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It’s Okay to Be the Turtle: How to Win Big by Going Small in the Whole Life Challenge

By July 14, 2023Self-Improvement
Reading Time: 7 minutes
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I don’t know about you, but when I first started the Whole Life Challenge, I was overwhelmed by the enormity of it. With 7 Daily Habits to attend to, and a myriad of rules to follow, I questioned whether I could actually complete it.

Plus, everyone I knew who had done the Challenge was a CrossFitter, and let me tell you I was nowhere near the athletic prowess of that group. I was more of a CrossSitter — you know, able to achieve multiple daily activities without ever having to get up from my chair.

But looking for a way to kick start my health after a particularly rough year, I finally broke it off with Ben & Jerry and signed up for the Challenge, joining my friend Jeff’s team, The Summer Six Pack. The name didn’t apply, but I jumped in anyway, setting goals for myself that I hoped reflected the mysterious WODs, metcons, and Murphs my teammates wrote about in their go-big-or-go-home posts.

Here are my original goals:

  • Lose fifteen pounds.
  • Play Performance level and give up processed sugar and grains.
  • Row 1,000 meters in five minutes.

(Why I chose that last one, I don’t know, but I’m thinking the impending Olympics might have had something to do with it.)

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After the first week of the Challenge, it became apparent I would never achieve the big goals I had set for myself. While my teammates were boasting four-pound weights losses and hardcore workouts consisting of overhead squats and clean and jerks, I could barely breathe after each sluggish 8:45 rowing session, the scale had hardly moved, and I was dreaming nightly of quinoa.

But what I did find was that I was hitting my marks for the 7 Habits every single day, and these small wins were having a noticeable impact on my daily life. I had more energy and  began to feel more positive about myself and my body.  This gave me the confidence to continue the Challenge, and focus on the areas where I was finding success. I wasn’t running a 5K (actually I wasn’t running at all), but I knew I was on to something valuable.

The Surprise of the 7 Habits

Because I could actually do it, the mobility portion of the Challenge became a real focus of the game for me. Instead of the required ten minutes, I ended up doing twenty every day. Before the Challenge, I was having problems bending over to tie my shoes and picking up objects from the floor, which surprised and kind of depressed me. Was this what middle-age had in store for me? But after just one week of focused stretching, my body felt looser and more agile, and I was moving through my daily tasks with increased ease.

It's Okay to Be the Turtle: How to Win Big by Going Small

Sleep also felt like a habit I could tackle. And to my surprise, getting a consistent seven hours of sleep each night took away the binge eating I often found myself doing when I was tired. Plus, I felt happier and less likely to yell at those who left their dirty socks in various rooms around the house.

And the hydration requirement? Well let’s just say that with all the extra water I was drinking, it was smooth sailing ahead, if you know what I mean.

How I Found Success in Going Small

With these small gains in mind, I decided to change my other goals for the Challenge and leave my hard-body, Olympic-rowing, gluten-free fantasy behind.

My new goals:

  • Touch my toes when bending from a standing position
  • Sit cross-legged for 10 minutes
  • Abide by the Lifestyle level guidelines (instead of Performance)
  • Lose 7.5 pounds (half my original goal)

I’m sure after reading my first goal, many of you reflexively quickly bent down and touched your toes. Easy for you, yes? For me, not so much. I’ve never been particularly limber but with the weight I’d gained, my lack of mobility was beginning to affect my life. I worked on my toe-touching goal throughout that first Challenge and although I came close to achieving it, I didn’t make it. But I can tie my shoes now without strain, pick things up from the floor with ease, and walk up the stairs at the gym without being winded. All due to my increased mobility. This has literally changed the quality of my everyday life and certainly erased some embarrassment.

Why the second goal? Because surprisingly, even as adult, there are many times when sitting cross-legged is necessary. Say, at a picnic, kids sporting events, or yoga. Plus, fingers crossed, someday in the future there will be grandchildren to get down on the floor and play with. At the beginning of the Challenge, I couldn’t sit this way and this led me to restrict my activities. But now I can do it. And believe it or not, I get as much satisfaction in sitting cross-legged for ten minutes as some other people do from completing a heavy deadlift. Different sized achievements to the observer — but success all the same.

It's Okay to Be the Turtle: How to Win Big by Going Small

Next, I switched my nutrition goals from Performance to the Lifestyle level. As a savvy businesswoman, I’ve lived by the credo “under promise, over deliver” and it has served me well. As a result, my projects are on time and under budget. So why not apply this principle to the Whole Life Challenge? In truth, I formally switched to Lifestyle within the game, but I actually played Performance. By doing this, I gave myself a safety net of brown rice and quinoa that allowed me to push myself to the limits. Was this just a mind game I was playing with myself? You bet – and it worked.

Finally, I cut my weight loss goal in half, to 7.5 pounds. Yes, you read that right, in half. And I urge you to do the same. In my excitement to start the Challenge, I overreached, set my goal too high, and basically shot myself in the foot before I even started. Exhausted, hungry, and fighting a nasty sugar withdrawal headache after week one, my motivation plummeted and I began questioning whether I could really do this for the two full months.

This is a common chain of events, according to bestselling author and productivity expert Jon Acuff. After the initial excitement and energy burst that comes with starting something new, reality sets in and self doubt can take over. Although seemingly counterintuitive, this is the perfect moment to cut any time-sensitive goal you have set for yourself in half. Doing so gives you a much better chance of reaching your original goal, even if it takes a little longer, says Acuff.

According to Acuff, when people set goals, they often forget “to take in the importance of ‘pace’…[and] that tends to end one of two ways: You miss your goal and give up, or you hit your goal and are so spent that you give up.” But, he continues, if you “do a little one month and win, you’re more likely to do a little more the next month and win even more.”

I found this to be true for me. As soon as I cut my goals, I felt a huge weight lifted from my shoulders for the rest of the Challenge. 7.5 pounds seemed so doable (I’d lost two already), that instead of feeling stressed, I was confident with my new starting point and continued at a relaxed pace, simply doing what I had to during my journey. At the end of the Challenge, I ended up losing eleven pounds and felt great doing it.

It's Okay to Be the Turtle: How to Win Big by Going Small

It’s Okay to Be the Turtle

You know the old saying “slow and steady wins the race”? Well, at the end of the Challenge, I turned out to be the top scorer on my team of nineteen people, with a final score of 1950 points out of the 1960 possible.

Was I the thinnest, fittest, or healthiest of my team? Not by a long shot. But I felt and looked so much better that people actually stopped me to take notice. More importantly, I experienced a shift in mindset about what being healthy means. I now know, it’s not about weight or how many reps I complete. It’s a whole life practice.

So, if you are thinking about what goals you’d like to achieve in the next Whole Life Challenge, consider taking them small. You many find, like I did, that going small can have big time benefits. Sometimes small really is better.

1. Jon Acuff, 30 Days of Hustle, Day 9: Halftime, Accessed September 15, 2016, email from author.

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Elisa Taub
Elisa Taub is a writer, TV producer, consultant, fundraiser, tech enthusiast, and general community rabble-rouser. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, two teenagers, and a dog.