The mental benefits of a 28-day challenge

At the beginning of February I could barely hold a 1-minute wall sit. Over the weekend I nailed a 5-minute wall sit. That’s a weirdly obscure achievement, because who really cares, right?

And yet … that kind of progress in just 28 days, following a simple regimen requiring less than 5 minutes’ effort per day, kind of blows my mind.

It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you just keep working at something a little bit every day, with the right kind of focus.

To be honest, with just a week left in the 28-day challenge, I didn’t think I could do it. It took me three attempts to endure a 4-minute sit, and that was really,  REALLY hard.

But then something changed. Over the last week I took ownership of what I was trying to accomplish. Because I needed a confidence boost, when Monday’s session called for 5 1-minute sits, I decided to do them with only 15 seconds rest in between. That was tough, but workable. And it helped me reframe a 5-minute sit as five 1-minute sits with no rest breaks.

When I missed Tuesday’s session, I doubled up the next day and did one in the morning and one at night. On Thursday I planned to shorten the rest breaks on another 5-x-1 minute session to 10 seconds – only we were so busy that night I forgot all about it.

Suddenly it was the day before the big final challenge and I’d missed a crucial step in the process. But I couldn’t make it up without tiring my quads for the next day.

So then I decided, what the heck: I’ll just do the 5-minute sit a day early.

I donned my grippiest shoes, told my daughter/timekeeper to remind me to press my shoulders into the wall, and queued up the same Johnny Cash song that had gotten me (eventually) through the 3- and 4-minute sits.

One problem: “One Piece at a Time” is only 3:58 long.

“Start the timer,” I told Colleen, “and when we get to the 1-minute mark, then start the song.”

That strategy worked perfectly. The first minute went by pretty quickly, and it was a huge morale boost when she started the song. I know the verses and the video pretty well by now, so I just followed along, trying not to think in terms of time but in the progression of the story.

By the time Johnny took his wife “for a spin” in his one-finned Frankenstein’s monster of a Cadillac, I knew I was going to make it.

In the end, the 5-minute sit turned out to be far less stressful than the previous two – all because I was mentally prepared, much more dialed in. This wasn’t something that was happening to me; it was something I was doing.

On Saturday, the last day of the challenge, I doubled up and did the sessions I’d skipped on Thursday and Friday as a kind of “victory lap.” (For some reason, it mattered to me to get all 28 sessions in as well as nailing the final 5-minute sit.)

As I did them, I couldn’t help thinking: “What the heck am I going to do with this freakish new super power I’ve acquired? This isn’t exactly a useful skill. Was it even worth it?”

How much this helps my running remains to be seen. With all the sub-zero weather we’ve had the last couple of weeks, I haven’t been out charging up any hills. But I do feel like my quads are stronger. And I think my mind is, too.

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2 Responses to The mental benefits of a 28-day challenge

  1. Martha B says:

    Yay for you! 5 minute wall sit is super impressive! I’m sure it will totally translate into stronger running, even if it’s just a little mental toughness booster. Congrats!

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