I’ve been thinking about challenges lately. The kind we encounter, yes, but also the kind of challenges we issue ourselves or the ones issued by others that we choose to take up. In the fitness world there is no shortage of challenges available – do x activity for y days, run/ride/move xx miles in yy amount of time, etc.
When I learn about a challenge that gets my interest I often have good intentions. I’m a planner and a procrastinator, so give me an opportunity to create a “challenge plan” in my calendar or excel spreadsheet and I’m a happy human. My enthusiasm for these types of challenges often wanes quickly once I’ve finished mapping it out though. I do best with more flexible challenges where I get to do different activities, but I think the bottom line is that I don’t really like to be told what to do or what I “should” be doing. I also do better with long-term challenges where I can take a (sometimes lengthy) break and still reach my goal.
I recently learned that Robin Arzon, a Peloton fitness instructor, posted a “31 day challenge” to move 30 minutes every day in June. Honestly, what caught my attention about this is that there are only 30 days in June… Admittedly, I did not see her original post and received 2nd hand information about it, but when I looked it up I noted that it did extend into July 1 to get that final day in there. I’ve been looking for something to “motivate” me to move a bit more, having just wrapped up a busy season at work and coming back from a short vacation where I noticed my energy level and willingness to explore on foot were both flagging. Figuring if Robin can stretch into the next month I could just go ahead and start on May 31, I jumped right in with a bike ride and yoga class. I was enthusiastic. I was excited. And then came day 2. I didn’t sleep well. It was rainy. My house is under construction and the noise is deafening. My dogs are a nervous mess because of the noise. By 2pm the workers had called it on account of the weather and the dogs and I were in a napping heap on the couch.
I could have let myself feel guilty about that decision. In actuality, I did have a small twinge of guilt. But I’ve been doing a lot of work on my internal monologue about listening to my body without letting thoughts about what I “should” be doing overtake what I need in a given situation. I know I can push through and do a 30 min tired, cranky workout but it may make me enjoy movement less (and resist it more) the next time if I don’t listen to what my body is really saying.
Looking at my journal I note that I have several “challenges” that I am tracking for the year. I’m part of the FIFI “222 in 2022” group and I’ve set a personal bike mileage goal for the year. I have also challenged myself to meditate daily and to read more books this year than last. I’m trying to get a research manuscript off to the publisher by year’s end, and dang if that isn’t both a challenge and challenging!
I know my success rate at challenges is often influenced by how challenging life is throughout the duration and I try to stay attuned to the rhythms and cycles of my schedule. I try to be compassionate with myself and to examine why I wasn’t able to complete a challenge from a neutral place, not from one of “failure” or good/bad judgements.
As for today, I write this on day 3 of my (and Robin’s) 30 in 31 challenge. I have the energy and the time to work some movement in while the pups and I retreat from the noise and mess in our upstairs cocoon. As for the rest of the month, we’ll see how the challenge and the challenges fare.
Amy Smith is a professor of Media & Communication and a communication consultant who lives north of Boston. Her research interests include gender communication and community building. Amy spends her movement time riding the basement bicycle to nowhere, walking her two dogs, and waiting for it to get warm enough for outdoor swimming in New England.