Yesterday was the last day of 2020 and the first day that was cold and rainy and windy all day since I resumed exercising every day. I had been expecting such a day.
At the beginning of December after reading a blog post, I finally decided to do a 365-Day Challenge for the year of 2021: running every day for at least 15 minutes a day. Then I decided to start right away even if it was still 2020, because why not. This may sound like a joke to some people because, seriously, how is this even a “challenge”?
As someone who has done a few short-term challenges, I know that there are always something unexpected in the way that can ruin your plan. If you do a 30-Day Challenge, one most important point is not that how easy or hard it is to do it on a given day, but that if you skipped even one day, you failed. When a challenge lasts as long as 365 days, there are plenty of bad things that could just happen, say, on the 113th day and then all the things you did during the first 112 days are wasted.
For my own challenge, I have imagined days when I will be too busy and stressful meeting a deadline, or days when the weather is just too bad, or days when I have been driving all day and feel too tired to do anything, or days when I have traveled to a strange place that could be unsafe to run outside. I am sure there are many more situations that I just can’t imagine yet.
Since 2018, I have done a few short-term challenges – sometimes with a purpose and sometimes just to bring some new ingredients into life. I started with a 30-Day Vegan challenge; then I went on to do a 30-Day Pescatarian challenge which wound up lasted almost 5 months. Now I am back to omnivorous, but with more knowledge about different dietary options and how it feels to be a practitioner. In general, I become more mindful with how different foods affect my body and mind, and I am eating much healthier than before the dietary challenges.
One thing that was unexpected while eating vegan was the experience of being a minority. Growing up in China I have never been a member of a minority group. After I came to the US, I did meet racist strangers in a few occasions throughout these years, but in general I am in academic environments that have always been welcoming and never made me feel like a minority. But during my 30 days of eating vegan, the restaurants I went to often made me feel that I am a trouble to them through their reactions, including some major restaurants that do provide vegetarian options. In order to feel more comfortable, every time I decided to eat out I had to do more investigations and select appropriate restaurants. Most of the time I just cook my own food. (On the good side, I did discover some vegan friendly cuisines, like Indian and Mediterranean, which are very enjoyable.)
I also did a 30-Day Swimming challenge for which I swam for an hour a day everyday. I did it because there was a year or two during my time at Michigan when I stopped exercising completely. I remember it was one sunny day in the winter in early 2018, I finally went for a swim after a long time. I can never forget the moment when I pushed open the door and came out of the gym, a breeze of cool air flowed into my chest. “How refreshing!” I said to myself. That was a feeling I had missed for so long. At that day, I started and completed the swimming challenge. Then I was motivated enough that I continued to do exercise, either swimming or running for at least an hour, 5 to 6 times every week, until the pandemic hit in the March of 2020.
There is one important lesson I learned from making these small changes in life: you must reinforce these changes by associating them with immediate rewards; never rely on grit and pervseverance since those are guaranteed to wane overtime and you are bound to fail that way; losing weight is such a reward that comes so late that most people with that goal fail. Here are some examples of immediate rewards that worked for me:
- Find shows or programs that you love, and listen to them when working out. I particularly liked listening to podcasts when I am running. (Lately I am listening to NPR’s Hidden Brain and The Numberphile Podcast.)
- Pay attention to your feelings, however small they are. When I eat more veges and less sugars, I typically feel more agile and can stay focused for longer periods. When I am done exercising, I feel happier, more awaked and alert.
I have stopped being active for 9 months since the COVID lockdown in March. So finally at the beginning of December, I decided to do the 365-Day Challenge for the year of 2021 and also started running again right away.
All went well for almost a month. Then there came December 31th of 2020, the day that I have so many perfect excuses to skip it.
It was cold and rainy the whole day (even raining hail in the afternoon); I had invited a few people for a gathering that night and had to do grocery shopping during the day; I had planned to work a little on my research in the morning; most “importantly,” it was still 2020 and my 365-Day Challenge did not “officially” start until the next day.
Given all the circumstances, this is a day I have imagined from the beginning. I decided that if I skip this day, I won’t be able to convince myself that I can still complete every single day of the following 365 days. So I kept an eye on the weather forecast and just went out once the rain temporarily stopped. It was freezing and windy outside, the street was empty and quiet. Shortly after I began running, it started to rain again. When I got home, my face and hands were numb but I was very happy. Interestingly, the podcast I was listening to that day talked about building habits.
Now, my 365 days begin. Thanks to that rainy day, I am quite confident about completing it this year while working on many different things.
Update Jan 10, 2021
Today, it snowed in Austin! Going out for a run is actually not hard for me at this point – I think I have successfully built this into my habit in the past 30 days.
I have taken some photos of the snow. Although such snow is no big deal for someone who has lived in Michigan, it is definitely a rare event in Texas!