I closed the 3 rings for Activity, Exercise, and Movement on my Apple Watch for 200 consecutive days. This essay contains the 11 lessons on Grit I learned through the process.
I stumbled upon this story by accident but I’m so glad I did. It’s about a scientist named Mihajlo Pupin (1858–1935).
Pupin is known for his invention of inductance coils (aka Pupin coils), an invention that greatly enhanced the range of telephone communication. A few of you may remember the term Pupinization from your middle school science class. (#Nerdalert).
From Immigrant to Inventor
Pupin landed in the United States from Prague at age 16 under rather trying circumstances. He recounts the story in his autobiography, ‘From Immigrant to Inventor’. (Incidentally, this autobiography garnered him a Pulitzer in 1924):
When I landed at Castle Garden, forty-eight years ago, I had only five cents in my pocket. Had I brought five hundred dollars, instead of five cents, my immediate career in the new, and to me perfectly strange, land would have been the same.
A young immigrant such as I was then does not begin his career until he has spent all the money which he has brought with him. I brought five cents, and immediately spent it upon a piece of prune pie, which turned out to be a bogus prune pie. It contained nothing but pits of prunes. If I had brought five hundred dollars, it would have taken me a little longer to spend it, mostly upon bogus things, but the struggle which awaited me would have been the same in each case.
It is no handicap to a boy immigrant to land here penniless; it is not a handicap to any boy to be penniless when he strikes out for an independent career, provided that he has the stamina to stand the hardships that may be in store for him.
Most of us start at Ground zero. And the only way to go is usually up. Yes, even for those of us that like to burrow into the ground and not face challenging days.
Now, whether or not we make progress and how far we go, depends on a few factors. In my opinion, the primary factor, one that’s entirely within our control, is Grit.
Grit means having the courage and perseverance to follow through on your goals. It means staying the course especially when things get rocky.
The bad news, too many of us give up far too easily.
The good news, Grit can be cultivated. Phew!
Lady of the Rings
Today, I’d like to share with you a personal story of a recent accomplishment and the 11 lessons on Grit I learned through the process. Not because I want to go on a bragfest, but to prove to you that, with some discipline, you can check off your ‘someday’ projects too.
In an earlier post on this blog, I wrote about my New year’s resolution to close 3 rings on my Apple watch. You can see that post here – Teaching an old dog new tricks.
For those that aren’t familiar with the Activity tracker on the Apple Watch, this involves
– Ring 1: A Stand goal for 12 hours a day — at least some movement that raises your heart rate every hour for 12 hours in a day
– Ring 2: An active exercise goal of at least 30 minutes daily
– Ring 3: A daily Move goal that I set for roughly a run/walk equivalent 5.5 miles (you can use a corresponding step count)
Habit streak — from 8 days to 200 days
I started the year wanting to close all 3 rings every day for a month. My previous best was 8 days!
When I hit the 30-day milestone I was happy but wanted to keep going. So, I did. When I passed the 90-day milestone, I was elated. But kept going. The 150-day milestone came and went.
Today I’m on Day 200. Yes, 200 consecutive days of closing all 3 rings on my Apple Watch. That’s freaking right!
(I know, you can’t see July’s rings in this pic because I chose symmetry over accuracy)
While this sense of achievement does make me feel all warm and fuzzy, I was so much more elated when I learned that a few of my friends, after reading my earlier post, pursued similar goals and got astounding results. These are very busy women with demanding career and family commitments. The fact that they managed to find the time in their schedule to pursue and accomplish something that required them to get outside their comfort zones, is the best kind of appreciation one can expect.
Doing anything for 200 days in a row does become life-changing but also tests our willpower and mental boundaries we set for ourselves.
11 lessons on Grit
Today, I’d like to share with you 11 lessons on Grit and give you a few tips on the challenges I faced through this process and how I overcame them.
Yes, I hear you. You could care less about fitness tracking or Activity rings. The point here is that these are transferable skills that are good to cultivate for any project you wish to undertake. Maybe you want to learn a new language, or read 50 classics, or play Mozart Symphony 40, or lose 15 lbs. These 11 lessons on Grit still apply.
You do you!
1. Be authentic
Pick something you really want to do, not because someone else thinks it’s a great idea. If you’re not true to yourself, you’ll never get past day 5 due to a lack of inherent motivation.
I enrolled in an ‘Intro to Computer Science’ class to revamp my coding skills. I heard about the course on a Podcast. Seemed like a great idea then! As of today, I’m still in chapter 1. I started a year ago.
Get my drift?
2. Find your Why
This is similar to the authenticity theme above, but you need to find out why you are setting yourself the goal. Ask, if this project will genuinely add value to your life? What is the purpose? It does not have to be world peace but it needs to matter to you.
I realized early on that the Activity rings motivated me to be out and about every day. I was way less stressed, more creative, slept better, and generally less grumpy.
3. Set a Goldilocks goal
If your project goal is too easy, you would’ve already been doing it. If it’s too difficult, you’re likely to give up soon. Find something that’s right at your level and then add 10–15% more to make it challenging.
You need to get outside your comfort zone, but just a little bit at a time to avoid overwhelm. For further reading, see my essay on Comfort zones.
4. Schedule early in the day
Make time in your schedule to get through this activity before the craziness of the day sets in.
If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.Mark Twain
Over 90% of the time, I got through my exercise and move goals before 8 am. I’m pretty certain that had it not been for this intentional morning scheduling I’d not have had such a consistent streak.
Also, I always find a reason to tout the power of early mornings. You can read why I rave about mornings more in my post Morning Beauty.
5. Recognize delusion
This one is important. Every so often, you may start ‘seeing’ signs sent out by the universe that urge you to take a break. The equivalent of Sixth Sense’s ‘I see dead people’.
Maybe you’re scheduled to go run outside but the weather lady says it’s too hot. Or you suddenly remember how someone didn’t rest well, but went out for a run anyway and got a heart attack. There’s only one way to describe these self-doubts. Rubbish.
In reality, this is your brain trying to keeping you in your comfort zone so it doesn’t have to exert itself.
I have a ton of experience with this. When you do something consecutively for 200 days, there are going to be days when you’d rather curl up in a fetal position than go for a workout. When these voices start to appear in my head, I remind myself it’s my delusional side.
6. Have systems in place
This one helps greatly with the delusional problem described above. Productivity guru, James clear in his bestselling book, Atomic Habits says
You don’t rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems’.James Clear
You need fail-proof systems in place when you decide to pursue goals.
I always map out my run route or workout plan for the next day before I go to bed. I plan out what time I’ll leave for my run, what clothes I’ll wear, what gear I need, what music or audiobook I’m going to listen to. I essentially avoid decision-making at go-time because every single one of these potential choices (clothes, timing, music, gear, etc.) could turn into a trap to get me to change my mind in a moment of weakness.
7. Sweeten the deal
Add a little something to the task to make it more pleasant. Yes, I know I schooled everyone about not Multitasking, but feel free to sneak in a sweetener of some sort especially on days when you feel your motivation slipping.
I save my favorite books or podcasts for longer runs because I have something to look forward to and that keeps me going.
8. Reward yourself
This one is different from the point above, in that, this is a reward you promise yourself at the end of the journey. Of course, the process itself may be rewarding, you get to learn a new language for instance, or say bye-bye to Cholesterol and Diabetes. Having another prize at the end is like a cherry on the icing.
Goes without saying that after achieving a weight-loss goal, for example, you may not want to have a reward that involves icing! I won’t judge.
9. Find an Accountability Partner
Tell someone else about what you’re planning to do. Keep this person (or the whole internet, if you’re the kind that wants to announce your goals on social media) informed of your progress and have them check on you periodically.
Also, be nice to them. You made them an accountability partner. They’re doing this for you. Next time they ask you when you’re going for a run, don’t take it as a snide comment about your weight. They’re just doing their job. (#SchoolOfExperience).
10. Set a deadline
A goal is not a goal if it is not time-bound. Without a deadline, you’ll just stagnate. See my example earlier about my enrolling in an ‘Intro to Computer Science’ class. I did not time-box the goal. At this rate, it’s likely the course won’t be offered any more by the time (IF) I choose to do it.
If you leave it wide open, it won’t get done.
Set yourself an end-goal for the project but also milestone checkpoints along the way to see how you’re progressing. This will provide you enough feedback for what’s working and what’s not and allow you to refine your approach as you go. (It’s hard to keep my certified PMP – Project Management Professional – inner voice from speaking up sometimes).
11. One frog at a time
This is the final lesson in the 11 lessons on Grit. To continue with Mark Twain’s analogy, start with one frog (goal) at a time. When you feel you’ve gotten a good handle on it and it becomes second-nature (aka habit), you can start adding another or build on top of what you already have going. This way you’re not overwhelmed.
Better to do one thing well, than ten things poorly.
Pupin was a penniless immigrant but went on to become not just a major inventor but a founding member of NASA/American Mathematical Society and the American Physical Society. He got there by staying the course even under adverse circumstances.
The beginning is the most important part of the workPlato
So, start NOW!
Pick something you’ve always wanted to do, break it down into little steps and remember the 11 lessons on grit I outlined above to stay on course.
You will, as a matter-of-fact, achieve what you set out to. And when you do, you’ll have the confidence to try on something a bit more challenging.
As I like to say, ‘No good deed goes unpunished’.