Saturday, 03 February 2024 04:42

I walked 20K steps a day for over 2 years and learnt 5 lessons

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It all began for me with a one-year public commitment to walk 20,000 steps a day, and to share my step count, a daily photo, and my insights on Facebook and Instagram.

I had been on a fitness journey for 10 years. I started as a runner. I eventually realized I enjoyed walking so much more so I made the decision to stop running and walk even more.

Five years later, I wanted to encourage and motivate others to do the same, so I started a blog and kicked it off with that splashy, public commitment to walk 20,000 steps every day.

The thing is, I had already been doing that for six months, and would continue for another year after the public commitment ended.

My journey started in the middle of March 2018 and in those two and a half years to August 31, 2020, I learned a great deal; in particular, five important lessons.

One: The Importance of a Pre-decision to Commit

I made a pivotal decision before starting: Whatever was going on in my life that day, I would always reach 20,000 steps. It made all the difference.

It meant I didn't wake up wondering how many steps I'd take; I just figured out how to achieve it. Even on tough days, like when my wife had breast cancer surgery, I found myself pacing the hospital's parking garage.

There was only one day, around six months in, that I was five steps short of 20,000. I didn't realize until weeks later and I think it was simply that I forgot to check my steps before I went to bed, so didn't finish the last few I needed to cross the line.

In the beginning, my emotions fluctuated each day. Some days, I was excited about reaching the 20,000 and how I was going to achieve that. Other days I just didn't feel like it.

I remember one day in particular about two months after I started. It was a cold and rainy afternoon and I still had a lot of steps to get through. I looked out the window thinking: What have I done? Why did I say I was going to do this?

But because I had already made that vital pre-decision to always follow through, I went on and did those 20,000 steps.

Two: Use the Emotional Payoff as Motivation

While the emotions on the front end of every day changed, what I felt at the end of the day having reached that goal was consistent: A sense of accomplishment and a deep satisfaction with myself.

That end-of-day feeling never changed, and it became the motivation on some days because I knew how great I would feel once I had completed all my steps.

Three: The Power of Personal Competition

I learned that competing against myself is a huge motivator. I may not be able to compete against you or other people, but I can compete against myself by setting personal challenges.

This was a powerful motivator, and it has continued to be a useful tool for me even after I stopped walking 20,000 steps a day.

For example, four years ago, my wife and I decided to drastically change our lives and move 500 miles away. I needed to do a lot of work on our house before it could sell and gave myself an unreasonable deadline to get it all done.

I was getting used to these personal challenges and actually beat my own deadline. This commitment to fitness can have far-reaching effects.

Four: The Realization I Can Do Hard Things

I walked 20,000 steps a day for two-and-a-half years. I did it. And that's hard!

I don't have a personal history of leaning into the difficult things in life. I've given up or failed at a lot of hard situations or challenges, and I've doubted my resilience.

But not this time. I did a hard thing every single day for a long period, and that consistency showed me I can do it. It is an incredibly rewarding feeling to know what you're capable of.

The day after we moved into our new house, my wife was in a terrible car crash that put her in a wheelchair for two months.

During those early weeks of recovery, she needed me to help her with just about everything. It was really hard, but I now had a history of doing hard things

Five: My True Strength

Beyond the physical benefits of walking 20,000 steps a day, and the huge improvements to my fitness, this journey made me feel emotionally and mentally strong.

I realized I could do a hard thing...and do it for a while. Before this two-and-a-half year streak began, I knew I could walk 20,000 steps in a day. I even knew I could do it for a few days.

But I didn't know if I had the mental strength to build a streak this long. This challenge flipped my internal narrative on its head. Now I know I'm capable of far more than I believed before.

Taking Control Again

With all these benefits and insights, you might wonder why I stopped at two-and-a-half years.

It wasn't due to injury or sickness. I simply decided that it was becoming too big a feature of my life, and was actually starting to control it.

I didn't want this fitness activity to control me, but rather be something that I am in control of, and using in pursuit of my health and wellness.

The decision to stop wasn't easy. But I had to make it for my own wellbeing.

The truth is that you don't need to walk 20,000 steps every day. You don't even need 10,000 steps, particularly if you're only at the beginning of your fitness journey.

Start with a commitment to walk every day for 10 minutes and stick at it so this becomes an established habit. Then you can build from there and enjoy all the benefits to your life that walking has to offer.

** David Paul hosts Walking Is Fitness, a daily ten-minute podcast helping people to begin a new fitness journey that sticks.



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