One year ago, I would have believed I’d have a collection of pictures featuring my super-athletic, gifted runner of a husband that were all taken after a competitive race in which he had won his division and earned a medal to prove it. What I wouldn’t have believed was that in all those pictures, I’d be standing right next to him in the best shape of my life with my own medal to boot.
That’s because one year ago, I was pretty much sedentary and was prone to depression. I often enjoyed way too many sugary snacks and way too few meals made with 100% whole foods. I drank too much – and I spent too much money on stuff that didn’t matter. Looking back, things were blah – or, more accurately, I was blah. Things were far from bad, but I wasn’t making the most out of my time. I started to feel uneasy, because time was the one thing I couldn’t somehow acquire more of.. what was I doing wasting so much of it doing my best sloth impression on the couch in front of the TV with a bag of chips?
That thought that I might be wasting time, wasting money, and wasting my health was the first kick in the pants that I needed to take on the F3 Challenge. I set out to improve three major areas of my life that needed an upgrade: my food, fitness, and finances.
F3 Challenge 1: Improving Fitness
I tackled making a positive change to my fitness first, because I was most motivated in that area. I’ve never been what you might call athletic. Actually, I’m flat-out clumsy, so sports involving hand-eye coordination or balls that fly at one’s face were never my forte. But I’ve always wanted to be able to call myself a runner, so I determined that’s what I was going to be.
The absolute hardest thing about becoming a runner was taking that first step out the front door. Once I was in the habit of running a mile, then two miles, then three and more, it was no longer a question of, “should I run today?” Running was just what I did. There was no question to it.
Having the right attitude made a world of difference, too. Initially, I struggled. I couldn’t breathe and my legs were tired – and I’d think to myself, “I hate this. I hate running and it hates me. I’m just not a runner.“ And then I came across one sentence that changed my mindset: if you run, you are a runner. It was so simple, yet to me, so profound.
It was almost instantaneous: the moment I gave up that negative dialogue in my head, running became easier and I got better at it. The more I believed in myself, the better I ran. It sounds cheesy, I know – but the fact is that I won or placed in all but one 5k race I participated in last year.
And now that I’m in shape, I can do fun stuff that makes me look super goofy, too, like lifting logs over my head:
CSM’s Tips to Ensure Success when Making Positive Changes to Your Fitness
- Be patient. Rome wasn’t built in a day, right? It takes time to work on your fitness.
- Pick fitness activities that you actually enjoy doing. Not a gym rat? Don’t force yourself to go to the gym! Hate to run? Try biking instead. The important thing is to get yourself up and moving for at least 30 minutes a day.
- Believe in yourself and think positive!
- Don’t do too much too soon. This will lead to burnout and injury. Again, be patient.
F3 Challenge 2: Improving Food
To improve my diet, I eliminated all mindless snacking and emotional eating (I’d graze when I got bored). Because I knew I didn’t have much willpower, I simply quit buying the crap that was making be feel sluggish and soft. If I didn’t have it in the house, I didn’t have access to it and I couldn’t eat it even if I was craving it.
It only took a few weeks of “depriving” myself of junk and sweets until one day I realized I didn’t even want Oreos anymore. In fact, Oreos were gross. So were CheezIts. And fried food. What now sounded delicious was a strawberry and spinach salad, or a tropical fruit smoothie, or pasta with veggies. (Now I’m hungry!)
And instead of wanting dessert after every dinner, I made myself a cup of tea with honey in the evenings instead. Making a few exchanges like this, combined with stopping the bad habit where it originated – buying junk at the store – allowed me to develop better eating habits.
The challenge I took on to make my food and fitness better was like the opposite of a vicious cycle: it was a happy and healthy cycle! The better I ate, the more capable I felt when it came to working out and going for a run. The more I worked out, the more I craved the good stuff my body could actually convert into fuel.
CSM’s Tips to Ensure Success when Making Positive Changes to Your Food
- Set goals that are positive in nature and healthy, and celebrate all your little successes and milestones.
- Don’t diet. Instead, focus on making lasting, healthy lifestyle choices that you can turn into habits (a few ideas to get you started: try switching out candy for fruit or incorporate Meatless Mondays into your meal plans).
- Kick unhealthy habits that are hurting multiple “F3″ areas. For example, stop wasting your money and health by buying soda and two six-packs of beer every week.
- Find your support system. This could be your significant other, your sibling, your mom or dad, your best friend – or it could be an online community of like-minded people that have similar goals.
F3 Challenge 3: Improving Finances
Making positive changes to my food and fitness paved the way for change to my finances, too. It’s pretty amazing how much less you spend on groceries when you don’t buy soda, chips, cookies, or breads. It’s also amazing that when you spend time on physical activities that improve your fitness, you suddenly find you don’t need to spend money to alleviate boredom or to cheer yourself up.
But eating right and exercising won’t automatically cure all your financial woes. You have to make some positive changes specifically to your money habits, too. For me, that change came in the form of education.
I always thought that because I made so little, I had no option but to do what most everyone else does: keep thinking I could only afford to put away the recommended 10% of my income and then work at a job I hated for the paycheck I needed on into my 60s. Then I learned there was another way.
I learned that if I was willing to get frugal, I could save more. And the more I saved, the more I could invest. The more I invested, the more I cut down on the amount of time I’d have to work at a job I hated. That part really got me to sit up. I decided to look and see what was truly valuable to me and worth spending my precious dollars on – dollars that I suddenly understood were capable of producing more dollars if I only invested them.
I cut my expenses and saved even more, eventually getting our savings rate up to 30%. I quit comparing what I had to what other people had, and instead made and focused on my own unique financial goals. We developed a long-term plan and suddenly I had something big and meaningful to work toward.
I also learned what was truly important to me: my loved ones and my freedom. Suddenly, it was easier to prioritize (and cut down on) my spending. My expenses could either get me closer to or take me farther away from my goals – and my goals revolved around spending more time with people I cared about and having more fulfilling experiences. That’s what I’ve been financially working toward ever since.
CSM’s Tips to Ensure Success when Making Positive Changes to Your Finances
- Make it fun. Try savings challenges like the no-spend week. Or find cool ways to make more money.
- Prioritize. Understand what is truly valuable to you and what brings you genuine happiness. I’m willing to bet it’s not the latest and greatest material stuff, but instead the experiences you have and the relationships you cherish.
- Take it one step at a time. Improving our finances is a never-ending process for most of us; we’re always looking for ways to spend less and save more.
- Read a variety of personal finance blogs and books to learn how other people manage money, live well on less, and earn and invest their money. Never stop learning.
It’s a new year, friends. Time to turn over a new leaf and make more than flimsy resolutions that you’ll forget about before President’s Day. Yes, changing your food, fitness, and finance habits takes some work – but the return on investment is absolutely incredible. So, ready and willing to take on your own F3 Challenge this year? Head on over to Ready for Zero’s F3 Challenge, where you can pledge to make a difference in these three crucial areas of your life and receive 14 days’ worth of tips, support, and advice.