I try to practice what I preach. I use my mugs, set goals and work on my habits. This is why when I created the 30-day whattamug! wellness challenge, I had to test it out on myself. Challenges are a great way to push yourself and mix up your routine. Most importantly they give you permission to do something different and look a bit silly.
The whattamug! 30-day wellness challenge is a 30-day calendar with a task set for each day. Each task relates to one of seven aspects of wellbeing; work, play, health, relationships, growth, relaxation and reflection. Some tasks are designed to be well within your comfort zone, others may take a little more planning, and require you to dig deeper and be a bit braver.
This is how my first week in the challenge went.
Day 1: Join an online networking community and contribute
I want to help people through words. This is why I have created whattamug! and why I am writing to you now. It is surprising then that I have spent so little time contributing to any community groups or forums. In fact, my online networking is non-existent and I don't really know why.
When I tried to get started in the past I used the excuse, "but I need to know exactly which is the right group to join!"
This resulted in a three-hour search session of Facebook groups and the opening of approximately 500 tabs. This was then followed by ridiculous amounts of time deliberating on each group's stats; the rules, the number of members, time since last post etc etc etc… In the end, I got so overwhelmed and confused that I didn't join any groups and had a bowl of cereal and watched some TV instead.
By the way, I am super weird but it's not just me. This odd behaviour is called analysis paralysis and it helps me to procrastinate.
For the challenge, I challenged myself to pick a group within two minutes. I ended up choosing "Tiny Leaps - Simple Personal Development" solely because I liked their name. I then had a good conversation with a complete stranger who lives thousands of miles away and whom I will never meet.
Ah, the wonders of the internet.
Lesson learnt: Stop over-analysing everything. Make the decision and make it work.
Day 2: Have a dance party
Tuesday is my busy day. I have a full day at work and then about half an hour of free time before I go to my pole fitness class. I knew if I waited until after the class I would be hungry and tired, neither of which are conducive to dancing, so I had to schedule in my dance party for straight after work.
Normally when I get home, I get some food, play with the dog and mess around on my phone, I certainly don't feel like dancing. But instead, I put some music on and just did it. It took me a little while to warm up, but within a few minutes, I was shaking my booty, having a great time and actually getting a bit of a sweat on.
Lesson learnt: It's a mistake to wait until you feel in the mood. Just do it and the mood will follow.
Day 3: Do something nice for someone you love
Despite my boyfriend's suggestion of giving him a massage, I wanted to do something that I wouldn't ordinarily do. Like all my best thoughts, the idea came to me when I was driving to work. I decided I would make up a surprise survival package for my friend who is in the final stages of writing up her PhD thesis. I knew that she was finding it difficult to keep motivated and keep productive, so much so that she had even temporarily deactivated her Facebook account(!)
I needed a little help from her boyfriend to coordinate things (and remind me what her favourite wine was). Once all the treats were bought and the package was ready I went to their house with my surprise gift. I knocked on their door with a big, stupid grin on my face.
She was so pleased, so grateful and so surprised, I felt amazing! It made me wonder why I didn't do random acts of kindness like this more often? She enjoyed receiving, I enjoyed giving - there was no downside.
Lesson learnt: Giving feels good. Create a new challenge - 30 acts of kindness.
Day 4: Say only positive things today, no moaning! (P.S. I actually swapped day 4 and 5 around because I was not prepared enough)
I actually thought this challenge would be easy as I was not at work (which is my number one source of moaning) and instead was at a friend's house waiting for her package to arrive. As I was by myself most of the day there was not much opportunity for talking, nevertheless in the spirit of the challenge I would try to keep my thoughts positive.
Everyone who knows me says that I am a positive person and positivity is my number one strength on the strengths finder test. Well, what I did not know about myself is that I am a mind-moaner! When I paid attention to my own thoughts I realised that there was an undercurrent of negative chatter, like a really unhelpful sports commentator.
My tactic to try and stop this was to merely state the facts and not phrase it like a complaint.
"It is warm and sunny outside and I am wearing leggings and feeling quite hot"
"I need to go to the toilet but this package has not arrived yet"
"I've not bought enough food with me, I will have to eat some of my friend's food"
"I will never eat this brand of cup-of-noodles again"
It may be that this negative talk does not really influence me (hence why I am viewed as a positive person). But I wonder how different my experience would be if I could turn off that chatter. Is there more joy to be had in the boring parts and the mundane bits of life?
Lesson learnt: Enjoy the moment, it's all you have.
Day 5: Eat only fruits and vegetables today
Eating only fruits and vegetables would be a first for me. I like fruit and veg but I also love my carbs, especially oats. I seriously have a porridge problem, I've eaten it almost every day for the last five or so years. So as you can imagine I wasn't sure how my apple and banana only breakfast would cut it.
Predictably, it didn’t.
Lunch was a rather unexciting sweet potato and broccoli. Even though I'd eaten only about 350 calories in total by this point, I was weirdly satisfied. The real test though came at around 3pm - the snacking hour. This is where I normally go to my desk drawer and pick out one of my many bars of chocolate. Luckily I had anticipated this moment and was well prepared when that craving reared its ugly head. My plan was to eat as many dates and strawberries as was humanly possible.
Turns out, it was a good plan and my chocolate craving (and also desire for any other type of food) subsided.
For dinner, my boyfriend kindly drove us to McDonalds. He knew about my challenge and wanted to put my willpower to the test (lovely boyfriend that he is).
I just about passed the test.
(FYI chips are definitely a vegetable).
For my actual dinner, I made a chickpea salad with tomatoes, cucumbers and onions and totted up what I had eaten. I had smashed 9 of my 5 a day - a personal best! On reflection, it wasn't that hard and actually, it was pretty tasty.
Lesson learnt: I could easily do this once a week as a mini detox and it would vastly improve my diet.
Day 6: Meditate for 20 minutes
I am a functional meditator. I don’t even know if that is a real term but it means that I meditate for a reason - to change my mental state. For example, I might be feeling stressed, or anxious or perhaps I need a quick energy boost. I'm also a "wash n' go" meditator, I can't really do it for more than 10 minutes as I get bored quickly.
After a few minutes searching on Youtube I found a guided meditation which was meant to enhance positivity. I find that guided meditations are the most useful type of meditations as they talk you through what do and how to breathe, which helps you focus on the right things.
The meditation started well, I felt calm and relaxed but I wouldn’t say that it made feel any more positive.
Perhaps this is because I fell asleep partway through…
Lesson learnt: Need to work on building up my meditation muscle.
Day 7: Write about the highs and lows of your week
It makes me sad that I have forgotten so much of what has happened in my life because I don’t write it down. I keep a diary sporadically but it's something that I have to work on. Weirdly I think that social media helps as it gives you a reason to reflect on events when "this time last year" pops up or people like your posts from months ago. Otherwise when else and why else would you remember random meals or nights out during the course of your day?
One very literal high and low for me that week that I wrote about happened on Sunday. My friends invited me to a walk in the Lake District. After I checked the weather (no rain forecast), I thought it would be a lovely way to spend a cloudy day.
Being a bit of a townie, I don't actually own any walking gear though.
"Nevermind," I thought. "You can just wear your new wellies, bring some food and hope for the best. You're all about getting out of the comfort zone Alison and this is the perfect opportunity to do so".
I did not realise that we would be hiking up the Langdale peak.
To give you an idea of the type of the walk, Walklakes.com classified it as a 4/5 for terrain difficulty. This is defined as "Starting to get close to scrambling territory, a rock climber will probably skip over with his hands in his pockets. A walker will want to put hands out on the rock occasionally. "
I have never climbed a mountain before and I did not like this one little bit.
With every step, I felt closer to certain death. My stupid wellies were slipping on the jagged, wet rocks. My eyes were so focused on my feet the entire time I didn't even look up and appreciate the amazing view. My entire consciousness was consumed with a single question, "where can I step next?"
All the while children, dogs and geriatrics hopped past me.
Not even exaggerating.
We stopped for a breather next to a waterfall and as I looked down the mountain I started freaking out. We were so high and all I kept thinking was,"what goes up must come down". The thing was, I didn’t know if I could make it down. I didn’t even know if I could go up any further either. Everyone else was having a snack and enjoying the view, I was in complete mountain purgatory.
"This is it, Alison," I told myself, "pull yourself together woman! Chances are you definitely won't die - you are being irrational, just feel the fear and do it anyway! You can do this, you can totally do this!"
The group was gathering their belongings and getting ready to move on. This was it. Make or break time.
I totally broke it.
I started crying and one of my friends kindly offered to accompany me down the mountain.
In between tears, clinging onto random tufts of grass and a steady stream of thank-you-thank-you-thank-you to him, we began the descent while the rest of the group continued onto the summit.
There is no feel good, inspirational ending here, unfortunately, I tried, I failed and I had a gin in the pub.
Lesson learnt: It is really uncomfortable outside of the comfort zone and sometimes you will step up to the challenge, and sometimes you won't.