Some people start fitness challenges in September, the start of the school year that somehow feels like the real start of the year to many of us. Others go with the more traditional January start. It appears I like April. I wrote about it last year.
This year my workplace is doing an activity challenge for the month. It doesn’t have to be walking, but that happens to fit with another challenge I’m also doing. I like the fact that getting enough sleep and drinking plenty of water are also goals.
The other challenge is with one of my medieval groups, where we are aiming to walk 183 miles by the end of May. Why 183 miles? I have no idea! There is probably a very logical reason that I have forgotten, or missed completely in my enthusiasm to join up. Whatever.
The challenge works out to about 5 km a day for me. I used to do 10 km walks regularly, but haven’t done one in at least 15 years.
Sometimes I go out late in the evening, and catch the light near dusk. I am lucky enough to live near two large rivers, so there is always plenty to see.
I feel blessed to live in a walkable part of the city, with a real variety of landscapes.
I don’t do 5 km absolutely every day, but I am getting the distance done each week. My walks are getting longer, I am going into the office as an excuse to knock off an easy 6 km, and on Easter weekend I walked for 10.6 km.
Best of all, the chronic hip flexor pain is gone. Apparently I needed to get out of my chair a lot more than I realized. And I am learning to enjoy my own company, just wandering and admiring the views.
I know that not everyone likes holiday fitness challenges. For some of us I know it just feels like too much, one more thing, and added stress over an already action packed, frazzly time of year. If that’s you, look away! I get it. I get that challenges of this sort aren’t fun and motivational for all. I am not interested in changing minds. This morning, I want to preach to the choir.
I like holiday fitness challenges for providing some structure through the chaotic holiday season. I enjoy taking part in them.
A friend sent me the rowing challenge–100 km or 200 km in a month. She’s about 6000 metres away from hitting her 5 million metre mark!
Since I usually only row 2-5 km at a time, that’s quite a bit of rowing for me, given how much I also ride my bike on the trainer. Yes, there are bike ergs but that’s not my thing really.
If you’re a runner, there’s always the holiday running streak.
No, not this kind of streak.
I used to love my holiday running streaks. See here and here and here. I’ve tried to do bike versions but my heart wasn’t in it really. It just made me miss running.
But for you, if you’re a runner, here are the details about the holiday run streak.
See This Is the Winter Challenge You Need to Stay Motivated: “The rules are simple: Run at least one mile per day, every day, starting on Thanksgiving (November 25) and ending on New Year’s Day (January 1). That’s 38 consecutive days of running. You don’t need to officially sign up anywhere. Just go out and do it. Five of our editors have committed to joining you out on the roads and trails through the ice, snow, darkness, and turkey-induced comas.” #RWRunStreak
It’s a more compressed time period. When I rode at the track we had a training camp that week. But this year I’ll likely be heading south for a combo biking and boating holiday that week. So no Festive 500 for me.
The upshot is that none of these challenges fit really.
Four days in, I’m still adjusting to this fresh start of a decade. We’re living in the 20’s now. A decade that makes me think my word for the year should be … ROAR.
My cousin introduced me to this word of the year practice about 10 years ago. Our guest blogger, Anne Simpson, wrote about her Word of the Year a few days ago. The idea is to distill your hopes, dreams, ambitions and challenges for the coming year into a word. What’s the one word you choose today to describe the year you are aiming for? A word that aspires to something greater, but doesn’t set you up for disappointment. A personal word that captures both who you are already (and you are just dandy the way you are!) and how you can refine that existing excellence. A word that will inspire you for the 364 days to come.
Last year, I had some pretty definitive plans for 2019 related to one of my plays and my book that was publishing in July. I wanted to remind myself not to get too caught up in expectations. I also challenged myself to meditate every day. My word was PRESENCE. In 2018, I was immersed in book writing and my personal challenge was to not shop for clothes or shoes for the whole year. My word was ATTENTION.
A quick note about these challenges I mention. I’m not one for resolutions. Or maybe I just don’t like the word, in the context of the New Year. There’s something about resolutions that always feels like someone/something is chastising me to do better. And I was never very good at sticking to resolutions. But I have developed a habit of setting myself a challenge for the year. And, weirdly, I generally manage to stick to my challenges. Could just be that the word is more motivating. My challenges are usually ways of being that I want to try on for size, with no commitment to extend after the year is over. You can bet I’ve shopped for some new clothes since 2018 finished.
This year feels largely unknown and fluid. Scary. I have some specific events I’m looking forward to–talks I’m giving in Princeton at The Present Day Club and San Francisco at The Battery; another reading of my play at Missouri State University; plus a new workshop series I’m planning with a friend of mine. I don’t know what any of these will lead to. I don’t know what my big project for the year will be. A new book? Another play? Rolling out the workshops? Plus, there’s my challenge for the year—no buying anything (except books/tv/film) on amazon. I may also go back to an alternate month no-shopping practice, because the prospect is peaceful to contemplate.
All in all, I feel open. Excited. Super daunted. And sometimes a little frustrated, because shouldn’t a woman in her 50’s be looking forward to a steadier, more settled year? That’s my voice of insecurity having her say. But she does not get to decide my word! So, given all that, what is my word?
The upheaval of September always makes it hard to take good care of myself.
This year it’s going to be especially tricky.
Not only am I getting back into my usual routine but I have one son starting high school and another starting university (so many new things to figure out!) I am in charge of an annual arts festival, I have a couple of writing contracts and I am preparing to teach an online course.
All of those things are marvellous but I know there is a great risk of me losing myself in the shuffle. So, I have been brainstorming ways to ensure that I can find time for my own well-being in the middle of the muddle.
Luckily, my dear friend Tracy came to the rescue this week – and she did it by accident!
In her good-bye post this week, amidst her lovely comments about me (<3 Tracy) she noted that I love a short-term challenge and that set me on the right path for a September plan!
It’s true, I do love a short term challenge – a set of activities and plans already in place for a week, ten days, a month, gives me a real feeling of contentment. Whether it is a fitness challenge, a writing challenge, or an art challenge, (hell, I have even done a house-organizing challenge) I find a real sense of purpose and satisfaction.
I don’t complete every single short-term challenge that I take on but I ALWAYS make progress (on my own terms) and that feels great.
I think that my enjoyment stems from the fact that the nature of a short-term challenge is really satisfying for my ADHD brain because:
I can see the end right from the starting line so it doesn’t bring up that feeling of ‘Ugh, I have to do this forever and I don’t even want to start.’
For a WHOLE MONTH, I am free from the agony of prioritizing in that one area of my life. Having my priorities clear in one area frees up some energy for prioritizing in others.
I have a pre-generated plan so I don’t have to make a daily decision about what activities to do to match the priorities in that area.
If I’m following someone else’s challenge, I usually have company (at least online) and some accountability.
So, oddly enough, with the impending chaos of September, I feel really happy and excited about adding one more thing to the maelstrom.
I’m going to challenge myself to do yoga every single day in September.
My plan is to do yoga for at least 7 minutes* every day as early as I possibly can** in my morning routine
I think this will make a good September challenge because I like getting up early, I like having a specific thing to do right away in the morning (a victory before my day really starts!) and I really love yoga and how yoga makes me feel.
And, I am going to use this challenge to help me work on a challenge I face due to my ADHD.
One of executive function issues is with task initiation. I have trouble getting started, no matter how much I *want* to do the thing I have planned.
Since I love yoga and I love a short-term challenge, I really WANT to do them so it removes some of the issues with task initiation. I’m going to experiment with a variety of factors and see what approach makes it easiest for me to do what I am setting out to do here.
For example: Will setting my yoga mat out in the morning make it easier for me to get started? If I use music during my practice, will starting the music cue me to be in the right mental space for yoga? Do I need to set a reminder on my phone or put a visual reminder downstairs?
I haven’t decided on the parameters of the task initiation experiment aspect of this but I have a whole week to figure that out!
Would you like to join me and challenge yourself to some yoga in September? You don’t have to decide to take it on for a whole month, you can join me for part of it. And your parameters don’t have to be exactly the same as mine. Let me know in the comments and we can figure out how to check in with one another.
Please wish me perseverance and watch for my follow-up posts in September!
Hey everyone. Remember way back in September when Cate, Christine and I started the blog’s first “Fit Feminist Challenge Group”? Well guess what? The first iteration of three month challenge group is winding down this week and it’s been a fabulous experience.
We kind of jumped into it not knowing exactly how it would go or even having a clear idea of what we planned. We were firm in our commitment to try different things and see what worked and what didn’t.
Most of all we wanted to create a supportive community where people could get ideas, focus their goals and strategize how to meet them, and feel the motivational and inspirational force of being in a group where people are happy to cheer you on. And in keeping with the blog’s feminist principles, we encouraged people to shift their focus away from dieting and weight loss and looking a certain way.
I’m happy to report that we mostly did that. Though not everyone who joined at the beginning stayed plugged in as a major presence (and there may be things we can do to prevent that next time), the community remained supportive and encouraging to the end, and we really didn’t need to remind people to steer clear of weight loss and dieting as conversational topics in the group.
For the first couple of months we stuck more or less to themes for each day of the week: Motivation Monday, Try This Tuesday, Workout Wednesday, Tag Thursday, Fun Friday, Sum Up Saturday, and Strategize Sunday. Cate, Christine, and I took turns posting to the group on the theme and invited people to share in the comments. Christine designed some colourful and fun images to go with each day, and things rolled along with one of us taking responsibility for a couple of days each week and rotating through every third Sunday.
Over time, we got more inventive (or maybe we felt the themes were getting old), drifting away from the set script and being more free with our posts when we felt like it.
We also tried a few things that didn’t work well. The main thing that didn’t work as we thought it might was breaking people up into small groups that were asked to check in with one another on specific days of the week. So there was a Monday check-in group, a Tuesday check-in group, etc. We thought this would give people a chance to bond with a smaller group, but instead it resulted in many people being confused about whether they could post outside of that weekly check-in, and hence they felt alienated from the larger group. That had never been our intention, so after we felt it not coming together, we did a little poll that confirmed our suspicion. Out with the small groups!
We also have determined that three months might just be a little too long to keep the momentum and energy going unless the facilitators have a lot of time and energy to doing just that (and even then, you really do need to switch things up regularly to keep everyone’s attention). The next versions of challenge groups will be shorter in duration and more focused in purpose.
Overall, as I said in my post to the group for this morning’s “Talk about it Tuesday” (we morphed into that from Try This Tuesday after we thought it unreasonable to have people try something new every single week!), my greatest insight from the challenge group experience was how much I enjoy being accountable to and a part of a supportive group. It’s super inspiring to gain energy from the energy and enthusiasm of others.
Do you like the idea of online challenge groups as a way of incorporating more consistent fitness practices into your life? Have you had any experience with this type of support environment? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.
Last week, I walked from Benedictus Spinoza’s birthplace in Amsterdam to his grave in the Hague, a journey of (on the slightly indirect route I selected) some 75 or so kilometres (50ish miles). It took me two full days. By the time I finished the first day, my legs were wobbling and my feet were blistered. By the time I finished the second day, each step made me cry.
Why would someone undertake a walk like this? I did it because I love Spinoza’s thought, and I admire Spinoza the man. In a way, I wanted to seal my relationship with Spinoza with a kind of grand gesture. This isn’t the first time. I celebrated my 40th birthday by getting a Spinoza tattoo. Now, I’m 44 — the same age at which Spinoza died, as it happens — and living in the U.K. for a year, which makes it easier for me than it usually is to travel to continental Europe. It occurred to me to visit Holland’s various Spinoza sites. As soon as I realized that the whole geography of Spinoza’s life fit into a walkable distance, the idea of doing the walk became an idée fixe for me. The two things that particularly appealed to me about the idea were that such a walk would be both an embodied activity and a meditative activity, and that it would be difficult. Both of these themes are central to Spinoza’s thought.
In a way, it is surprising that Spinoza, the great 17th century rationalist philosopher, has anything to contribute to our ideas about embodiment. Some other prominent philosophers of the period — most notably Descartes — regarded the body as a mere vessel for the mind, and blamed the body for the errors of the mind. Our minds, on Descartes’s view, are (in some sense) infinite and transcendent. Perfection is at least in principle possible for them. Our bodies, on the other hand, are finite and corruptible. Worse, they can corrupt the minds to which they are intimately joined. For Descartes and his followers, carnality — embodiment — is to blame for our evil thoughts, our irrational thoughts, our errors, and our sins. One of his most influential followers — Malebranche — therefore argued that to be virtuous one must make oneself as much like a corpse as possible.
Spinoza was different. He regarded the mind and the body as just two ways of thinking about the very same thing. For Spinoza, the body isn’t some flawed vehicle we’re stuck in — it actually is us, just as much as our mind is. Indeed, the body just is the mind, but thought of as part of a physical system rather than as part of a system of ideas. Like most philosophers, Spinoza offered instructions on how to become wiser. His advice was the opposite of Malebranche’s. Where Malebranche says “Make yourself like a corpse,” Spinoza says, “No! You’re an organism, a living, breathing, complex organism operating in a system that involves tons of other organisms. The path to wisdom is understanding those systems in all their complexity.”
Thus, we find Spinoza offering the following sensible tips:
…to make use of what comes in our way, and to enjoy it as much as possible (not to the point of satiety, for that would not be enjoyment) is the part of a wise woman.* I say it is the part of a wise woman to refresh and recreate herself with moderate and pleasant food and drink, and also with perfumes, with the soft beauty of growing plants, with dress, with music, with many sports, with theatres, and the like, such as every woman may make use of without injury to her neighbour. For the human body is composed of very numerous parts, of diverse nature, which continually stand in need of fresh and varied nourishment, so that the whole body may be equally capable of performing all the actions, which follow from the necessity of its own nature; and, consequently, so that the mind may also be equally capable of understanding many things simultaneously. This way of life, then, agrees best with our principles, and also with general practice… (Ethics IV.45 cor. 2)
* Ok, I admit it. Spinoza says “man” and “he/him”, here and throughout. But isn’t it better this way?
Many sports, not just sports but many sports.
We ought to play many sports (and eat and drink nice things in moderation and take time out for the theatre and listen to music and do a little gardening…) because our bodies are complex and benefit from a variety of types of nourishment, exercise and stimuli. Not just that — physical variety is important for our intellectual lives because our minds and bodies aren’t really different things at all. Understanding means understanding bodies.
Sometimes, when you’re sitting at a desk for hours, or whizzing around in a car or a plane, it’s easy to make the Cartesian mistake of thinking of the body as a vessel (like the desk, the car, or the plane). But any runner knows how rich that sequence of thoughts are that occur on a long run. They’re not just rich; they’re connected to our surroundings in a much more intimate way than they are when you’re stuck at a desk or on a plane. In those more contained environments, one tends to have controlled thoughts — the thoughts that one plans to have. Here I am at my desk thinking about this task that I have to perform. Here I am on the plane thinking about the article I’m reading. When we confine the body, it’s easy(ish) to confine the mind too.
You can do that to an extent during exercise. I’ve certainly taken runs or walks or bike rides in which I’ve intentionally focused on some problem or another. And, in some ways, we’re way better at solving such problems when we’re exercising. But I challenge you to actually go on a run or walk or ride and never once have your thoughts turn to your environment, on the one hand, and to the rich phenomenology of being in a real live body, on the other.
For me, on my long walk, this meant lots of thoughts about Dutch waterfowl and architecture, and the ubiquity of bicycles in the Netherlands, and the terrible toll of the Second World War on Dutch jewry, and the surprising similarities between rural Northern Dutch culture and the culture of rural Eastern Ontario. It also meant lots of noticing how feet and calves and knees and hips and iliosacral joints feel after one hour of walking, two hours, four hours, eight hours… It meant remembering that pain in itself isn’t dangerous and, so long as you genuinely aren’t in danger, can even be really interesting. When your feet really, really hurt, I learned, it is easier to keep walking than to resume walking after a rest. I relearned (because I first learned this when I was training for a half marathon a couple of years ago) that it is easier to approach a long physical challenge by thinking of it in terms of a collection of small challenges with small rewards. (Once you’ve passed that windmill, you can look at your watch. Once you’ve crossed that bridge, you can have a handful of nuts.)
If you asked me whether my big Spinoza walk depended on physical stamina or mental stamina, I would reject the question as unintelligible. In this instance, at least, physical and mental stamina are two sides of the same coin — a most Spinozist result.
The walk, though, wasn’t just an opportunity to explore firsthand and without distraction the inseparability of embodiment and intellection. It was also a challenge — a chance to undertake a difficult task. I won’t say too much about this. If you didn’t understand the appeal of difficulty, you wouldn’t be reading a blog about fitness and feminism. Part of what makes fitness fun is pushing oneself to achieve a difficult result. Feminism, of course, means undertaking a whole other set of difficulties, more difficult ones usually than are required by our fitness efforts, and alas not always fun.
While it might be surprising at first to learn that Spinoza has useful things to say about embodiment, it should be entirely unsurprising that he understood difficulty. After all, his parents and grandparents were forced from Spain to Portugal to France to Holland by a succession of anti-semitic laws sweeping Europe between the 15th and 17th centuries. Spinoza himself was forced out of the Amsterdam Jewish community, and then wrote one of the most notoriously difficult works in western philosophy despite poverty, ill health and a day job grinding lenses.
Spinoza’s final words in that work remind us why we try to do difficult things. He writes, “all things excellent are as difficult as they are rare.” That is, if something is desirable and yet uncommon, it must be hard to get or to do. The difficulty doesn’t make such goals less excellent, though. On the contrary, your willingness to undertake a difficult and rare achievement is evidence of just how excellent it is. Think of it: “All things excellent are as difficult as they are rare.” If that isn’t the right motto to repeat as you push yourself to finish a ridiculously long walk, or to shave 1/10 of a second off your race time, or to add a triple axel to your routine, or to score a goal against the toughest defence you’ve ever encountered, then I don’t know what is.
Shannon Dea is an associate professor of philosophy at University of Waterloo. Her hobbies include hiking, doing yoga, missing the swell bike that’s waiting for her back in Canada, and sticking to cockamamie plans once she’s gotten them stuck in her head.
We both like challenges here at the blog and this one is easy to adapt to your own level. It’s a “set your own goals” challenge so the idea is just to say what you’ll do and do it. You can set the bar low, if like Tracy you’re a fan of “doing more by doing less” or “aim high and fail but still do lots more than if you hadn’t aimed high” person like me!
Blog reader and cyclist AB has signed up for “700kms in Oct (which is 23 commutes to work, which is every work day + 1 more day..).” I pledged to ride 400 km during October, which works out to be 20 commutes at 12 km a round trip, plus 4 weekend 40 km rides. You can sponsor me here.
It’s the Australian Great Cycle Challenge! Yes, it’s spring there and fall here but I love autumn riding and I figure they’re not a bad match in terms of riding conditions. Also, lots of readers are actually there. Yes, it’s an Australian charity but since it’s for medical research I don’t actually care where in the world the good work is done, just that it is done.
“Great Cycle Challenge encourages you to get on your bike this October to fight kids’ cancer. You just register yourself, set yourself a ride target and then pedal as much as you can throughout October.
Your kilometres and progress will be displayed on your personal rider profile page (created when you register) and you can customise your page with photos, videos, a personal message and even nominate a person to ride for.
Thousands of lycra-loving enthusiasts across Australia will be pedalling to raise funds to develop treatments and find a cure for childhood cancer.
Give your car some alone time this October…register for Great Cycle Challenge today!”