The challenge of (30-day and other) challenges

I’m a big skeptic of the 30-day (or other length) challenge.  First of all, they often get marketed to women NOT as goals for greater fitness of behavior change, but as a means to become more attractive fast– there’s the little black dress challenge, the wedding dress challenge, and of course all kinds of swimsuit season challenges.  All of you readers know this, but it bears repeating:  this sort of challenge presupposes that, sans challenge completion, we are not fit (in more ways than one) to appear in public in little black or big white dresses, bikinis, etc.  We need to shape up, whittle off pounds (what a horrible verb), tone those muscles, and fast!

So just say no to those sorts of challenges, I say.

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But what about challenging ourselves to complete a goal that we care about?  I have in mind training for an event (like the Friends for Life Bike Rally that some of us are doing in July) or a triathlon, or for an active vacation with friends or family.  These are motivated by what we want for ourselves and our bodies– to be fitter, to be up to the task of exertion, motion, endurance.  To me, these sorts of challenges make sense.

But I’ve been finding challenges challenging lately.  For a bunch of reasons, I’ve been in a slump, and not able to be consistent about movement or eating that feels healthy to me.  In my head I’ve devised dozens of 30-day challenges for myself, in the interests of restarting some good exercise and eating habits for me.  But all to no avail.

My numerous attempts have felt pretty much like this:

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So what’s a frustrated fitness-seeking fifty-something feminist to do?  Well, I picked a challenge that (to me) is not very challenging, but I hope will help me regain some confidence in myself to take on more challenging challenges in the weeks and months to come.  I started 1) tracking all my food intake; and 2) absolutely turning off my light and going to bed in time to get 8.5 hours of sleep (I need a lot of sleep to be a happy person).  I’ve been doing it for a week.  Yay!

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In the course of the week, I’ve added in some daily yoga (from my collection of yoga videos– I love me some Rodney Yee), and it’s feeling good.

Putting together a challenge for myself at this moment in time has meant finding a not-so-challenging-to-me challenge that allows me to add on other not-so-challenging-to-me bits, feeling a sense of accomplishment, starting to yearn for more challenging challenges, and taking them on.  Out bloggers have written about kaizen, or continuous incremental improvement.  I think that’s what I’m doing.

So here’s to the not-so-challenging challenge. At least for me, for now, that seems to be the way to go.

Readers, what have your experiences been like with 30-day or other challenges?  We would love to hear from you.


14 thoughts on “The challenge of (30-day and other) challenges

  1. I love 30-day challenges. I can see your objections when they’re tied to results but I think of them more as process challenges (like your early to bed challenge, which I’m planning to do as of tonight too). I’m also big on the little steps kind of approach. Micro-movements, pomodoros, the kaizen method, the whole ‘do less’ mindset resonates with me. I think, for me, it’s the strong urge to simplify, simplify, simplify. Looking forward to hearing more about your challenges. Good luck.

    I’ve written about why I like challenges:

    1. Thanks– I’m happy about imposing some order on sleep, and for me tracking food intake is focusing and not stressful (this really varies among people). I like your post on challenges– it’s great to be part of a group that has a lot to say about these things that we both care about and struggle with. Thanks.

    1. HI– just read your post; I laughed out loud at the 1-minute HEB challenge on MFP. You killed it, girl! 🙂 But yes, focus and prioritization are the things. Another thing your post says implicitly: it’s okay to trust yourself. You needed a rest week. So you took it. And made a nice dinner in the bargain. Yay! Thanks for pointing me to it– I’ll be checking it out.

  2. I’ve never participated in a structured 30-day challenge. What I have done inadvertedly is cycle daily for 30 days or it was close to 40 days. That’s just simply cycle commuting during wk. and general recreational /fitness cycling on weekends.

    I wondered why I was feeling “tired” when I was cycling small distances. Then I realized I had given myself a rest day off the bike. 🙂

    THis has happened to me several times over the past 2 decades. I seriously DON’T plan for this challenge. I simply fall in love with cycling to a point that my body wants to cycle daily. To me, that’s the best experience of all: you aren’t measuring yourself, you’re just moving.

    So try a 30-day, every day cycling challenge, where cycling is your mode of transportation or fitness daily. The distances can be very short on some days. Why beat yourself: you’re moving, you’re mobile and that’s a blessing.

    1. I like this idea, Jean. It is now that glorious (if sometimes rainy, but we don’t melt, AND we own raincoats) time of year; perfect for such a thing. Will do, and will report back. Thanks!

  3. “Then I realized I had given myself a rest day off the bike.” Error: I meant I had to give myself a rest day off the bike.

  4. I’m with you on the struggles of challenges. Even when they aren’t the cringe-worthy Wedding Dress challenges, I always trip myself if I try a challenge. Invariably, I have to miss a day or two of it because of life, and my obsessive nature tends to view that as a failure. What I have started doing is using an app (in my case, Balanced) to track how many times I do something in a month. That way, I can focus more on hitting a percent rather than trying to do something perfectly.

    1. Thanks– I’ll check that out. I have the same type of nature, but somehow tracking doesn’t bother me at all. It’s that inner potential Buddhist non-judgmental observer self (who I wish would be outer more often…)

  5. I like the idea of challenges. The GOAL can just as easily be stupid as worthy, though, and that’s both a personal judgment and a test against social pressures. I think they really only work well when they are fully understood to be “trying something new” (possibly to abandon it) or “shaking something up.”

    (In other words, I see a “wedding dress challenge” as inherently odious because to me it embeds the idea of deception and the inevitability of “giving up” at some point in the near future. That’s assuming it has a weight-loss goal, though. A good wedding-dress challenge could be, say, being mindful of health and self-care patterns so your dress still fits the way it was bought. Which, to my mind, should be “bought/tailored to fit well” as opposed to “in an ‘aspirational’ size.” 🙂 )

    When people ask me for advice about new habits, I suggest challenges of different kinds as a way to test the waters (notably 7- or 30-day challenges or “every Monday” challenges). Some people just don’t care about long-term performance goals and find a string of 30-day challenges more engaging than a more repetitive exercise pattern.

    30-day challenges work well for me when the activity is something I enjoy and when I need a jump-start or pattern re-groove.

  6. Hi Catherine, I really like your distinction between “good” and “bad” challenges. It made me think about Lent. There’s an argument for choosing something positive for the 40 days (e.g. doing acts of kindness), rather than going for a traditional negative / deprivational goal (e.g. giving up your favourite food). Your distinction made me think of this. So in your example, getting enough sleep is a positive challenge, which will hopefully affect your mood and energy levels for the better. But starving yourself to fit into a bikini just sounds sad and unpleasant (to me anyway – can’t speak for everyone of course).

    To me the biggest difference in the two types of challenge is in the impact of the outcomes. If you are feeling well rested and happy (in your example about sleep) presumably your family / friends / colleagues (whoever) may feel some benefit from that, as well as you yourself. But if you lose X pounds to fit into a wedding dress – well, seriously, how much difference does that actually make to you as a human being seeking personal growth (which I’m certain you are); or to the lives of people you care about?!

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