How Walking Can Help You Learn To Do Hard Things

Ava’s goal was to do 50 miles. She had 24 hours to get as many miles as she could…running or walking. This was Ava’s first ultra-event and she had been training for months. She was ready, but the weather was hotter than expected. Ava also didn’t expect stomach issues about eight hours after starting. She “took care of that” and got right back on the course.

Ava’s goal was 50 miles. She did 78.

This is what my wife does. She does hard things…willingly. After each of our children was born, Ava always said to me, “I just want one more”. We have six. She home schooled AND picked one of the hardest methods of schooling possible. Turns out it was actually too difficult so she started a two-day-a-week school for home schooled kids using this hard curriculum. She eventually became the administrator responsible for the staff and about 150 students. And, she home-schooled our kids the other three days a week.

At one point, out of frustration, I asked her, “If there are two options available…one easy and one hard…you ALWAYS pick the hard one. Why??”

She didn’t have an answer…and neither do I, but I do know this. When life gets hard, and it always does, you want someone like Ava next to you.

Life did get hard for Ava this past year. Her father-in-law died. She got cancer. And, then her mom’s health declined until she passed away in June. All that within 12 months WHILE Ava was training for her first ultra.

And, she handled all of it with strength and grace. I don’t think that’s a coincidence, either.

Ava has a history of leaning into the hard things of life. She CHOOSES hard. And, when life chooses hard for her, Ava is ready.

I want to be more like Ava.

Choosing hard over easy has many benefits. It’s where our greatest growth happens. Like fitness. Fitness is not easy. That’s probably why few people choose a fitness journey AND stay with it. It’s HARD.

A few years ago I did something very Ava-like. I set a goal to get one-million steps in a month. That’s about 33,000 steps every day. My goal was a million steps, but my purpose was to strengthen my “doing-hard-things” muscles.

I expected the hardest days would be in the middle two weeks. I knew the initial excitement of pursuing the goal would carry me through the first few days. If I hadn’t already given up, I also knew the final week would have its own momentum. But, the real challenge would be what happened in between.

Reaching 33,000 steps takes about five and a half hours. The first 10,000 steps are pretty much a given for me. I’ve developed routines and habits that almost guarantee that number on my Fitbit each day. But, the other 23,000 steps would require almost FOUR HOURS of additional walking each day. While I love walking, even for me that’s a bit much. But, of course, that was the point. This was supposed to be hard.

I did not make a big deal about this challenge, unlike my current 20k One Year Step Challenge. There were no posts on social media. In fact, I only told one person what I was doing and that was Ava. I didn’t want her wondering why I was heading out on my third walk of the day.

I was pumped at the start of my month-long challenge. So pumped, that I surpassed 50,000 steps on Day 4. I was doing a hard thing and that felt good. I had momentum…until I didn’t.

Early in the second week I was getting tired and the thrill of the challenge was in the rear view mirror. And, that’s when the questions started.

“Why am I doing this?” “What’s the point?”

All that walking started feeling like a waste of time. There were other things that needed doing. It felt selfish. No one cared that I was pursuing this goal. And, worst of all…reaching 1,000,000 steps would impact NO ONE. Nobody’s life would be helped because I was walking five and a half hours a day.

And, I still had three weeks to go.

Every day I felt those questions. And, every day I had the same answer.

I’m doing a hard thing and there’s value in doing hard things.

What made it even more valuable was that I could have quit at any time and no one would have known or cared. It’s one thing when you’re forced into a hard thing you can’t quit…it’s something different when you can quit, but don’t. And, so I pressed on. Week Two transitioned to Week Three and that’s when I hit two speed bumps. The first I knew was coming, but not the second.

My 1,000,000 step month was July 2015. It was a goal I had thought about for a while, but was afraid to try. I didn’t have the confidence I could make it and I didn’t want the failure hanging around my neck.

Summer was the perfect season for me to attempt this challenge. I’m not a fan of walking in cold and windy conditions, but love the heat. There was no grand plan to do this during July 2015. In fact, I didn’t even think about it until June 30. I realized my schedule was light for the month of July. That combined with the summer weather I love was all I needed.

But, there was a potential speed bump later in July. I had a two-day business trip to Denver during the third week. I knew I wouldn’t reach 33,000 steps on those two days, but figured if I did 34,000 every other day I could still reach the million mark.

That was all I needed to go for it. I started the next morning.

The Denver trip during Week 3 was actually a little oasis in the middle of my challenge. I was starting to feel the momentum of the approaching finish line and I was even a little ahead of the pace I needed so I could relax a little. I did get some steps exploring downtown Denver during an hour long afternoon break. Turns out the Vice President was also in town at the same time and I even saw his motorcade pass by our hotel.

IMG_3711.jpgThe Denver trip was also the speed bump I anticipated and was able to plan for. The unexpected speed bump also happened while I was in Denver. The purpose of the trip was to attend a concert at Red Rocks. It’s an amazing venue and I was thrilled to be there. It’s outdoors and I got even more steps walking around the arena to check out the views.

And, then my Fitbit Zip stopped working.

It simply went dark and no amount of tapping the screen brought it back to life. I didn’t have a back-up so I started mentally calculating how soon I could buy a new one and how much time (and steps) I would lose until I could do that.

This was not a scenario I expected when I began this month-long challenge. I expected long days and heat and even some walks in the rain, but I did not expect a broken Fitbit.

I tapped the Zip screen as hard as I could and still got nothing. I felt the anxiety and frustration building. This lasted more than an hour. Finally, with nothing to lose I dropped the Zip on the concrete pavement of the arena. I even added a little extra force thinking it might be enough to shock my Zip back to life.

It worked. I was back in business.

After returning home from Denver I had a week and a half remaining to reach the 1,000,000 steps. I could feel the finish line more each day which gave me added momentum. I expected this burst heading into the final week. The “why am I doing this?” questions were gone.

On July 29, two days early, I hit my goal.

IMG_3710.jpgIt’s been four years and what I did during July 2015 still matters. I decided to do a hard thing and stayed with it. That changed my internal narrative. That personal month-long challenge showed me that I am capable of doing hard things.

Fitness is a hard thing. It’s something you choose to do. And, it’s something you can choose not to do when it gets hard. How are your “doing-hard-thing-muscles”? It’s not a one and done thing. July 2015 was big for me, but I need to keep choosing hard things. That’s part of the reason for the 20k One Year Step Challenge I’m currently doing.

Are you ready to stretch your “doing-hard-things” muscles? How about your own 30 Day Challenge? What would be hard for you?

Maybe it’s a single day BIG goal for 30 days? Would 10,000 steps every day for 30 days be hard for you? How about 15,000? Maybe, even 20,000? My recommendation is pick a number that you’ve hit before, but not every day. You have to feel the stretch.

Your other option is a BIG number of total steps for 30 days. For example, 500,000 steps in 30 days requires an average of 16,666 every day. 750,000 steps in 30 days takes an average of 25,000 a day. What BIG total number would be hard for you to reach in 30 days?

My last recommendation is to make the goal BIG enough that it still matters to you years from now. My one-million step month was four years ago and it still makes me feel good when I think about it. It WAS hard and I’m proud that I didn’t give up when it got really difficult. I want the same thing for you.

If you’re ready to get outside your comfort zone and willingly choose to do a hard thing for 30 days, I have a free download for you. It’s The 30 Day Challenge Tracker. There’s something satisfying about physically writing down an accomplishment every single day. This Tracker is perfect for that. It might even give you a little extra motivation during those HARD days in the middle.

And, when you’ve accomplished your hard goal you have a permanent record of those 30 days you chose to do a hard thing and DIDN’T GIVE UP! That’s powerful.

If you struggle with motivation to stick with fitness this blog will help. Don’t be intimated by the title. That’s my goal…not yours. But, my bigger goal is to help you start a fitness journey that builds momentum and never stops. If you click FOLLOW (below on your phone and to the right and above on your computer) you’ll get an email with a link to each motivating article the moment it’s published.


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