Back in December a friend put a challenge to the Boulder startup community: exercise every day for at least an hour a day for the first 100 days of the new year. It was more of a “let’s motivate each other to be healthy and exercise” than a “I can do more burpees than you” type of challenge. Me, being a part of the startup community, and being the kind of guy who loves joining group activities, immediately signed up.
The event garnered a lot of interest from the community, and we even did a measurement/weigh-in day on December 31st. The next day, the challenge began in earnest.
We’re 10 days into the New Year, and I’m failing myself out of the program. But for good reason.
Before signing up for the 100 days challenge, I was at the gym 3 days per week for 16 straight weeks (thank you Foursquare check-ins for keeping track), hiking usually once a weekend, occasionally biking to work, and about once a month getting out for a longer ride. In short: I was getting a healthy dose of exercise, and feeling great about it.
The best part about my workout routine was that it suited me and my schedule: it was flexible and effective. I could do two back-to-back days if I knew I wasn’t going to have time over the weekend, or attend an event on Monday, then gym on Tuesday, or vice versa. If I was tired and my energy was low, I could put the gym off for a day, and would actually go to the gym the next day. I had decided that I was the type of person who went to the gym 3 days per week. And I did.
I found freedom in the flexibility, and commitment in the accountability to myself. It worked for me.
With the 100-day Challenge, I figured I could split my lifting routine from three days to four, then throw in some other fun stuff to make the full seven days per week. One of the core ideas behind the challenge was that the community would motivate each other to work out every day; we could lean on each other for support, but it didn’t quite turn out like that for me. In fact, it had the opposite effect on me. Here’s as far as I got:
- Jan 1: Dancing for at least an hour (after midnight on NYE)
- Jan 2: Some good cardio in the afternoon
- Jan 3: oops, nada
- Jan 4: Hit the gym
- Jan 5: nothing
- Jan 6: zero
- Jan 7: zip
- Jan 8: zilch
It was on Wednesday the 9th that I had to step back and look at what was going on with me. How could I go from being someone who always got in his three weekly workouts, to someone who hit the gym only once in eight days?
I came to an important realization: failing on the 100-day commitment changed my perspective on myself. Instead of seeing myself as someone who always went to the gym, I saw myself as someone who broke a commitment, someone who failed. This happened on day 3, and then every day thereafter just compounded things.
These decisions don’t happen on a conscious level–at least the negative ones don’t! And very quickly it was affecting more than just my workouts. I used to get back from the gym, usually late, open up my laptop and plug away at some more work, some side projects, or something productive. Or occasionally reward myself with an hour or two worth of gaming time. Now I was getting home, skipping the gym, playing video games, watching DVDs, or just generally being lazy. By day 5 I was two days behind, and all I could think about was how I’d failed. Each day added another day of failure, and another day of feeling like I was so far behind that I’d never catch up, or the fact that I could never catch up because I missed one single day. One day missed and it was all over.
Don’t Fix What Ain’t Broke
Thankfully, I took stock of what was happening, and made a change: I dropped out of the challenge.
I struggled with this decision; no one likes to fail, no one wants to be a dropout. Least of all me. I thought about starting over with a new 100 days challenge to begin on the auspicious (but never attainable) “tomorrow.”
The fact is, there was nothing wrong with what I was doing before. I didn’t need to be better, I didn’t need to do more. I was in a routine–a great routine–and it was working for me. I tried to fix what ain’t broke, and ended up breaking everything.
This was an important lesson for me. My motivation and accountability systems were working, but in this challenge I changed up both of them. I went from from internal (identity-based) motivation to external (group-based) motivation, and it sapped my drive. Then, in going from internal to external accountability, when I didn’t workout, the guilt of an entire group weighed on my shoulders, though for certain they were entirely unaware of it.
Simply put, what I was doing worked, and I’m going back to doing it.
In the future, I’ll be more cognizant of whether or not something is working for m, before I jump head-first into changing everything.