I used to be that kid who never really struggled at school. Without putting much of an effort, I had great grades for a long time. There were only two exceptions to this : arts and physical exercise. What a cliche, huh? I hated physical activities, and they seemed to hate me right back.
I also hated effort from all my heart. I was raised to suck it up when it gets hard, and do the fucking thing until it’s done, no matter what that is. And I know how to get into that warrior mode. But I also always loved my comfort and a slow pace.
I’m a very introverted bookworm. My people don’t usually enjoy getting into intense physical stuff. Our motto could be “Let us daydream and read in peace for Pete’s sake”. I used to joke about being allergic to constraint...
The day before I turned sixteen, something changed. I almost died in a car accident and broke my spine. I was very lucky in that I didn’t completely lose the use of my legs. But suddenly, physical exercise was in my daily regimen : after such an injury, the first few months are crucial to the recovery. If I wanted to learn how to walk, I had to suck it up and live in constant discomfort for months on end. Just writing about that time, it is all coming back to me, the awful pain, the shame, the unresponsive body that I hated.
The first steps were excruciatingly hard and tiring. I still remember how proud I felt for walking 10 steps without stopping for the first time though. Or the joy that filled me the first time I moved my toes after 2 weeks of staring at them desperately trying to wiggle them. This was the first real challenge of my life, the first time I had to push my edge and do really hard things I wasn’t sure I could do but wanted from the bottom of my heart.
There was a lot of avoidance and numbing through alcohol, sex and drugs to go through this. But I made it. A year later, I was limping, I couldn’t do long distances or stay up very long, but I was walking.
And for the first time, I learned that it’s not because something is hard that it means we can’t do it. Until then, me not instantly achieving something was filling me with shame because it meant I was deficient.
This terrible time in my life taught me (among other things) that persistence can get me further than sheer talent or natural ability ever will. It also brought me the wonderful insight that little progress count, as frustrating as they can be, they can amount to big things.
For the longest time afterwards, I kept avoiding doing more challenges. So one may wonder why on Earth am I having my first 100 days project in three years. Or how come I am practicing yoga everyday and biking or swimming twice a week now. The expression is : incremental progress.
When I turned 25, after a year of depression and slowly getting back to avoiding any physical activity, I was feeling like I was 60. My whole body was aching and felt “rusty". The doctors in the UK where I had moved were very clear : I needed physical activity in my life or it would get worse quickly.
I tried different things, that failed miserably, either because I couldn’t get myself to persist or because it made me feel like I was torturing myself with no enjoyment whatsoever. Until I discovered home yoga. No shame since no one was here to see me perform. No constraints on time. I could pause, I could do it at 3am when my back was aching and I couldn’t sleep. I did it again solely because my teacher, Adriene Mischler, was loving and encouraging and the hundreds of free sessions as gentle as needed.
That was four years ago. Since then, I refuse to warrior into things. Instead, I start slow and small, from where I am, instead of pestering me for not being where I want already. I set attainable and realistic goals that that serve my higher purpose.
And “strangely” enough, I am actually moving mountains, one baby step at the time. I’ve never been so efficient, persistent, brave. I’ve never explored foreign and uncomfortable territories with such ease and will to keep going.
When it got easier and I needed to solidify my practice, I started Adriene’s free 30 days practices. The first one took me 60 days to finish. The second, 45 days. Now they take me 35 days top, and the 5 extra days are usually for slower gentler sessions, rather nothing.
A challenge I wasn't forced into but still could do? This was a revolution for me.
I took that new knowledge with me and applied it elsewhere. I learned how to meditate like this, first with a 10 days challenge I did in 3 weeks, etc… It’s been a daily practice for two years now, but 5 years ago, 2 days in a row was huge.
Then I learned how to be creative that same way. Yes, the kid who had the worst grades in arts.
I learned to paint flowers with a 30 days challenge of 10mn lessons, then set up one for lettering.
Both were to progress in things important for me.
My first 100 days project was 100 days of creativity because creative activities are an easy way to implement play in our life, which in turn gives us courage and motivation to do so many scary important things.
Feeling brave and like we can do hard things can do wonders to our emotional and psychological health.
A year and a half later, I wrote for 100 days about my work, mixing my two passions and following an old big dream of sharing with the world what I learned all those years.
Six months later, I had another one to learn how to journal everyday. Journalling everyday is an incredible practice to get calmer and deal with depressive and anxious symptoms, and an awesome way to create with more ease and cultivate awesome ideas. That’s why I chose it.
Right now, this project is about practicing all those wonderful things together and writing everyday because I’m much happier when I write. I don’t have to battle with myself, my excuses, my resistance. I know I will write and publish everyday, and it won’t always be good, because nothing we do everyday can be good each time, so I’m learning to suck and be ok with it.
It’s also about learning to talk about small parts of what I do, when my tendency would be to overwhelm my readers with too much information or concepts at the time. Finally, I’m practicing story telling, to embody the concepts, showing, instead of telling. All of which are important to learn to me.
This way of building challenges was taught to me through many books and scientific concepts. It is an amazing way of battling against perfectionism, which is telling us that anything imperfect can’t be good. I call bullshit. I’ve never seen anyone doing anything great without a lot of imperfection and trial and errors involved. It’s not about doing it perfectly, it’s about going back on the horse, not giving up when it’s hard and we suck.
By doing hard things consistently, but not too hard so that we get discouraged or drained and don’t want to go back, we strengthen our bravery and persistence muscles, both are necessary to do anything big and feel good about ourselves.
You have no idea how many people I’ve met who did incredible stuff from marathons to having a very hard to get diploma or that friend who from nowhere started a pilgrimage and hiked for hours everyday for months. Despite the amazingness, they feel desperate and almost depressed, when a couple of months later they feel like those experiences brought them nothing.
This is a form of self violence. Achievement doesn’t mean a thing by itself, we need to give our best to things that deeply matter to our bigger picture for them to be fulfilling. We need to make the effort meaningful.
More than the actual object of the challenge, I am really learning how to be brave and persistent, and how to follow my dreams, make them happen. Each of them fill me with joy and gets woven into my life forever in some small way.
I cannot imagine many other ways to use my energy and courage giving so much purpose to my life. Can you?