I planned on 2020 being the year of the 30-day challenge: I’d push myself to try new routines, rebuild old habits, and change my diet. Then COVID-19 happened, and my will to go forth with new challenges fell by the wayside as I became obsessive with statistics and infection rates. I couldn’t sleep; I didn’t want to do anything other than play video games and read news about coronavirus in the hopes that some good news would arrive. And as I looked over my list of incomplete challenges, perhaps nothing disappointed me more than the lack of progress on my 30-day workout challenge.
For the past eight years, I’ve struggled with my physical fitness. I signed up for a gym membership (heck, four I think at this point), scheduled my daily workout, and bought plenty of workout equipment. But the same pattern would emerge: I’d work out for a single day, maybe two, get bored, and give up. The cycle was exhausting.
Over the past couple of months, I watched Rachel restart her running routine after a year-long break, and seeing how hard she worked to regain her form inspired me to do the same. Rachel wasn’t willing to quit even after a couple of hard runs, and it forced me to look in the mirror. Getting back into shape wasn’t going to be easy, but if there was ever going to be a time to rebuild my workout schedule, now’s the time. Here’s how my 30-day workout challenge got my fitness routine running again.
Where I started my journey.
If I were to describe my athletic ability in one word, I’d choose mediocre. I’m a mediocre baseball player, mediocre skateboarder, and mediocre in just about every other sport I’ve ever played. I’d argue that my three greatest physical achievements (in no particular order) are the one time I trained for a marathon, my perfect wiffleball game, and eating an entire pound of bacon in less than 24 hours. Not much for the trophy case there.
Yet, when things are always at their most stressful, I find myself wanting to improve my physical body. There was after the first real breakup that I signed up for my first gym membership, or when I attempted Insanity for a month while gorging on Chicken Finger Tacos in Buffalo. After moving to Virginia, I joined another gym and went only a couple times before letting my membership run out.
What I’m trying to say is that it’s tough for me to get excited about working out, and I’m not alone. According to the Cleveland Clinic, 80% of Americans aren’t getting enough exercise. What does enough exercise look like?
The Department of Health and Human Services recommends 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise, or a combination of the two. That’s your cardio. But it doesn’t have to be just running: moderate activity could include everyday tasks like mowing the lawn or swimming. For vigorous cardio, maybe sign up for a dance class or dust off that P90x DVD sitting on your bookshelf.
They also recommend strength training exercises for every muscle group two times a week. For these, you don’t necessarily need to sign up for a gym, there’s plenty of home exercises that will help build you up. I’ll go over those a bit later.
For me, everything changed in the winter of 2015. Reeling after a painful breakup (I’m noticing a trend here), I decided I needed something to clear my head. Thankfully only a mile or two away was the George Mason Aquatic and Fitness Center. There I decided it was time to start my 30-day fitness challenge.
The most important move I made that afternoon though, was signing up for a personal trainer. A former member of the military, Tiffany, kicked my ass. She set up an intense workout schedule, mixed in the upper body and lower body strength training, and made sure that every afternoon I left the gym knowing that I had just completed a good workout. And after a couple of weeks, I started to see progress and rebuilt confidence in my body. We only had a 45-minute workout once or twice a week, but I found myself in the gym early Saturday mornings, early Sunday mornings, and after work. Of course, I’d take a rest day here and there, but I loved every second of being at this gym.
But of course, life happens. I made excuses, a single day off turned into a week off. And before I knew it, I lost the will to keep exercising. Every time I’d try again, I’d quit within the first week. I was too sore; my entire body hurt. Everyday suddenly became a rest day.
Where do I want to be? (And why!)
Remember when I bragged about eating a pound of bacon in less than 24 hours? Between my food palette being equal to that of an eight-year-old and turning 33 this past May, I realized that I want to live a long, healthy life.
A 2012 study revealed that young people who adopted these “five healthy lifestyle factors… (including a lean body mass index (BMI), no excess alcohol intake, no smoking, a healthy diet, and regular physical activity)” remain in a low-risk category for heart disease later in life. Something as simple as moving a bit more during the day, and adding some vegetables to my diet could extend my life expectancy.
After understanding why I wanted to be in better shape, I needed to try and figure out what that looked like for me. I’ve been doing a lot of work with Tony Robbins over the past week. Rachel encouraged me to give him a real shot- give it 110%- and if I didn’t like it, I could say so. Otherwise, I’d never know how justified my hesitations about Robbins’ work would be. So together, we signed up for the Comeback Challenge. I wasn’t really sure what I needed to come back from, but I promised to give it a real go.
And something incredible happened. On day two, Robbins introduced the idea of state: how our beliefs and systems control what we do. But most importantly, how we can change those narratives to be more successful.
To figure out where I wanted to be, I asked myself to be specific in my answers. I wanted to have better cardio, gain muscle mass, and not be so reliant on processed foods. Better cardio so that I could run without hunching over and coughing up a lung after a couple minutes. Gain muscle mass, so I’d look great on the beach for my honeymoon. And eat more vegetables because come on, frozen chicken fingers can’t be good for my long-term health.
I wanted to make sure I kept all of this in my mind, so after writing it down, my next steps were unclear. But 30 days later, I can tell you that I succeeded in my workout challenge. So how did I do it?
How to nail your 30-day workout challenge?
There’s tons of information online about how to get fit in 30 days; any type of program you can imagine is available at your fingertips. Whether it’s a strength training workout video or a 30-day workout plan, the truth is that there is something out there for you. And rather than focus on the physical act of working out, I want to look at something more profound that will guarantee success for your 30-day workout challenge: we’re going to focus on our mind.
We’ve all been there before: January 1st, our New Year’s Resolution to exercise more, to get more healthy. Then a few weeks later, life happens. We start going to the gym less, we start ignoring our bodies more. It doesn’t matter what strategy we chose: P90X, full-body training, or HIIT class. If we aren’t in the right mental state for exercise, no plan or strategy was going to work. I recognized that first-hand as I failed over and over again trying to get back into shape, but it wasn’t until I changed my beliefs that I was able to make a real difference.
1. Use Tony Robbins’s 3 Patterns for a Breakthrough.
I’m going to take a bit from Tony Robbins here. The reason why so many people fail to complete their goals is that they focus on the wrong thing first. So to steal a bit from Robbins’ lessons, let’s talk about Strategy, State, and Story, or the 3 Patterns for a Breakthrough.
The strategy is the easy part. If you’re setting up your 30-day workout challenge, the strategy is your plan. There’s a ton of different strategies out there to get fit quick. Robbins believes that “the problem for most people is not that they don’t have a strategy; it’s that they’re not using a strategy that works for them or acting upon it.” Finding an exercise routine or new diet plan is as simple as a Google search.
We always try and solve a solution by searching for a strategy, but for this 30-day workout challenge, I want you to figure out your strategy last.
Stories are what we tell ourselves about why or why not we can achieve something. Robbins says, “A disempowering story is one of the things that controls people and makes them stuck in their beliefs. Most people tell a story in a selective way, so they don’t have to ever maximize their effort towards a strategy because they’re afraid they will fail.” When I struggled to stick with a workout plan, it wasn’t because I didn’t have a plan. It was because of the story I told myself: I couldn’t exercise because I didn’t have the time or the energy.
Robbins talks about destroying any limitation in your mind. I want you to think about your story and what you’ve been telling yourself about why you haven’t been working out. Is it because you’re too busy? Or do you think you’re too weak, too old to start? Whatever that limiting belief is, it’s time to really think about why you have it and what your new belief is going to be. Change your story, change your life.
The first thing we need to do is think about the mental and emotional state of our mind. The idea of a positive state isn’t just a Robbins thing, Positive Mental Attitude was huge in the punk rock scene in the 2000s. Both Robbins and these musicians believe that optimism and an empowering state of mind make all of the difference.
Robbins suggests physiology, focus, and language are the keys to changing your state. Before you can find the right strategy, you must be in the right state of mind.
2. Practice mindfulness.
One way to get into a different state is through practicing mindfulness. I’ve already mentioned in my 30-day meditation challenge how much practicing mindfulness changed my life. I’m sleeping better, waking up earlier, and am more productive than ever before, all from a couple minutes of Headspace every morning.
If you’re looking to practice mindfulness and don’t know where to start, try this Beginner’s Body Scan. It’s 30 minutes long but gives you a good grasp on the power of meditation, and all of its benefits. I’d also recommend any guided meditations from Michael Sealey. My wife and I typically listen to his work before bed, but his morning affirmations are just as likely to motivate you during the day.
3. Learn to accept failure.
As an educator, I printed out a big sign and taped it to the front of the classroom: Accept failure. I first really understood this idea after watching “The Way of Improvisation” by Dave Morris. Morris lists a series of rules-based around success in improv comedy, and one of them was to “Accept Failure.” After watching the video, I was embarrassed that it took me 25 years to realize that failure wasn’t a bad thing, but instead a great lesson to use in the future. Failure was an easy excuse not to do something. And I wanted my student to try new things in their writing all of the time because failure was going to be what made them better writers.
And accepting failure is just as important when on your 30-day workout challenge. You might not find the right strategy your first time through, or you might come across an obstacle. That’s okay. But don’t let that failure define you. If you miss a workout? That’s okay, just don’t miss two days in a row. Was your last routine unfulfilling? Chalk it up as a lesson learned and get ready to start back up again.
Understand that it’s perfectly okay to fail at something. The problem arises when you let that failure define who you are and what you do. You’re not a failure.
4. Build your strategy for success.
One of the biggest reasons why workouts fail is that we try to go too hard, too soon. We either quickly burn out or experience too much pain to go continue exercising. That’s why it’s imperative to understand your limits and start where you can.
That might mean trying a shorter workout out at first or focusing on whole-body workouts instead of individual muscle exercises. No matter the case, don’t be upset with yourself if you aren’t able to reach your previous workout goals right away. Just keep plugging away, and you’ll get there.
The other key piece to the physical aspect of succeeding in your 30-day workout challenge is to make sure you actually enjoy what you’re doing. I hate running, so if your exercise routine requires lots of running, you’re probably going to struggle a bit. But you obviously still need cardio, so what do you do? Try and find an exercise you do enjoy.
When everything shut down, so did my swimming lessons. Oh yeah, I didn’t tell you? I have no idea how to swim. So before my wife and I trekked out to the beach on our honeymoon, I decided that I should learn how to swim. Unfortunately, swimming pools were closed (and understandably so), but thankfully they re-opened in time to be a part of my regular exercise schedule. I consider it my cardio for the week (because I absolutely hate hate hate cardio).
Building a successful strategy requires understanding your body and your limits.
The reason why I succeeded in my 30-day workout challenge (and continue to do so) is that I didn’t focus on exercising or strategy first. Instead, I focused on getting my mind together: setting clear goals, practicing mindfulness, and once that was complete, then concentrate on how I was going to exercise.
Let us know in the comments below about your exercise routine and how you’ve utilized a positive mental attitude to improve your workouts.
If you enjoyed this, be sure to check out some of my other pieces here on Dudefluencer: