a few days, that memory is forgotten gradually and the grass starts growing there again!

The idea is to start training your mind early in life towards good habits, both physical and mental.

From a purposeful content consumption point of view, I was lucky to join a PR agency after the first decade of my career (Text 100, now called Archetype). A PR agency career inculcates the habit of reading more almost automatically and I got into it with total relish. That hunger to read right and read more continues till today.

One of my favorite quotes is relevant in this context – this is by Dilbert’s author Scott Adams: ‘The more you know, the more you can know’.

Build your content pipelines. Read more. Consume more relevant content every day. That would automatically lead you to more avenues to express your perspectives in your chosen space – after filling your head with so much, they need ways to get out too! I can assure you that this cycle/process/habit would be enormously useful no matter what profession you are in.