Not every challenge has to be massive. Not every action item needs to take you to the promised land of optimal health and body composition. Sometimes, you just want a writer you trust to devise a list of potential little mini-challenges, short self-experiments, and approachable action items.
This is that list. Browse it. Jump around. See what resonates. Then get moving, and make them happen. I’m partial to 1, 5, 9, 13, 19, 20, 22, 26, and 30. But I’m sure whichever you choose will help you succeed this year.
Take a 15 minute walk after every meal. There’s a good reason many traditional cultures recommend walks after eating—it reduces blood glucose and improves the overall metabolic response to the meal.
Do 100 squats a day. Air squats are plenty, unless it gets too easy. Then add a little weight. Not all in a row (unless you’re a glutton for punishment). Pepper them throughout the day. If squats aren’t working for you, try something else.
Try some lentils. Instead of your normal carb source, eat some black, green, red, or French lentils. Remember from the legume post, lentils go a long way. They’re surprisingly low in digestible carbs and high in micronutrients and protein (not enough to be your main source of protein, you plant-based readers you).
Go for a hike on a rainy day. Not drizzly. Not sprinkling. Raining. A downpour is even better. Get wet. Take your shoes off for a portion. Bonus mindfulness exercise: hike with hands outstretched, palms facing up, and focus on the rain drops hitting your hands. Nice, right?
If you’re really into training (think CrossFit), try carb cycling. Eat higher carb, lower fat on training days with most of your carbs coming post-workout, and higher-fat, lower carb on rest days. Keep protein fairly constant. Many hard-training folks find this way of eating speeds fat loss while retaining performance.
Learn and master one new recipe each week. Get to the point that you can make it in your sleep without measuring. Have people over for dinner to test it out.
Go volunteer. It needn’t be through an official agency. Offer to walk your elderly neighbor’s dog or mow their lawn. Maybe you just spend a day at the beach or park picking up any bit of trash you see.
Go to your favorite cafe, grab a cup of coffee, and spend half an hour brainstorming. Business ideas, 5-year life plans, book ideas, trips around the world. Anything. Just think (relatively) big, write down what you come up with, and see where it takes you. Tea is permissible.
Plumb your life for the things you know aren’t working out. Pick one of them—a food you eat but always regret, a workout you never quite get to, that elusive 11 PM bedtime—and make it right.
Stop consuming the news for two weeks. Spending energy and time on events that are outside of your direct control is wasteful, stressful, and counterproductive.
Read fiction before bed. Bedtime stories are the best part of being a kid, and it’s probably one of the things I miss most. Reading fiction gets you into the right state of mind for dreamland. One I’ve liked lately is Twain’s Innocents Abroad (more of a travel memoir).
Sincerely compliment someone. Don’t pick just anyone. And don’t come up with something you kinda sorta admire about them. Do it for real.
Take 30 slow, deep breaths first thing in the morning for two weeks.
Dance every day. It’s better with partners, but not necessary. Even better: dance naked. Betterer: dance naked with naked partners.
Smile as you eat. Yes, you may look a little demented sitting there grinning into your Big Ass salad. That’s okay. Just try it.
Walk the silliest way you can. Preferably in public. Check the ministry for ideas.
Each time you go for a walk, duck walk for a portion of it. Go as long as you can.
Swap out plain water for mineral water for a month and see how you feel. I’m a fan of Gerolsteiner (as I’ve said many times before), and I’m convinced we’re adapted to obtaining a decent portion of our minerals through our water.
If you normally sleep 6.5 hours or less, add an hour. If you normally sleep 8.5 or more, try sleeping slightly less. Notice anything?
Do max rep pushups and/or pullups every hour on the hour. If that maximum number of reps declines throughout the day, that’s fine and totally normal. It means you’re working hard.
Carry something moderately heavy around with you all day. 32-pound kettlebell, sandbag, sack of cat litter. Yeah, it’ll look a little weird. But it’s just a day. It’ll pass.
Roughhouse. Playful and intense physical encounters are good for you, but, as adults, we don’t get many chances to do it. Find a friend or loved one willing to go toe to toe with you—without getting angry. Wrestle. If you’ve been thinking about starting a martial art, now’s your chance.
Visit nature at least every other day for an hour for the duration of the challenge. Forest, beach, desert, city park. Get into a green space. How’s your stress?
Go swimming, wading, or bathing (minimum 5 minutes) in uncomfortably cold water twice a week. Not ice water. Not cold river water, necessarily. But cold enough that you give a sharp exhale upon entry.
Try a sauna, steam room, or other heat self-therapy twice a week. Notice any benefits? Bonus points if you mix it with the cold plunges.
Start learning a new skill. It could be physical—the clean and jerk, skateboarding, juggling—or it could be mental—a new language, an instrument, something from Coursera.
Sprint. I say it again and again. Sprinting—it doesn’t have to be running full out on a flat track, or running at all—is essential. You have to move your body extremely quickly from time to time. Just once a week is all it takes.
Refrain from browsing your phone when nothing else is going on for the duration of the challenge. Waiting in line? Commercial break? At a stop light? Be present in the moment. Be okay with “boredom.” Okay, okay: do try it for a week at least.
Only wear shoes if you have to. Wear shoes in stores and while traversing those mythical city sidewalks strewn with syringes, glass shards, and steaming piles of dog poop. Job interview, wedding? Wear shoes. Other than that, go barefoot.
Go for a long, slow, easy run. Not every endurance session turns into chronic cardio, but many people fear it’s what happens when you run longer than a mile. When I say “easy” I mean easy. You should be comfortable. You should enjoy yourself.
Immerse yourself in a movement medium you’re uncomfortable with and work toward getting comfortable. Maybe you’re not a good swimmer. Maybe you’ve never really tried the rower, or ridden a bike for more than a mile. Maybe the weight room intimidates you. Move toward your anxieties. You may not master them, but you can reduce the discomfort.
Organize a regular dinner party. There’s nothing quite so special, intimate, and Primal as a dinner party with close friends.
Do a squat challenge. Accumulate 20-30 minutes of sitting in a full squat each day. Time yourself.
Do a hang challenge. Like the squat challenge, accumulate 5-10 minutes of hanging from an overhead bar or ledge each day.
Plan a trip. It can be somewhere close, a weekend getaway. It could be a month in Southeast Asia or through Europe. Whatever it is, planning ahead of time increases your enjoyment. You get to anticipate the trip. You get to experience the trip. Then you get to bask in the fond memories for the rest of your life.
Do one, do several, do as many as you feel up to doing (you probably don’t want to try them all at once). Let me know which one(s) you chose, how they work out for you, and whether I should add any quick and dirty action items to the list.
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.