Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Winning Your 30-Day Challenge

Folks have been cheering me on, encouraging me to hang in there and win my 30-day Exercise Challenge.  I'm not doing anything as intense as winning at Wimbledom but 30 straight days of exercise has been a huge challenge.

I'm three days and four workouts away! I didn't blog about the challenge as much as I would have liked, as other writing priorities took my time and attention. But as my challenge winds down, I'm giving lots of thought as to why this was different than other challenges I've given myself, and how you too might be able to challenge yourself and win.

First, pick a goal that's reasonable and doable. I could not possibly scale Mt. Everest for 30 straight days. I could, however, commit to 15 minutes of exercise a day for 30 days.

Second, define your goal in a way that you can't miss. 15 minutes a day? I mean, I spend more time than that reading in my bathroom. Uh, probably more than you wanted to know, but it's the only quiet place and... Well, you get my point. How could I not do 15 minutes a day?

Third, start your challenge quietly. I know pundits say that telling others creates a commitment. True, but sometimes you need to commit to yourself first. No one knew I was challenging myself until my challenge was well underway. Then, others noticed. "Hey, I see you doing this and you must be serious about it." If you don't get going--although you absolutely will--you're disappointing yourself which is heavy enough. Do you need grief from others too? Minimize the opportunities of the naysayers. Don't look to others in this challenge; look to yourself. Savor what you are willing to do for you.

Then, do more. That's right. This is not about challenging yourself to do the minimum that you can do, but to exceed your own expectations. I planned for 15 minutes a day, knowing I would never, ever exercise for that short amount of time. I averaged more like 40 minutes a day, sometimes, when my workout started in or around midnight, maybe only doing 20 minutes and some days, when I was particularly motivated, going for a full hour.

Fifth, once you get going, and you're nearing the end of those heady first few days, maybe three or four, when it feels exciting, tell someone. Tell everyone. Because darker days are coming, and you'll need some external support to push you forward. Your best motivation still comes from within, but a little nudge of encouragement from others doesn't hurt.

Sixth, do it. Whatever you said you were going to do, do it. No excuses. I had days when I was dog-tired and tying my sneakers at a quarter to midnight. I had to do it. I promised me, and that's important. There were days when I was dragging and didn't think I could last five minutes on the treadmill. I found that I could always do more than I thought once I got going. Inertia is heavy and resistant, but movable.

Seventh, celebrate your successes in ways that don't sabotage your victory. If you pledge to eat healthy for 30 days, then do that. Don't celebrate after day 10 with a candy bar, though, even a small one. Better yet, don't celebrate that way when the 30 days are up either. I'll talk more about the post-challenge at a later date, but once you've busted your butt for 30 days, why throw it all away for momentary indulgence? (Yes, this means I'll be continuing my exercise.)

Eighth, have fun along the way. This is so obvious but still needs to be said. Be creative with your challenge. Mine was exercise so I met my goal when I ran around a playground--yes, ran!--with my two youngest and when I shot hoops with the family. Because I really was excited about what I was doing, I still worked out on those days, and it felt great!

Ninth, invite others to join you. Because some things are better with friends. Know yourself. I needed to do this first one alone, to push myself in ways I'd not done before. Now, I can take others along for the journey.

Tenth, be prepared. Have a plan. To get through your challenge, you will need to do some planning. Look ahead to see where you might have obstacles in the road to success, and develop a plan. Mine were my bi-weekly hair appointments. Every two weeks without fail, and I, like most other Black women in America, do everything in my power not to look like I even know how to spell s-w-e-a-t for at least 48 hours afterward. So I gave myself that time. I exercised at night, except for on hair days. On those Fridays, I exercised in the morning and then not again until Saturday evening. Not quite 48 hours but good enough. And Saturday following a hair appointment was a light workout so I didn't sweat too much--gotta be cute on Sunday morning--but it still counted.

Then plan for the euphoria you will feel as you reach the end of your challenge, and plan for your next challenge and your transition to it. As I said, I'm going to continue my exercise. 5 days a week minimum. No exceptions. But I'm going to use my 30-day challenge to focus on another part of what I need to do to improve my health. Not sure which one just yet. Perhaps my eating. Getting more sleep. Taking vitamins (sounds simple, I know, but I never quite manage to do it consistently). Remember, your challenge is yours. It may be like swallowing for someone else, involuntary and requiring no thought, but for you, it's an area in your life where you need and have a desire for significant improvement.

Right now, my focus is my health, but there are other areas of my life where I expect to apply the 30-day challenge.  Writing.  Reading my Bible.  Forgoing TV.  It can be applied to anything at all.  It's about stepping stones to an optimal you.

The nice thing about your 30-day Challenge is it's all about you.

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