“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
I write a lot about challenge groups both from the perspective of organizing and leading and also my experiences participant. As I’ve mentioned in my prior posts, participating in challenge groups for almost a year was a truly transformational experience. In that time, I developed healthy habits including: 6-day a week workout schedule, increased water intake, clean eating nutrition plan, breaking a late night snacking habit, breaking a stress-eating cycle that included the chocolate drawer at my office, switched my coffee to green tea (at work, still have 2 cups at home before I start my day), creating a healthy bed-time and night-time routine, making healthier choices while dining out, and healthier choices/preparing for weekend temptations. These huge lifestyle changes didn’t happen over night – but each month when I participated in a 21-day challenge group, I chose a new area of focus and created a new healthy habit over those three weeks. Overtime, all of these habits made big changes in not only my physical appearance, but my stress-levels and energy. I really believe that these groups work, and now that I’m organizing and leading my own challenge groups its become even more fun since I get to choose the fun, supportive and motivated people who participate along side of me.
Since I talk about them so much, I thought it might be fun to offer a sneak peak into a typical group. A challenge group is a 21-day group that runs in a secret (ie private, in that no one outside of the group can even see the group to know it exists or know that any of the participants are in the group). The ideal size of the group is about 15 participants who are interested in sharing, supporting, and making positive healthy changes to create permanent habits. Twenty-one days seems to be the perfect length to be able to stay motivated and focused while being long enough that the new habits begin to become second nature and permanent. The hope is that participants will actively “check in” daily sharing both successes and failures with the group, although some participants prefer to stay behind the scenes, reading the posts but not frequently commenting (which is fine too!)
Generally the challenge begins with a couple of pre-posts to set up the group, introduce the participants, and begin to think about goals for the 21 days. The goal setting is key, since it is the driver of the choices and habits that will form over the span of the group. I like to plan specific, measurable, positive goals. Measurable can be interpreted a couple of ways, I like the data point for the measurement to be something that I have control over. For example, my goal could be to lose 5 lbs in 21 days. While that is measurable, it’s not directly in my control. Instead, I like to plan my goal around measurable activities that will lead to my reaching that weight loss goal, such as: I will workout for one hour a day for each of the 21 days of the challenge and will replace alcoholic beverages with water and tea except for two glasses of wine on the second Saturday of the challenge. Can you see the difference? Doing those two things will likely lead to a weight loss of five lbs but those things are completely within my control. So at the end if week one, I will know with certainty whether it not I had wine and worked out six times. If I ended the week with a two lb loss that is great, but if it’s that time of month and the scale hasn’t budged, I’m not frustrated because I know I met my two primary goals which will over time lead to a loss. I also like to frame my goals positively rather than negatively or restrictively. Instead of “no booze” did you notice I spun it in what I could have? Instead of “no sweets” think about how you’re going to do that- is it by adding fruit or herbal tea after dinner instead of chocolate? Is it a walk around your office in the afternoons instead of a trip to the snack bowl?
As the group start date approaches we start to plan our nutrition, meal plan and prep, and schedule workouts for the upcoming week. While the workout piece isn’t a requirement of the group, movement is strongly encouraged. In the course of a year, as a group participant I went from a twice a week (on a good week) workout schedule to a workout schedule of 5-6 times a week consistently. I’m at the point now that this habit is so deeply engrained that if I miss a couple of days, I start getting antsy and need my workout! It is my lifestyle now. In recent groups, I’ve had participants go from walking as their only form of exercise to adding in Pilates and yoga twice or three times a week. I have a participant who was doing treadmill workouts a few times a week at the gym and now attends four body pump/ body combat classes per week along with weekend workouts at home such as combat, 21 day fix or hip hop abs. I have participants who reconnected with their prior favorite workouts (such as barre) and participants who tried new workouts that they now love.
As far as nutrition, the goal is for participants to work on adopting healthy habits and begin to eliminate those that aren’t so healthy. We focus on drinking more water, eating the right amount of protein with each meal, finding healthy alternatives to soda, etc. Participants have accountability to their goals by checking in about their nutrition every day and getting ideas and recipes from other participants.
Once the challenge begins, participants are encouraged to take measurements (weight, measure around waist, hips, arms, legs) and before/ after pictures. My favorite form of tracking progress is pictures (you really can see a difference in only 21 days) but especially after a few months of challenges it’s been so rewarding for me to see the progress. Check out my article of how I came to terms with finally taking a “before” picture and how glad I was that I did!
They actual day-to-day flow of the group is generally an early morning post by me, with a topic of the day, usually accompanied by an article or two to support the key points of the topic or provide addition information. Examples of typical posts in a challenge group might include: protein, fiber, snacking, strength training, and goal check-ins. The best part for me in running the groups has been seeing how the participants have really started to support and care about each other… and how much they’ve motivated me to reach my goals!
Here’s what participants have said:
—I’ll be taking a picture tonight just for me but happy to report I lost three pounds! And best new habit is no alcohol. I think I may keep that going except for very special occasions! Thanks for being a motivation to getting me back on track!
—I can definitely tell from the way things fit that I lost 2 inches from my hip and during this challenge 0.5 from my right thigh. Overall since August I lost 10 pounds. But for me it’s not just about the inches and weight. I’ve gotten addicted to shakeology and really take a second look at what I eat. I look forward to continuing my progress in the next challenge.
—I could not get this skirt over my a$$ 5 months ago. Now I’m back in it and it’s a 12! Go me!
—I lost 6.5 lbs and 1.5 inches off my hips and thighs!
If you’d like more information or are interested in joining a challenge group (January 2015’s quickly approaching as I type!) contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. LET’S DO THIS! 2015 is our year to have the healthiest lifestyle yet!