Upfront, the Whole Life Challenge literally changed my life.
A trope, an aphorism of self-improvement, sure. “It changed my life…”
But perhaps I can give you some context.
When I found the WLC, I found it like most everyone else — during a chance web search. And I was so taken with the concept of its completeness, its focus on a constellation of habits, that I called one of the co-founders (Andy), and told him it was great.
And that he clearly had no idea how to sell it.
Thus, began a conversation that ended in me helping him do so — first as a consultant, then as the Chief Marketing Officer, and finally, today, as the CEO of the company.
During this three-year journey from guy-on-phone to head poohbah, I’ve done the Challenge roughly ten times. And I’ve experienced the highs of being on point (“Why would anyone ever choose to live any other way?”) as well as the lows of the conflicts it poses (“I just want to drink beer with my friends and stay out all night.”)
During those high points, I’ve searched for the answer to a single question — why does this work so well (when it’s working)?
(During the lows, I usually just drank the beer.)
You could default to the simpler explanations of why the Challenge works, the reasons most of us come up with on our first or second time doing the Challenge — that it’s the accountability of the daily scoring, the support of our teammates, and the “do-ability” of most of the rules.
Or you could look to the flexibility of the nutrition rules, the ability of the Challenge to meet players “where they are” in their journey to health and wellness, with levels that go all the way from “just don’t eat sugar, please; you can do this” (Kickstart) to “no processed anything with a huge dose of anti-inflammatory bias; no really don’t eat that” (Performance).
Beyond that, you could look to the Well-Being Practices, the mental and spiritual attempts to incorporate gratitude, love, reflection, joy, prioritization, and positive energy into daily life.
And none of those explanations of why the Whole Life Challenge works is wrong.
It’s just that they’re each incomplete, part of a whole that is as hard to recognize as it is to articulate.
But let’s try.
First with the negatives. I don’t believe the Whole Life Challenge is effective because of its methods of scoring, its gamification of health, or its accountability to a larger group of people. And I don’t believe it works because of the grandiosity of the event, the rules, its inherent flexibility, or its focus on incorporating both the physical and mental into daily practice. And I don’t believe it works because of the (very careful) selection of the 7 Daily Habits.
Rather, I believe it works because it is nearly complete in its scope of addressing the human condition, in exposing and building the self-reinforcing web of connections that exist between brain and body, between physical and mental health, in its sheer ability to set a foundation for happiness.
And, trust me, I could tell you about that web — suffice to say that without sleep exercise becomes difficult, and without hydration nutrition is less effective, and without hydration you shortchange the effects of exercise, and without nutrition sleep becomes difficult, and without reflection motivation is hard to sustain, and without daily progress and positivity happiness is impossible to engender…
(The diagram would look very much like what would happen if you imbued a plate of spaghetti with deep meaning.)
And when I told Andy that this Whole Life Challenge thing was really just a platform for happiness, he told me we couldn’t possibly claim that — that declaring a constellation of good habits as a prerequisite for experiencing a life of purpose would be a leap too far, that a directional arrow from health to happiness isn’t the kind of thing you can put in a marketing campaign.
But (respectfully) he’s wrong.
Because this thing didn’t change my life by teaching me how to eat or by getting me to exercise daily. It didn’t reconstitute my worldview on the knowledge that drinking water and sleeping was important, nor by getting me to stretch.
Instead, it changed my life because it allowed me to be happy.
By removing the toxic effects of sugar and alcohol, sure. By engendering the remarkably positive brain chemistry of regular exercise, yes.
But really, it changed my life because it allowed me to understand that improving myself was not the end in itself, but that it was simply a path to getting the more mundane concerns of health out of the way so I could focus on the higher level aims intrinsic to a life well-lived:
- Loving my wife.
- Performing my job with conviction.
- Connecting with my friends.
- Being a positive influence.
- And having the self-respect to realize that caring for myself is not an act of ego, but an act of kindness.
And I truly hope that you don’t have to call someone out of the blue for all this to happen for you (Andy’s phone number is 555-555-…). And I hope you don’t have to do the Challenge ten times to figure it out, either (like me).
But you will have to do at least once. And when you’ve learned the lessons of that first evolution, you’ll have to do it again.
Because this thing could change your life.