I know, I know… The internet is full of various 30-day challenges and the idea is not even really that interesting anymore. But I had to try it. I’ve been wanting to make myself exercise more for quite some time, but it just never really fit into my lifestyle and daily schedule that well, so I kept pushing it to my “someday” land.
But last year I started to feel as if I didn’t have much control over my life. This made me develop a strong need to challenge myself with something to increase my strength of character. So I thought that making myself work out every day for 30-days would be quite a good start.
The very beginning was pretty hard, I’m not going to lie here. It was the 3rd of October and it was Thursday. I actually thought that it might be better to just either start the following Monday or wait for another month and start on the 1st of November so I’d have a clean month. But I resisted and made a choice to start it on the 3rd of October and finish it on the 3rd of November. That was a huge win in itself!
The first couple of weeks were quite strange too. Working out daily made my days feel extremely short and I’d constantly feel exhausted and not wanting to do anything else. That October was literally just me working and exercising – nothing else. But I made a decision to stick with it and see where it leads me. I exercised at the gym, at home, early in the morning before work, late at night just before bed, while watching Netflix or Youtube, while waiting for a meal to cook… And I can tell you that it did actually make me realise a few things:
1. Starting something new is the hardest part
Prior to this challenge, I’ve never been in a gym. I’ve used the machines back at school during our physical education classes but that was about it. Needles to say, I wasn’t feeling that comfortable about going there at all. And when I finally made myself to go – I felt as if I was out of place and I shouldn’t really be there.
It got easier with time though. I’d only go twice per week (I mainly exercised at home), but each time I went I felt less intimidated there. After a few days, I’ve already started challenging myself to run faster and longer and to lift more and heavier. Doing certain exercises soon became the norm and I wanted to try different things almost every time I worked out. I’d spend time watching videos and reading about different types of exercises and couldn’t wait to try them myself!
Working out quickly became a necessity for me – it helped me rewind after a difficult and emotionally charged day at work and just generally feel better about myself. At the very end, I couldn’t wait for my daily dose of exercise and I even started recommending others to do the same.
In the past, I’d feel somewhat unwilling to start something new if I wasn’t feeling confident that I’ll follow through with it. But this made me realise that it’s okay to start something even if I think that I won’t be able to complete it in the end. Starting something new will always be the hardest part of the journey, but only by starting I will be able to find out how far I can really go.
2. Progress is the best motivator
I printed off a calendar where I crossed a day each time I exercised (I learned this trick from the book Upskill). Seeing all the days being crossed without any breaks were very motivating and saved me from skipping my daily exercise on days when I was REALLY just not feeling it.
For example, there were days when I exercised at 1-2 am just because I couldn’t allow myself not to. There were also days when I had to leave social events and meetings earlier just so I could exercise. Even if I was feeling super lazy and tired, or when I thought that working out on particular days were absolutely meaningless, I still made sure to exercise. There was simply no way I’d mess up my calendar and not cross all these days off!
I’ve been using this calendar strategy for all my personal projects ever since I discovered that it actually works for me. It’s literally the only thing that makes me stay on track each week and do the things that are important to me but aren’t necessarily easy to fit into my daily schedule.
3. Pushing yourself hard is quite good for you
It’s easy to do things when you feel inspired and want to do them… But to make yourself exercise when you are tired and are really not feeling it is really difficult. The more difficult it is, however, the more proud of yourself you will feel if you do it anyways.
The times I exercised when I was really not feeling it made me the most satisfied with myself. I thought that I can do anything I set my mind to. There were no more questions of “will I ever be able to”, I started to think that if I just start and continue and persevere with something no matter what – I will get to a good place (as long as it’s something I want strong enough and I can influence directly).
It made me believe that power is in my hands and that, at the end of the day, it really is just a decision. You either decide to do something or you decide not to. And all these “I’d do this, but…” are never good answers to anything (at least nothing comes to mind right now immediately).
This showed me that it’s not that bad if I need to push myself to do something when I don’t particularly want to. Yes, it might be super difficult and inconvenient, but can also be very inspiring. It will make me feel better about myself and strengthen my character. This is definitely giving a different meaning to many other activities that I know I need to do but am not particularly very excited about doing.
4. It’s best if you find a way to enjoy it (what an unexpected discovery 🙃)
When I was a teenager, I exercised every day for nearly 2 hours and followed a ridiculously strict diet for a couple of months because I wanted to lose weight. I hated it. I also usually exercised while feeling angry at myself for putting myself in the position of needing to lose weight too. I couldn’t wait for it to finally end and I really hoped that I’ll not need to repeat this ever again.
However, I enjoyed the challenge this time around. I wasn’t angry at myself and I wasn’t overly strict with myself either. I ate whatever I wanted and I allowed myself to socialise if I wanted to (I refused to have a social life the previous time because I was afraid I’d end up eating out or something like that). I wasn’t choosing exercises based on how helpful they are in losing weight. Instead, I did the ones I liked and enjoyed doing. I wasn’t even expecting any real results either, but I was curious to see if I can gain more strength and become more fit. That’s how I started to love the idea of working out. Now it makes me feel good. Almost half a year has passed since I ended the challenge and I’m still exercising quite pretty much every day.
Yes, I followed through both times because it was important to me, but the second experience was much more pleasant. This made me realise that by making certain activities more interesting and meaningful can help ensure that I’ll stick with them for longer. Simply because I won’t feel desperate to end something as soon as possible. Even now I’m trying to look for ways to make things more interesting and exciting for me wherever I can. Sometimes simply changing my attitude towards something is good enough too!
5. Doing something is better than not doing anything at all
You’ll not always be able to move mountains or do the best work. And you won’t always feel full of energy to exercise well. Sometimes, you’ll only be able to do simple exercises that are not requiring too much strength or energy and that’s okay. It’s still better than doing nothing and it’s still letting you move forward.
That’s what I realised on some days when I was exercising while not feeling that well. If I wasn’t able to put a lot of energy into physical activity, I tried some basic yoga and pilates exercises because I found them easier. This allowed me to exercise even on those days when I had headaches or didn’t have much energy to move around and just wanted to sleep.
I still try to do things even if I think that it won’t make a big difference. If I plan something, then I’ll do my best to do it on the day I planned to do it, even if I can’t do the whole thing. Sometimes it’s quite ridiculous too – if I don’t have time to do something properly that I originally planned, then I’ll still try to do at least the bare minimum I can. For example, it might be something as little as writing two sentences for an article or looking for an image for a future post… But I think it’s better than not doing anything at all and I can save time the next day I pick it up! At least that’s what I tell myself nowadays because I prefer to move slowly than not moving at all.
6. It’s up to you whether you’ll achieve something or not (it depends on what it is of course*)
I believe that the strength of character is one of the key things that lets us achieve our goals in life. If we have a weak character, then we’ll always look for excuses and will not hold ourselves accountable for everything we do or think.
There were times when I felt like quitting because I wanted to stay out longer with my friends, wasn’t feeling well or was just lazy. There were also days then I was thinking to myself that this challenge is just stupid and there is no actual point in making myself go through this (I had to sacrifice some of my other activities in order to exercise every day).
However, the point of this challenge was to train myself to think that I have control over my life and my actions. I’m happy that I managed to complete it successfully no matter how many “difficulties” I encountered.
It made me notice that simply making a decision can make all the difference. Once I make my mind that I want to do something or to get somewhere, I just need to make sure that I align all my actions and behaviours to achieve these things. Something as simple as making myself spend more time on particular things, forcing myself to leave my comfort zone or saying ‘no’ when I have to, can push me closer to my goal. This also made me much more protective of my time - I try to waste less of it on things that are not important to me (like binge-watching some random series regularly so I just cancelled my Netflix subscription 😅 ).
7. It’s important to act on the inspiration quickly
There were times when I’d feel a sudden surplus of energy and really wanted to exercise there and then, but I’d tell myself that I’ll do it later instead because it wasn’t the right time. After an hour or so, the energy would be gone and I’d have no desire to exercise anymore, which meant that I had to force myself to do that because I didn’t really want to anymore…
So many ideas are not brought to life because we don’t act on our inspiration. We feel this strong need to start working on something but then tell ourselves that we will do it later… and then end up never doing it. Waiting can kill the inspiration and not acting on it can be a huge lost opportunity.
Now I feel more willing to just do something the minute I get inspired to do it, rather than wait to do it some other time. And even if I think that I won’t manage to finish it fully, I try to at least start something. I’ve kickstarted many projects in the past that I’ve never finished because I lost interest in them later down the line and started something else (yes, I know, I’m already working on it and trying to improve this character trait 😅). But I realised that simply starting things and gaining experience from it can make it easier to start other future projects that might lead somewhere.
8. We should always try to learn something from our experiences
Many people have tried this challenge and each one of them had a different experience. There might be people who learnt something from it and people who simply finished it and forgot about it. Because I’m interested in self-development and how various experiences shape us, I decided to look a little bit deeper into this and think what I’ve learned.
It’s obvious that our past experiences develop us and help us grow personally and professionally. But while some experiences have the power to shape and change us, others won’t make much difference in our lives simply because we either don’t think about them that much or don’t try to get the most out of them.
Of course, we don’t need to overanalyse every little experience we have, but it’s very useful to think about what we can learn from certain experiences in our lives so we could grow quicker. That’s why I try to play a more active role and take the initiative to create certain experiences in my life. It’s much better than simply going with the flow and being content with whatever is thrown my way. I can direct my life in such a way that I’d learn things that can better serve me in the future.