Chris and I finished our 21-Day Challenge this past Saturday. Just as with my first challenge, there were no fireworks or confetti canons to celebrate our victory. Instead, we were left with something so much better than any grand salute could have provided. We experienced a real, fundamental change in the way each of us approaches and feels about incorporating physical activity into our lives.
I said before that taking on a challenge is great because it eliminates excuses and creates an environment where there is accountability—where in a sense, you have to do whatever it is that you’ve committed to, regardless of circumstance. It does something bigger than that, though.
It shows you what’s possible.
Unless you’ve chosen to hole yourself up for three weeks, a 21-day commitment will require you to face obstacles. We certainly had a few, that crazy busy Easter weekend being the most testing. On more than a couple occasions, Chris had to hit the gym at oddball times, and I had to attend classes whose content or instructor fell outside my comfort zone. These were good things to have to face.
Under normal circumstances certain situations—a holiday, social gathering, tightly packed schedule, or maybe just a rough day—seem like the perfect justification for why doing X is impossible. A challenge has this miraculous way of showing you that it’s not, that the impossibility is only in your head. For me, this was made this so blindingly clear that it is now difficult to make any excuse, even though our 21 days is up.
I’ve continued to maintain my daily practice, and Chris his daily gym commitment. It’s become second nature. I did finally feel that twinge of hesitation yesterday, though. I was feeling sort of down and out of sorts (hormones, I presume!) and briefly thought, Maybe it would be nice to give myself a day off….
Both times I took on the challenge, however, taught me that, even when I don’t feel like going, I am always glad that I did. And yesterday was no different. I got away from my day, got outside of my head, and felt markedly better as I made my way home.
I feel like another important thing to note is that a challenge can show you what you’re really capable of. How many times have you heard someone say (or said yourself) “I would love to do X, but I’m just not strong/fast/flexible enough”? I cannot tell you how often people tell me that they would love to do yoga but they’re not very flexible. You know who’s flexible? People who do yoga. You know why they’re flexible? Because they do yoga.
When I resumed my practice, I was notably tighter and less strong than where I left off. I had a difficult time holding (or even accessing) certain postures and incorporating breath with my movement. But as the days went on, I could feel myself becoming stronger. A level of ease returned to some movements, which in turn made others available or challenging in new ways. Places that hurt at first began to grow powerful while other corners of my musculature lit up and ached with newfound use. And since every Vinyasa class is a new and different sequence, each posture building on and working with the others, I don’t expect that this give and take in my body will ever cease—something that I find incredibly exciting.
A mere twenty-one days showed me that things like crow pose and shoulder stand could be realistic elements of my practice. If your thing is running, lifting, swimming, what have you, I’m willing to bet a challenge could show you similar things as well. You don’t have to be strong to begin. You don’t have to be flexible. Those are things that come with time. It may feel painful, distant, or fruitless in the very beginning, but the growth that comes with persevering is a remarkable and rewarding experience.
Speaking of rewards, perhaps some of you remember that there was a little something at stake in all this. I’ve finally settled on my prize. Update soon.