10K EVERY DAY FOR THE MONTH OF MAY
From: Mental Health For Millennials Vol 3: On Happiness. Published by Book Hub Publishing, Galway, Ireland (2019).
I did 10K every day for the month of May. I’m not talking about dollars. I’m talking kilometres. I couldn’t have planned my next 31 days. And if I did, it would have more than likely not turned out as well. It was the 1st of May 2019. Like every other typical evening, after a long day at work, I would come home and slip right into my old rut. My unconsciously planned nights of screens, tea, toast, biscuits, and chocolate. This particular night, the curtains were drawn to keep the light from coming in the window and casting a glare on the television. I was confidently managing my four screens. Netflix was on the sitting room TV where I was comfortably stretched out on a corner of the reclining cream-coloured couch. I was scrolling down through the never-ending list of movies that I didn’t need to watch. My laptop was on my lap. I was inputting data entry from the day’s work and randomly surfing the web in search of internet happiness. My phone was beside me on the armrest of the sofa with Facebook open, while the iPad was beside me, flashing notification-triggers from a variety of apps. That was just the screens. My multitasking didn’t stop there.
I had a cup of tea in my hand and two slices of nicely browned, crispy toast with butter on a plate beside my iPad with a small chocolate KitKat waiting in the side lines, in case I needed a little something for the little bit of tea that might be left over after the two slices of toast. I remember being so angry at what I was watching on the television. It was a war movie. A bad one. I was shaking my head in disbelief. I thought my disapproval was in my choice of movie, but in hindsight it was at myself. When the doorbell rang, I jumped up without thinking and spilled the tea all over my shirt and laptop. My phone and iPad fell to the ground. I bit my lip so not to wake my dad who was asleep. The kitchen was my next stop; I’d burned myself with the tea and wanted to get some cold water or ice. Luckily, I was fine. After calming down, I threw on my coat (since my shirt had to be removed) and opened the front door to see who rang. Imagine my surprise when there was nobody there. A flyer from a local politician requesting my vote in the upcoming Irish elections was all that was left behind. At that moment, I was so frustrated I could have screamed. Still, I didn’t want to wake up my dad. So, I left the mess in the sittingroom. It looked like a scene from a burglary. After closing the front door behind me, I walked outside. I needed to get some fresh air.
I walked. Then, I kept walking. I walked from the eastern side of the city to beautiful Blackrock. This was the area where people came to swim in the sea, to walk the promenade, and now, for me to escape from the chaos of doing nothing. There was an emotional build up caused by the technological emptiness. And, that evening, I unwittingly freed myself. Simply by walking.
I walked away from an unhealthy mind-set. That was the trigger that set me in motion. Born of anger and frustration. My negatives had been flipped into positives. It took a politician ringing the door at the wrong time to snap me out of the tech-driven fog I’d allowed myself to wander into. And, guess what??? That politician got my vote!
By the time I got home, nearly three hours passed, and I’d walked over 10 kilometres. Insomnia is something I’d suffered from on and off for years. I’d sleep for maybe four hours a night if lucky. But on the 1st of May 2010, I was suddenly cured. No more sleep deprivation. I had the best night’s rest in ages. The next day, I woke feeling so happy, recharged and grounded. The trick from here was how to not fall back on unhealthy habits…read on!
Consistency is Key!
Not all was in vain with my random online searches. I’d remembered reading an article by Sandoche Adittane, Editor of a blog called, Learning Lab. The article was called, Why I Decided to Learn Something New Every Month and How I Will Do It. Adittane documented what he wanted to learn, such as music production, wine tasting, drawing, and swimming. He would focus on one thing and dedicate time every day to that activity for a month. This basic idea was to start a new challenge every month and do it for only for that month. Twelve topics to learn in 12-months? It was like a deep dive into learning. And I was getting ready to don a swim cap…
This simple idea held great appeal for me because I am naturally a great starter and keep a good rhythm when I can see the end-goal. So, I decided to apply this Adittane’s strategy to walking. On the 2nd of May, I was out the door like a bullet before I had a chance to even think about placing myself in the all-too familiar corner of the sofa. I had an app on my phone to measure my progress called “Pedometer.” This was helpful, as I could see my daily progress. But after a turn, I found it to be a kind of ball-and-chain because I’d keep looking at it to see how far I’d gone. Eventually, after a few days, I put away my phone to avoid the distraction, as well as the draw to look at the screen. I was determined to take a break from technology, even if it meant not looking at my phone for three whole hours(!).
The first day, I walked 10 kilometres and it took me a little over three hours. But by the second week until the 31st of May, I was averaging two hours. I felt a great swell of pride. I’d done it. Every day for the month of May, I walked 10 kilometres: 331.22km in the month of May with an average of 10.7km each and every day. I walked for 72 hours total. That equates to three days of my life. I was glued to multiple screens every evening for the same amount of time. Horrifying to realize I’d lose three days each month to technology.
My plan was always to stop the walks on the last day of the month. And although I did stop taking long walks each day, my monthly average is still pretty good. No, I wasn’t walking for two straight hours a day anymore, but I’d learned how to incorporate more walking into my daily routine. Occasionally, I’ll still have a craving to go on long walk after work. When that happens, I just go and enjoy.
The blog-inspired experiment ended up changing my unhealthy habits into permanently healthier ones. I distinctly remember hearing my dad proudly telling friends that I was out walking every evening. I, too, was very proud. In fact, each day that `I completed the walk, I was full of happiness. Now, that’s not to say it was easy. It wasn’t easy. Some days, I cried from the moment I started to the moment I finished. It was an emotional release. The muscle pain in the first week was terrible; I was quite sore, but I’d walked through it. After going for two or more hours, I’d come home and have to bathe my feet in warm water, sea salt and tea tree oil, a thank-you to my feet for carrying me across the city and back again. Some days, I’d get tired and listen to podcasts and music during my walk. Other times, I’d listen to the birds, traffic and environment instead. I would get bored of the same routes so would change them up regularly. One day, I asked my dad to drive me and leave me somewhere passed Oranmore, a small town on the outskirts of Galway City, where I live. It was 10km from my house. I had no choice but to walk it!
At times, walking all those hours was lonely. It was hard on my body, too. I found it tedious after a hard day at the office but that didn’t matter. I always felt a sense of joy after completing my walk. By the end of the month, the loneliness and pain were nowhere to be seen.
I felt fitter. I was so proud of my daily achievements. I felt like I won my own secret personal marathon. Because I did. My sleep patterns were healthier, too; I’d wake up refreshed each morning. My energy levels were also through the roof. I won’t say there was no screen time but there was a serious reduction. I was self-inspired. If you had asked me to walk 10km in April, I’d have laughed it off with a remark such as, “In your dreams!” I’d have seen it as a punishment—something that would have killed me. I wouldn’t have given it a second thought. But now, if you asked me to go for a 10km walk, I might say “Let’s do 15km!” Another unexpected benefit is that my confidence has increased. Things I’d perceive as being too difficult before are now goals I see as entirely attainable. All goals are achievable if done step by step, one day at a time.
During my walks I’d plan what I would do for the next month’s challenge, and the month after that, and the month after that, until I had a list so long, it would take a lifetime to complete it. Some things revolved around exercise, like swimming or skipping. Other goals involved skills like typing, or educational pursuits, such as learning a new language. Learning to paint with acrylics, oils and water- colors was on the list as well. While May was about walking, June was about fasting—did you know that calorie-restriction can help slow the aging process??? I didn’t either, not until I learned more about it and gave it a try. July was focused on using real tea leaves and other herbs to steep in hot water for tea, as opposed to using a Keurig or a pre- made purchased teabag. There’s a lot of benefits to drinking herbal tea every day as I came to learn. August was for mediation; Sept was set aside for daily skipping. And October is for the Brazilian martial art of “Capoeira.”
The idea that my new hobby is to try new hobbies each and every month provides an endless list of things to try and test…and that puts a smile on my face. The feeling of joy and renewal is something I haven’t felt since I was a child in a toy shop on my birthday. It’s as if I’m picking out a gift for myself with each new month and reaping terrific results.
When June 2019 arrived, the 10km a day was reduced to an average of 4km. But my June challenge was not to eat anything after six o’clock in the evening, as well as to try intermittent fasting on weekends. What would the health benefits be? And, how could I incorporate my new healthier habits of increased movement into my latest foray with food? As with all things, balance is key.
The weekend fasts were on an 18-hour cycle, starting with my first meal at noon and the last meal eaten before six-in-the-evening. The idea behind this was to cut out my evening snacks of tea and toast and biscuits in order to give my body a chance to detox. While I didn’t hit the targets I aimed for, I did complete four weekend-fasts, reducing my consumption of unnecessary snacks each evening by 30%. Instead of getting upset about not reducing my snacks more, I simply increased my movement and celebrated my newfound skills. As I write this chapter, it’s July and I have really enjoyed this month’s challenge of cutting out all coffee, tea and beverages and replacing them with only water or natural herbal teas. I have found new tastes that I love and enjoy. It’s normally nettle tea for breakfast. green tea during the day and dandelion tea in the evening. Who knew tea could taste so good, and be so good for you??? In August, I’ll reintroduce a few of my favourite beverages but will continue to drink more water and herbal tea, because frankly, I enjoy it. And, I feel healthier, too!
Now, It’s Your Turn
I’m not even sure when I heard it, or where. But I recall Will Smith (b. 28 Sept 1968) saying that if one wishes to build a wall, you must do it “one block at a time.” I relate to this. I was stuck in a cycle of unhealthy habits that were broken and brought to a head by a politician ringing my doorbell, and like Forrest Gump, once I started walking, I kept walking. Months later, I feel so happy that the person who I was before my 10km challenge seems almost like a different person. Sometimes, it’s only when we are down that we learn how to pick ourselves back up again. My levels of self-satisfactions are so high that I wake up each day with a new sense of motivation to get things accomplished. Sitting down for too long is now boring. I am so proud of myself. I accept myself and love myself more than ever. I have a slew of new hobbies and try more new things every month. No boredom or autopilot since I started these monthly activities. I am learning more about myself, pushing my limits and discovering a delightful abundance of untapped abilities. I feel I have so much more to learn and share. When I finish one activity, I don’t just put it on the shelf at the end of the month. I incorporate it into my life somehow. Perhaps it is not a daily habit, but the new skills I’m learning have increased my health and wellness and—with the right life-balance— continue to well after the 30-day period ends.
If you want to increase your happiness, try learning something new each month and incorporating that newfound skill into your life thereafter. I guarantee that it will change your life for the better…and yes, you will be happier and healthier to boot! Here are 31 ideas from my forever-growing list of new things to learn over the coming months. This alone would get me through more than two years. That’s a lot of time not sitting down in front of a TV screen, iPad, laptop, or phone. I may not get to do everything on my list, but I am so grateful to have a list of hobbies to choose from. It gives me something new to look forward to—which gives me a greater sense of purpose. Just one-to-two hours every day doing anything from the list below is 100-times more rewarding than looking at screens. My commitment to myself now includes dedicated time to learn one new skill each month…so, get your favourite walking shoes ready! It’s time to bloom and grow…together:
Walk 10km everyday
Fasting from 6pm each evening with intermittent fasting on the weekend.
Learning to increase typing speed
Run 5km every day
Paddle or row for 1 hour daily (in or out of the sea—you can also use a rowing machine at your local gym if you don’t live near a body of water)
Live in a different city for one month (like New York or Amsterdam) Use the Wim Hof daily breathing method
Learn to use Excel like a champ
Build a website
Sprinting 30-seconds at a time, eight times a day
Practice coin magic
30 days of yoga
Smile for 20 minutes every morning
Listen to a new kind of music
Write a novel in 30 days
Super-sets every second day for a month
Daily dancing lessons
Become a vegan for 30 days
Don’t use the car for a month
Don’t spend for a month
Try Pilates for 30 days and learn to hold a plank for at least five minutes
Learn basic Chinese
Write a poem or a song each day
Learn improv and acting
Write a comedy
Learn basic code
Play chess daily
Travel every day or plan a different part of a trip each day for 30 days, taking the trip on the last day!
What new things would you want to learn in 30 days? Why not write it down now? The one thing I can tell you with total confidence is that, if you meet me in 12 months and ask me what I achieved in the last year, I will have a minimum of 12 new hobbies, skills, talents, and healthy habits to brag about. It’s like building success into your life instead of waiting for failure. Truly, it’s a brilliant strategy for increasing your overall happiness. Not a day goes by that I don’t thank the writer of that blog for penning an idea that inspired me to change my life. I hope it does the same for you, too.
Mental Health For Millennials Vol 3: On Happiness. Published by Book Hub Publishing, Galway, Ireland (2019) was edited by Dr. Rebecca Housel. Series editors are Dr. Phil Noone and Dr. Niall MacGiolla Bhuí.