Couch to Cave Challenge: The Results

So… on June 1, 2015 (today is July 1 2015 in case you’re joining us at some point in the future when I accidentally repost this on Twitter or something) I decided to embark on what I called the Couch to Cave Challenge. I should copyright that or trademark it or whatever.

This was my challenge. I created it because I think 30 Day Challenges are the best thing the internet has to offer. Here’s how it was to have worked (not sounding good, is it?):

The three main components of the challenge were these:

  1. Eat according to the Whole30 nutrition plan.

  2. Walk 10,000 steps a day.

  3. Fit in 20 strength training sessions.

My goals, whether I explicitly laid them out in my original post or not:

  1. Develop two habits:
    1. Walking over 10,000 steps a day
    2. Working out at least 4 times a week
  2. Lose weight: I started the month at 218.5 and my overall goal is to get back to my grad school weight of 185. I didn’t intend to hit 185 this month, but I hoped to kickstart my shedding of my suburban couch potato pounds.

How Did I Do?

My Whole30 Plan

I was not a Whole30 legalist I’m afraid. I stuck well to the plan (no grains, legumes, dairy, sugar outside of what naturally occurs in fruit, etc.) during the week and at least 1/2-2/3 of meals on the weekends.

Where I struggled…

  • Weekends: My first weekend I intended only to have a couple glasses of wine as a cheat. I had pizza when on a little road trip with my family. And a hamburger. The next weekend, I was sick, so I had some dry toast, saltines, and Gatorade. Then there was Father’s Day where I had ice cream. As you can see, I basically cheated on Whole30 on weekends. Not all weekend, every weekend, but at some point each weekend, I had some form of bread, beer or wine, or something sweet. Sorry Whole30. I do love you. You are good to me.
  • Social times: The reason I struggled on weekends was that I wanted to enjoy, sensibly,  my times with friends and family. I don’t necessarily feel bad about this, but it is something I need to be aware if I decide to dive deeper. And I can’t be worried that I’ll come off like an obnoxious CrossFit, paleo, vegan evangelist. I don’t mind any of those three approaches, but I know that to speak too much of ones nutrition or workout plan can border on the obnox.

Where I won…

  • I kept going: There have been times when I might have taken the fact I had pizza as a clue that I should just stop for the rest of the month. I didn’t. I kept eating the Whole30 way each week and most meals on the weekend (although we all know that snack times will get you on the weekends). I bounced back.
  • I found a sustainable approach: While I don’t think I could live Whole30 all the time, I’m pretty sure I can maintain some form of this past month’s approach. I can stick to whole foods and natural proteins, eschewing grains and sweets, for much of each week.
  • I lost 11.5 lbs: I lost a decent chunk of poundage. I’ll take a 11.5 loss in a month anytime. The kicker will be if I can start July at 207, endure the Independence Day cookouts and still get to 200 by end of the month. That’s the goal, by the way.
whole30 and 10000 step plan for one month


All in all, I’m pleased. I could have done better and will take on a more pure Whole30 again some time in the future, but for now, I’ll take the 80/20 approach (80% Whole30, 20% sensibly NOT Whole30).

My 10,000 Steps Plan

I am most excited about my results here. I hit my step goal 24 out of 30 days. Three times were when I was ill. And three times were this past weekend when I didn’t plan my morning walks as well as I should have.

For comparison, here’s how many times I hit 10,000 steps in the previous 3 months:

  • March: 1 time
  • April: 3 times
  • May: 1 time

As you can see, I saw some major improvement.

And this one, outside of injury or sickness, is a non-negotiable. I declare Saturday or Sunday as ‘cheat days’ depending on family obligations, but other than that, this is a lifestyle change I can and will maintain.

The benefits are endless. I’ll post on this idea more in the future. For tips on how you can get 10,000 steps a day, even if you work at an office, check out my post here.

My 20 Workouts

I got 3 in. Womp, womp. Toilet flush sound.

Obviously, this is an area I need improvement. It is one that I will reengage for the upcoming month.

I’ll schedule 10 weight training sessions for the month of July and see how it goes. Starting small is a good approach in this area anyway.

Final Takeaways

I just had an epiphany. The only one of these three items that I could visually keep track of and gamify was the 10,000 step component. I wonder if that is why I had the most success there? I could watch my progress each day on my app and developed a sense of what I needed to do each day to keep on track. Gamification works for me.

I realize that I need to not only take on challenges, but I need to find a healthy, sustainable approach to my nutrition and fitness. I think… I think I found it in my week on, weekend semi-off rhythm. I love a good sandwich. And I love to enjoy food and drink with friends and family without having to sit and look at a plate of carrots while everybody else is eating that ridiculously good non-GMO Chicago Mix Popcorn (YUM!!!).

Community works in my nutritional favor, also.  Instagram is a fun place to post Whole30 meal pictures. I did gamify this: Could I get more than 20 likes for my Whole30 snapshot? Sorry real friends who don’t care to see what I was eating, but all of my Whole30 compadres where a huge encouragement.  You can check out my account here. I might add a Couch to Cave themed account soon so my family and friends don’t have to suffer through snapshots of eggs and spinach.

Also, I was invited to join The Seasonal Diet community for a bit. I’ll write a review of my experience after I dig a bit deeper in there, but the community with it’s Facebook group has been hugely helpful even if the other members don’t realize it. A bunch of people a trying to build good habits are the right people to be around, whether virtually or in real life.

If you’re looking for well-laid out plans to help you eat the best foods your community has to offer in a way that makes sense for the rhythms of each year, check out Sarah and Peter Hagstrom’s approach (it’s plant-based, but they are meat-eater friendly).

I love to write, but I must plan to write. This is the final takeaway. I dropped off after the first couple weeks. Writing, also, must be approached in a sustainable way or as a more committed priority. We’ll see how this goes moving forward. A 2-3 post a week plan is a better idea. Tuesdays and Fridays, with an option for a third day sounds like a solid approach.

I’d love to hear if any of you took up any part of this challenge.

Thanks for reading!



How Do You Protect Your Time?

how do you protect your time

Seriously. I’m asking. I would love to know.

There are times when I’m not so great at making sure the time I have with the people I love is as high quality as I’d like it to be.

If you’re good at protecting your time, keeping priorities, saving margin in your day for your most important relationships… how do you do it?

And if you have white space at the end of your day, do you feel like you spend it wisely (on those relationships or other most important priorities)?

Is there more screen time than face time?

Is there more showing each other what we found online vs. sharing with each other what happened in our day?

I’m the last person to be overly-critical of time spent on devices, but I am extremely nervous about how habits can develop without our even knowing it.

I guess protecting time starts with noticing how I’m using it?

Or maybe protecting time starts with deciding how I should be engaging and actually scheduling it into my evening’s calendar (yes, I’m mostly talking about time at home, not time at work).

All I know is that every day is a day I can’t get back. And every day is a day that builds upon the day before.

What am I building with my days? What are you building with yours?


When Your Body Tells You to Stop

An Update on my Couch to Cave Challenge: 2 Weeks in

Has your body ever told you that you need to stop?

Your body will clue you in to the fact that the physical, mental, and sleep-deprived related stress that you are subjecting yourself to is unsustainable.

Consequently, your body decides to offer special admission to some kind of nasty virus that will force you to slow your pace and take time off.. one of those viruses that brings a 102 fever, body aches, and no appetite.

My body sent me just such a message prior to this past weekend. As I was driving home from work on Thursday, I slowly started feeling horrible. I faked it as best as I could when I got home, but my wife is Quick Draw McGraw with the thermometer and sussed me out quickly.

To bed I went, and in bed I stayed, On Friday, I got 83 steps in vs. my goal of 10,000. But I didn’t care. All I wanted was to lay there, drink Gatorade, eat Saltines, and watch Netflix in between naps.

I was fresh as a daisy come Saturday (so I thought).

On Saturday, in 90+ weather? I played tennis because the fever was gone.

The fever came back because it was stupid to play tennis in 90+ summer heat.

Each weekend, it seems, brings challenges, but the bonus of a quick sickness is loss of appetite and associated weight loss. I fit in my smaller khakis, so there’s that win.

The Lessons so Far

Here is a stream of consciousness list of lessons from my Couch to Cave Challenge, 2 weeks in:

  • Push yourself, but listen to your body: I’m glad I didn’t try to meet my goal on Friday. I should have done the same on Saturday to continue to get healthy from whatever ailment I had.
  • Don’t be legalistic: I’ve been consistent with my 10,000 steps and my Whole30 eating, but when I was sick, I had to back off on both. Kale isn’t appetizing when  your belly is a little off-kilter. Saltines, on the other hand, are just what the doctor ordered.
  • But be honest: Not being legalistic can lead to a slippery slope where we compromise when we don’t need to on our commitments. That’s not good either.
  • Try to be ahead of the game: Sleep and rest and destress. I know that I need to be better at building margin into my life. That’s a project. It needs to be my most important project because margin is where relationships, health (both mental and physical), and finances approve.
  • Continual improvement is better than perfect adherence: While I’ve not been perfect in adhering to my diet and exercise plan, I’ve been holding to a 90-95% on, 5-10% off schedule (perhaps even better than that). We can lose the forest for the trees if we allow our inability to be perfect to hamper the overall continual lifestyle improvement we’re after.

This upcoming weekend is Father’s Day celebration wherein the whole family (my brother and his family, my parents, my family) will be gathering for a Saturday night feast. We’ll see what kind of excuse I can concoct on Monday for taking one meal off again. :-)

Why You Shouldn’t Try to Be Well-Rounded

I made a mistake in high school. I made many, but one in particular sticks out in my mind.

I made it a goal to be the valedictorian of my school. I took as many AP classes as I could find to take to grab that weighted A (the one that would give you 5 points on the GPA vs the standard 4). I took 5th year German (directed study with a teacher who is just excited some guy cares enough to take a 5th year in German).

My goal was to win a little prize. And the trophy (somewhere in a plastic bin at my house) is small.  The way to get that prize was to chase a well-rounded curriculum that allowed for optimal GPA results.

Not one time did I do a deep dive into these questions:

  • What are you really good at?
  • What do you love to do?

At 16 or 17, I didn’t have to ask the question, “What is a marketable skill?”  I could have explored the things I loved to do and the things I was good at, perhaps discovering connections between what I loved and where I had skill.

The upshot of chasing after a trophy was that I became well-rounded.

Sure, being well-rounded can simply show varied interests, the classic Renaissance man or woman. It can also mean that we don’t have focus or we punt our interests and skills for fulfilling others’ expectations.

In my humble but accurate opinion, being well-rounded is not a worthy goal.

don't be well-rounded

Photo Credit: Percita via Compfight cc

Ball or Spear?

A ball bounces from thing to thing. It can be fun for a bit and then you put it up. It can provide a source of joy and give you a little exercise, but if you ever need a tool to accomplish something, you grab something with a sharp point… not a ball.

A screwdriver, a knife, scissors, a spear. When you want to be effective, you sharpen something and go to work.

When you focus on becoming well-rounded, you become the equivalent of a human ball. You might be able to touch on a bunch of topics, but you also might struggle to find the one area where you know you can make a massive difference.

When you learn to hone your strengths and the things you love, you develop a sharpness and a focus, that impacts the world around you.

Most high achievers that we respect forsook ridiculous amounts of opportunity in order to focus on a single goal.  Nearly every inspirational documentary or biography shows a person who did only a couple things really well (although after a life of focusing on consistent improvement in that one area, other opportunities came at the right time later).

These individuals were spears, sharp spears that made deep impact.  The fact is, we can all be spears, we just need to sharpen ourselves a bit.

Focus on Your Gifts

I was reminded of this myth of well-roundedness again recently when I listened to the Lewis Howes Podcast on focusing on your gifts.

We too often try to strengthen our weaknesses instead of learning to leverage our strengths.

Think about what you do throughout the day. Do you feel the whole day is a battle to do well at something that you either (a) can’t stand doing or (b) don’t feel particularly gifted to do?

Yes… all work will require us to venture out of our strengths into areas of weakness. We must grow, but at the same time, we must scan the horizon for opportunities to use the gifts we have.

For instance, I love to write, and I sense I have some bit of aptitude for it, crude though it might be. In every job I’ve ever had (minus the stint as a Cracker Barrel server), I’ve looked for opportunities to write, whether to benefit the job or on the side.

Also, my eight year old daughter would readily admit that math ain’t her thing. My goal has been to make sure she learns the subject well enough, but I don’t have any hopes she finds herself in AP Calculus in high school. I’d rather she spend her energy diving deep into her love of singing and writing. That’s where she derives joy, and that’s where she brings joy to others.

If I forced her to be a well-rounded student, to get all A’s in math and always be in the advanced classes, then I’d be missing it (again, in my humble but accurate opinion).

What’s My Point?

There are a few takeaways. I’ll bullet point them and leave you alone:

  • Don’t beat yourself up over your weaknesses: I hereby release you from the need to prove yourself in an area that is no longer relevant. Let’s call that a skill appendix – unnecessary to hold onto after you passed the class.Feel free to give yourself a weakness appendectomy.
  • Give yourself white space to play in your strengths: Take a class, read a book, practice.
  • Identify the strengths in your kids, friends, spouse, siblings: Many people simply don’t realize what their strengths are. They spend all their time doing what’s expected. Help them to see the awesome that they bring to the table. Notice others and encourage them.
  • Find opportunities to use your skills, gifts, and passions in your work: Most of us have a little bit of leeway at work to shade things toward what we’re good at. Find those opportunities and leverage. You might discover it benefits your career.
  • Enjoy your life: I’m not saying to eat chocolate for breakfast or do snow angels in your grass. I’m saying give yourself permission to do stuff you love.
  • Don’t worry about missing out: One of my fears about not having skill in everything from cooking to fishing to carpentry to sales to accounting is that I’ll miss out on an opportunity. In truth, the opportunities come when the joy comes through in what you’re doing. And joy comes through when you skillfully do the things you love.

For a much more succinct and experienced perspective on focusing one or two things, check out this short piece from Elon Musk‘s (of Tesla fame – the car, not the band) first wife.


I’d love to hear your thoughts… drop them in the comments: How do you dive deep into doing the things you love, that bring you joy, and wherein you’re gifted?


Consistency Breeds Opportunity

consistency is a skill

Consistency does not only make you better at the thing about which you’re being consistent. Consistency is a skill in and of itself. And that skill breeds opportunity.

If you shoot 100 free throws a day or write daily or fine tune your snark on your Facebook posts daily, you’ll improve on those skills.

More importantly, though, when we deliver on our promises to ourselves and others, opportunities show up. The opportunities might not be remotely related to what you do for a living or your vocation, but the sheer consistency puts you in a position to gain new opportunities.

A friend of mine works out religiously. She was approached by someone at her gym about whether she could train her. The fact that my friend shows up regularly and consistently demonstrates discipline was all it took for the opportunity to arise.

You might be a victim of this at work: you do your work so well on a daily basis that everybody asks you for help. In this situation, you need to practice how to say “No” gracefully, but still, the opportunities are coming because of your consistency.

One trap is to worry about where your opportunity will come. For instance, if you are an accountant who would rather try her hand in sales, then you might fear being too good at your spreadsheets.

My unscientific theory is that if you consistently act in one area, even as you seek opportunities in another area, that your “consistency resume” will make encourage those seemingly unrelated opportunities.

The point, here, then is that if you are looking for a specific opportunity or a door to open, then practice consistency and diligence where you are and with your current commitments. Insomuch as you can, be consistent and diligent in seeking that specific opportunity, but don’t neglect building the muscle of daily, incremental, consistent action at whatever you set your hands to or have committed to.

In time, you’ll discover the opportunity you’re looking for. Or it’ll find you.


A Personal Note and Check-In

On my Couch to Cave Challenge, I’ve held up my commitment to 10,000 daily steps and the Whole30 nutrition plan (outside of my weekend in the mountains with my family). I’m 10 days in as of this writing and am feeling wonderful.  My weakness has been my strength training sessions. I’ve snuck in 3 sessions out of the 20 I committed to. These need not be CrossFit-style blood and gut fests, so there’s no reason I can’t knock these out in the 20 remaining days (I’m talking body weight squats, pushups, core exercises etc.).