Today I completed a 30 day challenge for fitness. I hate being sweaty and I hate running and I’ve never stuck to a regular workout routine before this one, and that’s because my goals and expectations were way too high in the past. For this month, I decided to set the bar SUPER low.
The goal was simple: walk twenty minutes every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Instead of promising myself I’d run an hour a day 6 days a week even though I felt up for it on Day One, I knew there would be days I’d give that goal a big hunking middle finger and damn it all to hell. Not only did I set the goal really low, I arranged it around my shower schedule to make it even harder to find an excuse not to get a little sweaty. I accounted for the terrible lazy werewolf that lies inside me and comes out more often than I’d like to admit, and made it virtually failproof.
So even when I was sick, even when it was raining, even when I was on my period, even when I had a JAM-PACKED day with “no time” for exercise.. well I was always able to manage a tiny 20-minute walk.
In the past, no matter how much I knew I “should” do something, like floss my teeth every night for healthy gums and to avoid costly dental visits later in life, no amount of “motivation” could get me to do it consistently. You’ve probably gone through the same scenario as you try to form a new habit–you start out at breakneck speed, kicking ass and taking names. You are a rockstar, king of the world, no one can stop your unbeatable machine… for the first 3 days. Then something comes up or you get sick so you miss a day, then you get pissed that you missed a day, and you toss your would-be habit into the gutter with the rest of your failures.
Well, I found that if I promised myself to floss just one tooth per day as Ramit Sethi suggests, I was able to once-and-for-all commit to daily flossing (and usually end up flossing every tooth). And I figured that if that worked, the same behavioral change could be applied to my exercise routine.
In the end, there were only a handful of days where I only walked for 20-minutes. In reality, I often ran and walked intermittently for an hour or more. I even did my routine on some of the off-days. Many times, I got excited that I fulfilled my twenty minutes and that positive boost gave me the energy and desire to keep going. Because I started small, I left myself room to expand or contract as I saw fit, all the while making baby steps in a positive direction.
Some of my favorite benefits from this fitness challenge include:
- Time to think. Detached from computer, just me and the road. And the trees and the streets and the birds and the sun and the rain and the people and the sights and the smells and so on and so on. Letting my mind wander from the things it usually thinks about.
- Added flexibility. See photo! Stretching wasn’t part of the goal, but it kinda just came with the territory. I’ve never been a runner, but I soon discovered that running without stretching hurts a lot.
- Sustainable while traveling. I was on the road in northern California for the majority of this challenge, and that was one of the main reasons I wanted to pursue it–I knew I would be surrounded by lots of good friends and good food during the holiday season.
- Weight loss. Just a smidge, but a noticeable smidge. Proud to say I can now close the button on my favorite jeans from college.
- Social aspect. Sometimes my days feel crunched for time (working on that one too, stay tuned), and taking a tactic straight from one of my favorite books, Never Eat Alone, instead of scrapping social time or exercise, I combined them. I invited my friends to join me on a hike, which made a totally different exercise experience keeping the challenge fresh and varied.
- Exploring new places. As I said, I was traveling for the major duration of this trial, and in the past, I’ve used traveling as an excuse not to exercise. “I want to use the whole day to see new sights!” Walking or running can be done anywhere and doing it while on vacation can heighten the experience–you get to see new places and faces while you maintain your physical balance. I explored parts of Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, and Santa Cruz that I never saw before thanks solely to this challenge.
- Not hating running. Ugh, I’m almost embarrassed to admit this one, but also excited. I no longer hate running.. I’m not gonna go so far as to say I love it, but once I got into it, I realized and experienced some of the benefits you hear about it all the time.
- New techniques. Discussing this challenge and my new interest in running with friends brought up some interesting discussions, which led to learning and testing “the one best way” to run. I realized I had been running incorrectly, and it was causing a fair bit of knee pain for such a light jogger. I just tried my first set of 100-ups and barefoot running today. It’s a fresh experiment so I’ll save the conclusions for another time, but so far I can say that it was an interesting experience and I enjoyed the feeling of lightness and accuracy of minimal footwear and connectedness to the ground. My ankles are sore from this new technique (not landing on the heels), but I am looking forward to trying this again soon.
I’m not 100% sure what’s next but I will maintain this new habit for the forseeable future.
What baby steps can you take today? My idea in sharing my 30-day challenges is to inspire you to try some experiments of your own. It’s only been a personal achievement and helped me until I hit “publish”, but if it inspires even one of you to take action then that makes it even more worthwhile for me. Let me know if its gotten you thinking or doing and please share a link with your friends if so!