A journey of a lot of steps: What I did or didn’t learn from the Feb challenge

I learned that having to think about exercising (and, indeed, to exercise) decreased my work productivity.

I learned that pacing is a lot easier in a 3000 sq ft place than a 1200 sq ft place.

I do like walking, but if I want to do more of it, I think it needs to be in a world where I don’t want to do other stuff as much.

Normally with exercise challenges one wants to know if one got stronger or if one lost weight.  Both of these are really difficult to answer because of two things.  1.  DH decided he needed to cut back on sweets and then gave up on cutting back and then got reenergized to give up sweets again.  Since I have ZERO willpower when it comes to high quality pastries, my weight mostly fluctuated with his decisions.  Who knows what the no stepping counterfactual would have been.  2.  I got really sick the third week with lingering cold/allergies which made it hard to breathe deeply.

Everyone in the house was pretty happy when the step challenge was over, even though for DH it meant more walking chores.  One fewer chore to have to remember every day.

I think I need to go back through previous posts and see if any past challenges have been worthwhile.  And then a thinky post on the nature of challenges.  I suspect that I know the answer– challenges that produce something worthwhile in the short term (money saved, pages written) seem to be better than ones that attempt to change a habit, but there may be other items I need to ponder.

41 Responses to “A journey of a lot of steps: What I did or didn’t learn from the Feb challenge”

  1. Leah Says:

    I have changed habits before with challenges, but it is really hard. I used to pick at my face quite a bit, and this increased with stress. I had lost the habit at some point but resumed it in grad school. For Lent, I gave up face picking, and I wrote down whenever I felt the urge. That was really helpful in changing my habit! Now, I notice when I try to fall back into that behavior and can nip it in the bud quickly.

    Exercise seems to be a more complicated habit. I have achieved change there multiple times, but I always get thrown for a loop when routines change. I have to work exercise into my life to make the habit regular, and changing something else that affects the exercise bungles me up. Consequently, I often feel like I have to get back on the horse.

    You did CBT, yes? Isn’t that all about learning new patterns and changing habits?

    • AccountantByDay Says:

      I think your habit change is a really good example where a month of building a new behavior IS worth it. Setting aside 45 minutes for exercise means giving up 45 minutes of doing something else, forever, but other changes, like not picking at face (I need to focus on that too), or putting less sugar in your tea, don’t require reducing other areas of life (once the habit is ingrained and you don’t need to have the mental energy to focus on changing it.)

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        @AbD, that’s a really good point

        I also think learning a new skill would probably be worth it (but again, getting ahead of myself– maybe I’ll have to wait a year to post the meta challenges post).

      • Leah Says:

        Yes, very true! I think habits that either avoid something you’d do (like watching TV) are easier to develop than habits that try to add time. I gave up TV in high school quite easily. I’ve gone through short occasions where I watched a lot of TV, but I still remain someone who watches very little TV.

        Giving up picking was hard for the first five days and then got progressively better. The list of WHY I wanted to face pick really helped. I also avoided mirrors for awhile. I used to go to a bathroom and pick my face whenever I got anxious, and I was really able to see that once I kept a list. I also worked to find other things to replace that habit.

  2. Omdg Says:

    I would reply like to get to over 10k steps per day but generally don’t hVe the energy when I get home to do more, soooo. Since I don’t want to end up like the majority of my patients unable to walk up a few flights of stairs without stopping before I get to be 50,I am just trying to do little things to be more active. Like taking the stairs at work, or walking the dog when I’m post call. The thing is you can rationalize away the need to stay fit all you want but it doesn’t change the fact that if you lose that fitness it will be that much harder to get it back and eventually it results in a loss of functionality. Take it for what it’s worth. Every little bit helps.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I do those kinds of things already, same way I use little plates and so on.

      In addition to not wanting additional mental load, I don’t like carrying my phone around with me for tracking (or rather, don’t like having to remember to carry it around). I doubt I would want to carry a fitbit or any other measuring device around either.

  3. CG Says:

    After 30+ years of being a total non-exerciser, I’ve kept up regular running for the past four (interrupted by a pregnancy). I’ve even played on a soccer team for the past two years, which I had never done before, not even as a child. I’ve now gotten to the point where the feeling I get from exercise is its own reward. I never believed that was possible, and that people who claimed to experience this were either lying or so unlike me so as to be irrelevant. In my case, even at the beginning when I could barely run at all I enjoyed being outside, so that helped. I have to force myself to do a lot of stuff I don’t like in the rest of my life (the dishes, grading, faculty meetings, making people brush their teeth), so the amount of willpower I have left over for exercise that’s just boring or painful is about zero. My point is, I don’t think some kind of challenge would work for me over the long term if it involved doing something I didn’t really enjoy. Maybe there’s something you would like better or get more out of than counting steps that you could integrate into your life long term.

  4. Hypatia Cade Says:

    So I got a very inexpensive step counter after I went back to work with kid #2. I had noticed using the phone step counter that some days I was getting 3500 steps at noon if I’m going to hit 5000 without pacing). If I’m not on track then I try to make two laps around the interior of the building when I would otherwise take a break and surf the internet anyway in the afternoon. My husband laughs at me when I fail at this and end up pacing the house at night instead.

    I think doing a step challenge in a warmer month might be more fun/easier — I’m more likely to just spontaneously go for a walk when it’s nice out. In fact, once the weather is warm enough to walk outside I might up my goal to 7500 or so, which is only acheivable with a walk after dinner. When breastfeeding stops and I get hours of my life back (but also no auto- calory depletion mechanism) I’d like to be more intentional about exercise.

    All this to say, I feel your pain. February, even in paradise, is probably a tough month to succeed at a step challenge.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I succeeded. I just don’t want to carry it into March. I don’t hate walking like I hated last year’s 7 min challenge, but I don’t like having another thing I have to think about.

    • Leah Says:

      Yes, I’ve already gotten more steps as we’re getting more daylight! In the winter, I didn’t want to go for walks after work. But I’ve been throwing on a jacket and taking my toddler out most afternoons for about 30 minutes. We don’t get far — she wants to talk too — but I figure every little bit helps.

  5. gwinne Says:

    I wonder about the challenge vs. long term habit observation toward the end of your post. Seems that one could lead to the other, if the right challenge were chosen? (i.e. in my case, using National Poetry Month to get started with daily poetry writing and then just building it in to my days…)

    • gasstationwithoutpumps Says:

      I wondered about the challenge vs. habit also. I don’t think that 1 month is long enough to establish a new habit. A year might be enough—after 14 months, my raw-fruit-and-vegetable lunch diet is beginning to feel like the “new normal”, and my weight is (barely) within my target zone.

      For exercise, I decided about 40 years ago that the only way I was going to get enough exercise would be to arrange my life so that I had to get the exercise in order to do the things I wanted/needed to do. So, no car, and live far enough from school or work that I get (barely) enough exercise from bike commuting and shopping by bike. I’ve never found any exercise modality (running, dancing, …) fun enough to maintain it just for fun past a couple of years, but the bike commuting has been a constant.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Re: food. I was able to sustain perfect eating (I have PCOS) for as long as I was trying to have a baby/pregnant, which was several years. And it wasn’t the end of the world after the initial adjustment period. But now that nobody’s life is in danger, I just cannot eat that way anymore. Forever is a long time.

        I also do best with the arranging my life thing. It’s hard where we normally live though because there’s nothing in walking distance and it gets dangerously hot.

  6. AccountantByDay Says:

    I think the exercising = less productive at work (or other trade offs) is really the issue with this sort of challenge. I do find myself thinking that if my only “hobbies” were meal planning and exercise, I don’t think I would find it that hard to be fit and a bit slimmer. But my actual hobbies are writing and drawing, and if I go jogging in the evening after work, I’m not going to fit in writing that night. I mean, technically I have the time to do both, but the energy to accomplish both things is not.

    On another note, don’t know how people have kids and jobs AND do anything else at all, since I can’t even fit jogging and writing into one evening!

  7. Leigh Says:

    I made steps a higher priority in January and it worked! I about doubled my step count from the previous few months. February wasn’t so good, but I’m hopeful about March. And now I have some more time to reprioritize exercise, which I’m excited about!

      • Leigh Says:

        I’ve been experimenting with happiness levels vs step count rather than aiming for 10,000 and I think my ideal is about 8,000. So now I’m working on finding ways to work that in on the days I drive to work and the weekends. For example, parking in a lot just a little bit away adds steps without taking too much time or going to the further away bathroom. I’ve found that I need to prioritize a certain amount of exercise for my happiness. I understand that not everyone does, but it’s important for me.

        I have to say that one of the things I like about my Fitbit is that it’s not very noticeable and I just always have it on, tracking my steps. I love it! And I especially love the sleep tracking data :D

  8. middle_class Says:

    I think a challenge like walking for 1 month is something that can lead into a habit. It may be more sustainable if your challenge was walking every morning (or same time every day), so that your brain gets used to getting up and doing that at the scheduled time.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      But walking in the morning cuts into my sleeping/getting kids ready/working while it is still quiet at work time.

      Walking at lunch cuts into my chance at socializing over lunch, not to mention eating.

      Walking at other times during the day cuts into my work time.

      Walking at night has to be orchestrated to fit in with kids activities/dinner/etc. And DH has to take up the slack if it’s not something I can take the kids with (see: pacing around the house when it’s raining outside).

      I *can* exercise more, but my work productivity goes down. That’s just the trade-off and it isn’t one that I want to make at this time.

      • Omdg Says:

        Can you recruit someone to walk with you at lunch? I’ve always enjoyed walking and talking much more than just walking.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Nope! If I could, I would have. That’s not how it works here.

      • middle_class Says:

        For me, it only cuts into sleep and shower time. I am still able to get kids ready and I don’t work in the morning until I get into the office! Right now I’m not walking and I miss the fresh morning air. It’s my quiet time and helps me de-stress a lot.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Cutting into sleep and shower time sounds horrible. #2 here. Part of my problem with exercising is that it makes me need noticeably more sleep, so therefore it not only steals the time I’m actually exercising, it ALSO steals other time too, when I’m sleeping more. Ughhh.

  9. Cloud Says:

    This is really interesting, and made me stop and think a bit about my own exercise habits. I have zero problem sustaining a daily walk, but struggle a bit more to add more vigorous exercise in. I think the difference is that the walk feels productive to me- I tend to use it as “deep thought” time and the correlation between taking a walk and making a breakthrough on some problem I’m trying to solve or having a really great new idea to pursue is really, really strong. Also, I take my walk after lunch and it clears my head and makes me more energetic/productive for the rest of the day. So to me: walk=increased productivity. If I go for a run or do something else more vigorous, I have to have a cool down period and a shower. That makes the whole thing take longer and decreases my perceived productivity. It might still be a net gain, but it doesn’t feel like it! So I strongly prefer to do more vigorous exercise on the edges of my day- either first thing in the morning (although I struggle to get out of bed early!) or after I’m done with work. I struggle to make space on the edges of my day right now, although it is getting a little easier as the kids get older. So I struggle to get vigorous exercise.

    Anyway, thanks! Now I understand that behavior of mine a little better.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      It’s not that I don’t do any exercise or take any walks. I do, otherwise my initial step amount would have been 0.

      It’s just that increasing from the amount that I normally do is a hassle and there’s a reason I haven’t done it. And thinking about it takes mental energy.

      • Cloud Says:

        Oh, sorry- that wasn’t a comment on your habits at all! It was genuinely just a realization of why *I* can walk every day but struggle to make it a run (or add in kickboxing) or anything else.

        I agree about the mental energy. I have never done a fitness challenge and doubt I ever will. It doesn’t strike me as a way that would be effective in changing my habits (but again, that is just me). I have no idea how many steps I take. Probably nowhere near your target. I could find out easily enough- I *do* carry my phone with me pretty much everywhere. But I think I may be happier not knowing!

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        No, no, I got that you weren’t. You just happened to comment at the accumulation of a thought.

        And I didn’t want people to think that I’m doing nothing. I’m just back to doing what I was before February. Maybe a little bit more because the weather is better, maybe a little less because I’m more behind on work!

  10. jane Says:

    I like my f.itb.it on my bra not my wrist, not my phone which is not always with me. I like that I can decide when to check my steps and when I don’t pay attention to it…. but all the time it is with me. And it tells me what is true whenever I decide to look. But all lives are different and the answers are different too.
    Cheers.

  11. chacha1 Says:

    DH came home last night and said “I’m tired.” I said, “perfect time to go for a walk while it’s still light! I will if you will.” So we went for a walk, and it was the first time we’ve gone for a walk together for at least a year. It was a nice evening, and this was an easy way to spend a little time together with nothing to do but walk and talk. We were out nearly 40 minutes.

    But I don’t walk by myself, and I wasn’t interested in walking during the winter when it was dark, and I would be the last person to say a daily walk was the “best” way to work a little fitness into the day. Most days I do less than 30 minutes of intentional activity, and that’s in three or four smaller increments.

    I feel ya on the productivity. There are just too many other things to do, and I don’t even have kids to juggle.

    Re: challenges: I am doing a fitness challenge, actually. Recently attempted pushups (wimpy, from-the-knees pushups) and only managed five. I used to do a set of ten proper from-the-toes pushups. So my challenge is to get back my ten by the end of the year. I am doing one set of pushups two days a week. So far I am up to seven from the knees. :-)

  12. jjiraffe Says:

    I hear you on this and understand why you feel this way.

    No one wants to hear that anyone is “too busy” (whole other issue, but it’s not a socially acceptable thing to say, apparently) but I’ve done the math and the only way to add 30 min exercise during the week is to sleep less. Which leads to illness. No thanks!

    I do try to work out on the weekend.

  13. Tulip Says:

    It sounds as though your exercise routine before the challenge was a good balance for you. I don’t think you should have any guilt about that and love that you don’t seem to – good for you. You do some exercise and you enjoy your life, what’s not to love?

  14. First Gen American Says:

    Exercise has always been the payment for some other activity I like more. I bike to get time with friends. I go to the gym on the weekends to be able to use the steam room after. When I was in an office, I’d use the work gym at lunch so I could read a book while on the treadmill. I garden, not for the exercise, but for the plants I get in the end. It’s multitasking at its best. I do enjoy being outdoors but the exercise is always secondary. i don’t love exercising but I do love feeling strong.

    My younger son also loves piggy back rides. Although he will soon be too big to carry around, i do it every single day.

    I am with cloud on the sweat thing. I struggle to sweat during a weekday. It’s just too time sucking.

    The comment from accountant by day also resonated with me regarding being able to more easily tackle avoidance habits. I have really been struggling with afternoon sugar cravings and I am amazed how one small change flipped a switch for me. In hindsight , it makes total sense though. I Eat yogurt almost every day for breakfast and switched from the sugary style to the plain flavor. Not starting with sugar in the morning made such a huge difference in my sugar craving intensity in the afternoon. It kept me off that insulin up and down roller coaster ride that I seemed to take every day. Eureka.

    My physician actually has a treadmill desk to be able to write and exercise at once. She goes really slow but it adds up.

  15. J Liedl Says:

    The only way I consistently exercise is if it is in my routine and pretty much non-negotiable. I’m sick? How sick am I? I have to be really sick to not at least walk the dog for twenty minutes daily and if I’m not sick and the weather isn’t horrid, why not forty minutes of dog-walking or maybe an hour? Plus, three times a week I go to the gym: again, non-negotiable. Someone has to take Autistic Youngest to her personal training sessions and someone has to work her out the other day of the week that she has no personal trainer. It’s gotta be me!

    Even though my phone fitness tracker sucks (thank you Samsung, for updating your app to be much crappier than it was in previous iterations), I am addicted to tracking. I will even wear a light hoodie to the gym so that I can carry my phone. You can bet that I’ll duck out earlier on the elliptical if I’m not tracking my steps.

    That said, it’s a serious hit on my personal time. Dog-walking and gym trips eats up eight to ten hours a week. Healthy eating prep also takes a lot more time than buying prepared food or using a lot of short-cut ingredients. As many people have noted, this healthy living takes time, money and energy!


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