When I first joined Hike it Baby in March 2016, I heard talk of a “challenge month” and I was so excited to set new goals to get myself and my daughter outside. I joined the April 2016 challenge group and was in awe of the high goals set by caregivers, knowing it would be a struggle to get 30 miles in myself. One goal that seemed entirely doable was to have no zero days. How hard could it be to spend a little bit of time outside every day?
Turns out, without proper planning and motivation, it can be very difficult to get outside every day. Every time the temperatures dropped or rain clouds blew in, I used weather as an excuse to stay indoors. When I was tired or sick, I decided I needed a day to recharge. As time went by, however, I found that those “me days” failed to benefit me or my daughter. Not only did staying indoors leave me disappointed in myself, but lack of outdoor activity left me increasingly tired, anxious and overwhelmed. Rather than giving my daughter an outlet for her energy, I often got impatient with her bouncing off the walls. When we get outside, I am not just a better wife and mother, I am a happier person overall.
Design a plan and follow through
Consequently, for every challenge, I tried to achieve the goal of no zero days. It wasn’t until September 2017, when I took the initiative to plan and prepare that I finally achieved that goal. My family moved from Pennsylvania to Georgia in mid-August and this challenge started up not only as I unpacked, but also as I neared the end of my second trimester of my second pregnancy.
Since I was aware I had many excuses not to get outdoors at my disposal, I planned ahead. I joined the challenge group early and scanned the local hike calendar with my personal calendar beside me. First, I wrote down every hike within a reasonable distance and worked with my family’s schedule. Then, I scheduled eight hikes that I would host during the month of September. I told branch members I would be at certain hikes to give myself a sense of accountability. Finally, I urged my husband and mother to motivate me and remind me why I hike and spend time outdoors.
Seek accountability and a support system
While all of this planning ahead certainly helped me get outside, it didn’t ward off the unexpected trials of life and parenthood. Before the first week of September ended, I experienced increased aches and pains of pregnancy and my mind instantly went to its comfort zone. “Take a day off,” my brain said. Two weeks into the challenge, my anxiety increased due to personal stressors. I spent nearly two full days trying (and failing) to prevent panic attacks. “Stay inside. Turn on a movie. Sit on the couch,” said the nagging voice.
During my first challenge, I would have given in to the whispers in my head. But this time, I knew I needed to get outside. When I wanted to take a day off, I opted to play in the backyard with my daughter rather than go for a hike. On the hardest days when even that seemed impossible, I had a support system in my husband, mother and fellow Hike it Baby members. They reminded me that anything is better than nothing. I told myself, “If I just make it outside for two minutes, then this doesn’t count as a zero day, right?” Once you pass that hurdle and make it out the door, it’s much easier to get the extra minutes or miles in.
Make getting outside a daily routine
Overall, no zero days can be a daunting and difficult task. While it wasn’t easy to get outside every day for an entire month, every obstacle I faced made getting outdoors feel like a significant accomplishment. Not only did I gain a sense of personal pride, I ended the challenge with a 2-year-old who asks for “outside” or “bye-bye” every day. My daughter learned that being in nature is a part of our routine. I can reflect and say that even my toughest days were made better because I challenged myself.
If you hope to achieve no zero days, the most important tools I recommend you have at your disposal are planning and accountability. Take the time at the beginning of the challenge to schedule hikes that you’ll either host or attend. Write down local parks or trails that you can go to on days when you aren’t sure what to do. Talk to your friends and family about the challenge and about your goal of no zero days. It’s especially important that those closest to you know they can give you an extra push when you’re stuck in a rut. Most of all, go into the challenge with the mindset that you’re setting goals to better yourself, so don’t compare yourself to others. Even one extra minute spent outside can feel like a major accomplishment if you keep a positive mindset.