I set myself a simple challenge this January, to help me get through what is always a tough month.
30 days, 30 minutes of movement outdoors. It could be any kind of movement: running or more gentle walks with the puppy or a friend, or simply playing outside with the kids. Any kind of movement outdoors, every day in January.
Over the years, I’ve set myself plenty of physical or sport-related goals eg. London Marathon, triathlons etc, but none that focussed solely on my wellbeing, and that didn’t have fear of big race day to motivate me. So, this was going to be a wholly different kind of challenge.
Now my job is to encourage consistency in others to build a healthy lifestyle, but I’m curiously remiss when it comes to consistency with my own health and fitness, especially without a race day end point. I think it’s something to do with not feeling comfortable prioritising my own needs, but that’s for another blog. I’m also easily distracted, constantly questioning and crafting new ideas in my mind, so focussing on this simple challenge was good to rein in my brain.
But, how was I going to ensure I was consistent, stuck to this and actually completed this challenge? The answer for me was by making it public. Not just sharing this with family and friends, so they could support me, but also putting it out there across all of my social media. Scary, but also motivating! Take a look here at my Instagram if you’d like to see more photos.
I kept a simple mood diary pre and post-outing, rating my mood from 1 to 5. This was great at forcing me to look at and accept how I was feeling (rather than ignoring), and verbalising the benefits that I was experiencing.
I’m a person who always puts others needs first (not healthy by the way!), and it took me a few days to accept that this challenge wasn’t about getting the kids some fresh air, but was just for me, and that this was ok and didn’t make me a selfish person.
On 5th January, when a new Lockdown was announced in the UK, and the children would be back to ‘home learning’, I felt really low. I went for a really gentle walk, and this was enough and felt right for how I was feeling.
Remember that exercise is a form of stress on our body, so it’s ok to go easy on yourself and adapt your form of exercise to the feedback your body is giving you. Just as long as you don’t do nothing.
The key here is to listen to your body, not your brain. I noticed that when I was feeling low at this time, the sabotaging thoughts started to creep in. You know, the “oh, just bin your cycle ride”, “I can’t be bothered”, “there’s too much other stuff to do”, self-doubt type of thoughts.
“Yo Brain! Why are you doing this to me??”
It’s a bit of a surprise to realise that our own thoughts can be really unsupportive and unhelpful at times. But it’s an important realisation, and once you know this, you can fight back! Information is power, always.
One day I had a Covid test. My shoulders were tense, my chest tight as I was stressed by the process and of course waiting for the outcome of the test. Big improvement in mood walking by the river – from 2.5 to 4 – and that was before the relief of the text message confirming my negative result.
Sometimes I felt like I was fighting the tide, like King Canute. Abandoning the family at a crucial time in the morning (breakfast-time!) and dog barking and general chaos. But what I learnt was, they were all fine without me. It was good for all of us that I took myself off for a run. What I conceived to be the problem or barrier to me leaving the house was bigger in my head than in reality. Much, much bigger!
As I continued through the month, I began to glimpse the faint outlines of patterns.
I got an extra half point of feel good when I raised my heart rate with a run or a cycle. Most likely the endorphins to thank there.
I felt the biggest sense of achievement and boost in mood when I ran on my own early in the morning.
Walks with friends created a different but equally positive wellbeing effect – I imagine this was the added social connection, which we’re all missing at the moment.
By 25th January, though, I could feel my motivation waning. I understand now why so many New Year’s Resolutions fail. January is a really long month.
I plodded on, and ended my challenge on 31st January with a strong 5km run and a spring in my step, elated actually to have seen this challenge through to completion.
Some things I learnt on this journey:
- a lot about myself and my inner motivations
- it was great to have purpose
- it was harder than I thought it would be
- the accountability of posting updates every day was a good stressor – ie. it motivated me. I clearly have a fear of public failure! Acknowledging this ‘weakness’ and turning it around to benefit me has been a powerful discovery
- I feel extra epic heading out in the rain
My three main barriers, in order of importance, were:
- my own thoughts / self-doubt
- the weather – not the rain, but flat and grey skies really made me feel low
My three main facilitators were:
- public accountability of posting every day
- others joining in with me and looking to me for inspiration
- prepping the night before – planning what I was going to do and when, laying out kit ready etc
I have formed not one but two new helpful habits: getting outdoors everyday, and an ability to recognise and start to question and resist those sabotaging thoughts. Win-win for wellbeing.
I would definitely recommend trying this challenge, in any month of the year. Connect with me on Instagram if you would like to give it a go and would appreciate some support.