When I signed up for my third Whole Life Challenge, I wasn’t sure I even wanted to do it again. The Whole Life Challenge (WLC) is an annual game that started at my gym. Every year for an eight-week period we adhere to strict lifestyle guidelines specifically in the areas of nutrition, fitness, accountability, and mobilization.
Daily, we start with six points (three for nutrition, one for working out, one for mobilization, and one for a EPA/DHA omega supplement, usually in the form of fish oil) and we either maintain the points or lose points if we’ve eaten something not compliant or forgotten to stretch, workout, or mobilize.
I’ve seen similar challenges online and through other gyms often concentrating on specific areas like fitness, strength, weight loss, or a clean eating challenge. You might have partaken in a similar challenge and if you have, you know it is not a light commitment. In fact, it’s a plunge into constant focus. But the experience can be extraordinarily rewarding.
I learned a lot about myself in the two previous WLC challenges even though they were vastly different experiences. In hindsight both were laced with rebellion on my part. During the first I was so pumped, that I was determined to be perfect.
As a vegan, the idea of maintaining perfect points in a challenge based on paleo principles seemed impossible. I argued for all kinds of changes and when I only won one battle at the time – subbing EPA/DHA algae oil for fish oil – I was then determined to beat the paleos at their own game. I was going to stick it to them!
I was almost perfect that first challenge. And though I was sparked by the excitement and blinded by my determination, when the challenge was over, I felt crappy. It was not sustainable physically or emotionally.
I made a couple lasting changes that I’m still proud of and that have made a big impact on my health, but by the time the second challenge rolled around, I was determined to not be perfect.
I swung in the complete opposite direction and I consciously lost points every other day if not every day. Though I felt like I set the game up more around a lifestyle that I could sustain – wise! – by the end of the challenge, it felt lackluster. I felt I hadn’t challenged myself enough.
What I hope to get out of this third challenge is balance. I want to find the fine line of too much and not enough and find my best health within that.
What’s exciting about this particular challenge, is that this is the first time the WLC is open to other gyms and anybody willing to put themselves to the test. Worldwide there are about seven thousand participants and that in itself breathes extra energy and excitement into the experience. Maybe next WLC, you can impact your health with us.
With the other challenges under my belt and with the benefit of much reflection, I understand how these challenges make my life better in areas not even defined in the game. These benefits are certainly not exclusive to the WLC, but any challenge to which you happen to commit. Here are the top seven reasons a challenge makes my life better:
- I want to suffer with my friends while making positive changes. Figuring out how to stick to a commitment while others are likewise trying to manage their own obstacles is a great bonding experience. When not empathizing with each other, we are supporting each other, lifting each other higher. Nothing beats a going-to-battle-together communal experience. This can happen with an online community as well.
- I want to be better. I think a lot about how to tweak my lifestyle so I have more energy, better performance, more well being – the list goes on and for varied reasons. Without the accountability of a challenge, sometimes this tweaking gets lost in my life’s shuffle. My diligence gets loose because it seems silly to always tweak when I’m not a professional athlete or there isn’t a spotlighted reason for me to get better. But it isn’t silly. A challenge only reminds me of this and gives me some validation and a structure in which to reset and carry on my quest.
- Perfection is not the purpose. My drive for perfection in the first challenge was based on vanity and pride. This didn’t help me. In fact in a way I missed the point of the challenge. And while having determination is important, a challenge is not about perfection as someone else defines it. A challenge is about making the changes that will benefit us most, right now – changes within our current capacity that will better our health, our fitness, and yet keep a good quality of life. Points or the guidelines of a challenge are only a high-bar reference point. A sincere effort and a deeper understanding of your own health are way more perfect than perfect performance within a game.
- I’m forced to focus and be aware. Within the busyness of our lives, we often lose awareness of what’s in our food, we unconsciously shove things in our mouths out of convenience, we let a few days slip by without working out or strength training. Stretching can wait. During the first couple weeks of the challenge, I’m always shocked all over again about the crap that’s in food. Being reminded of how we turn a blind eye to this stuff is not always fun, but reining it back in with some accountability can only benefit our health.
- I cook more. During a challenge, I get motivated to cook at home again. I know exactly what ingredients go into my food. There are no sly additives or sugar. Though not convenient for sure, real food definitely tastes better, helps me perform better, and is worth the effort. Getting the entire family in on the cooking experience is pretty great, too.
- I love seeing changes in everybody else on the challenge. Hearing testimonies about how other people feel so much better or how they’ve bettered their health inspires me and solidifies my belief that this is all worthwhile. I’ve seen amazing transformations in my gym’s last two challenges.
- I like myself on a challenge. When I hold myself to a high standard, I like the person I become. It’s my most honest and hard-working self. I don’t want to let myself down and I don’t want to let my community down. There is something about a sincere commitment that brings out the best in us, even when it’s hard. Hard is okay. Being successful is about giving our all despite the fact that it’s hard and even when we’re not entirely perfect. It’s how we really win a challenge.
We don’t often get opportunities to shine and be our best selves, but a challenge can be that opportunity. How has the Whole Life Challenge or any other challenge benefited your life? If you haven’t done a challenge, would you consider doing one and why?
Photographs provided by Danette Rivera; WLC artwork courtesy The Biz and Chino Martinez.