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February 22, 2015

Intentional Challenges

As of last week, the five-week challenge organized by my good friend Jane is over. As a reminder, here's what I put myself up to and what was at stake, in reverse order:

At stake:
- $100 (to lose)
- shame (to gain)

My challenges:
- Make a real meal at least once a week
- Post at least one blog post a week
- Move my body at least 20 minutes in a go, at least four times a week, with at least one of those sessions being yoga

Sounds like not much, probably. But, as I think I said before, I was going from nothing to something, and my goal was to establish some norms. Overall, I think it worked. And I'm glad.

Since the end of the challenge, one week ago, I've only continued with the blog posts, unfortunately. But I swear I'm going to get back on the wagon.

Jane asked us at the end of the challenge what was good about it and what was difficult. Here are my thoughts.

The power of peer networks
Jane didn't just pull the challenge structure out of thin air. She likes learning about what makes for effective goals, so it's no accident that there was money on the line and social pressure. The money at stake—not gaining $100, but potentially losing it—kept me feeling there was something tangible to keep me on track. It was, of course, on the honor system, but I assumed my peers weren't lying, and I wasn't going to either. And, ultimately, like the saying went in junior high, by cheating I would only be cheating myself. I was in this challenge because I wanted to be, and I knew I had something to gain from it. And I also knew that if I dropped out for no good reason, I would look bad. Peers. Accountability.

Personal empowerment
I liked knowing that I could do these simple things—cooking, writing, exercising. And I *really* liked making them a priority. These challenges helped shift my work-first mentality from last year to a healthier mentality balanced between work in work time and self-directed activities outside that time. These challenges actually gave me permission to live outside work. And to prioritize these things that I had identified as important, even over social activities. It helped me to realize that, as much as I love people, I really am a homebody in many ways. This is why I often don't reach out to people, and make them instead reach out to me (sorry, people). It's awesome to be alone. And it's awesome to know I can make things happen (cook, write, exercise) on my own.

I didn't even realize that last part until now. The challenge was empowering. Both because I was the one directing my time and making these things happen, and also because I got the positive reinforcement that comes with meeting goals.

Go ahead. Do it. Make yourself a small goal. Do it now.

Now complete it.

Feels good, right?

In my rougher days, I would make very detailed lists of very simple tasks and rejoice in each one completed. Make breakfast. Check! Eat breakfast. Did it! Take a shower. Okay, shower good. Get dressed. Bam! I'm a person. See what we can do for ourselves? Those of us who can do these things for ourselves, anyway? What a luxury. Take a moment to think of three things that you can do for yourself that you can rejoice in.

What I wouldn't do anyway
I wouldn't have cooked every week if not for the challenge. I wouldn't have gone to the gym to just hop on the bike. I wouldn't have written about half of the blog entries. I wouldn't have done yoga in my living room. Having the challenge was enough to get me to do these things, to think about them and plan for them. And it wasn't hard. It just took a switch. And I loved that.

The tough side
It's hard to motivate when you're sick. I was sick for an entire week. I was very glad Jane helped me make my goals more general to be attainable in case I traveled, because that also made them attainable while I was sick. For three nights, I did a 20-minute session of bedtime yoga I found on YouTube. The first night I did it on the floor in my living room and didn't even rock side to side in happy baby pose because it hurt too much. The next two nights I did it in bed. It seemed like cheating, but it at least got me in my body, in a positive and gentle way.

I was also challenged with the meal-making in that I made recipes that yielded about eight servings and had issues with leftovers. I would have to make another meal before I'd run out of the last one. Still, it got me working on a system that will save money and facilitate dinners, and lunches too. I bought some more freezer containers and I'll probably need to go for another batch. Then if I can refine just a bit how to plan the meals such that I get diversity in my food I should be good to save money and eat well.

A word on the others
I won't out everyone else on their goals, but glancing over this I think I make it sound like I was in it alone even though I talk about the importance of being in it with other people, so I want to add a few words on the other challengers. Everyone set significant challenges for themselves, and stepped up to them. People drank less alcohol, spent less money, worked on publications, exercised a lot, and cut sugar out of their diets. Two people noted that they found it easier to comply with the elimination goals (like no sugar) than the action goals. (On that note... anyone giving anything up for lent?) One of the things I really appreciated about this challenge is how people commented on Jane's master accountability spreadsheet, to encourage each other. We got to see how and what other people were doing, and cheer each other on.

What's next
I wasn't looking forward to the end of the challenge. What will keep me motivated to do these things I've started doing? What will get me to step them up? That said, I do feel like by setting the precedents I did that I will keep doing what I want to do, and add to it.

I actually gained weight rather than losing it, which was a bit disappointing even though weight loss wasn't a specific goal. I think I need to pay more attention for a while to my intake and learn what is and isn't healthy, and how to balance the types of food I eat with the types of exercise I like to do. This is a big puzzle to me. I'm picky about exercise and not picky about food. Hmmm, another revelation.... Feel free to quote me on that.

Posted by beth at February 22, 2015 4:30 AM

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