Thursday, July 28, 2022

75 Hard Days of Summer

I’m sharing a personal post today, and not necessarily art-centered (although really it’s ALL related). So bear with me!

Yesterday I successfully completed a 75-day challenge called “75 Hard.”

The rules are:

1) Stick to a diet of your choosing (I chose to do no dairy or gluten, and mostly meat, fish, fruits and veggies, plus no eggs because of current food sensitivities). Absolutely no alcohol or cheat meals are allowed

2) Complete two 45-minute workouts per day (one of them has to be outside, no matter the weather)

3) Drink a gallon of water each day.

4) Read 10 pages of a nonfiction book (audio books don’t count).

5) Take a daily progress photo.

Fail and you have to start over at the beginning…

You are probably asking, Anna, why would you do something so extreme? Well… I had a number of reasons.

First, both of my kids were home with me for the summer, especially my 3-year-old. So I knew I would have extremely limited painting time anyway. But with the daily workouts, I could include my kids, or take them with me to the gym. Having them with me in the studio is NOT so easy. And I knew the weather would be better this time of year than any other time, so why not now? Second, I’ve had a number of personal challenges to overcome this year, and 75 Hard presented itself as a chance for me to do something I could control, while managing my feelings over all the things I can’t control. Third, I honestly knew I could use improvement in all of these areas… although I felt that a whole gallon of water was a bit extreme for my 5’ 4” frame. And, I also thought the daily progress photo was dumb but I accepted the fact that it was all part of the mental challenge and learning how to develop a new set of daily habits. Fourth… perhaps it was a matter of pride. I overheard my coach (who was the first person in our fitness community to take this on, and is now doing it all over again!) saying to someone else, “Anna would do it.” He didn’t say, “Anna should do it”, or “Anna could do it.” He said, she would do it. That simple difference of wording implied that I had the capability and the strength to do this hard thing. It gave me that extra push to believe in myself because someone else already does.

75 Hard is a mental toughness challenge, not necessarily a nutrition or fitness challenge. Throughout, I did a lot of Crossfit, yes… but for my second daily workout, I did yoga or most often went for a walk around our neighborhood lake. I found that the hardest part of this challenge was staying consistent when I travelled—and I travelled a LOT this summer! During the course of the challenge we had two different week-long family vacations, and I had four different weekend art getaways/events that I went to. I’m not much of a drinker anyway, but it can be tough when everyone around you is sipping wine at an art opening, or when your own family and friends try to talk you out of doing the challenge. The were quite a few times when the family wanted pizza or takeout, so I had to make myself a separate meal. And, about two weeks into the challenge, I found that I was losing weight at an alarming rate (I don’t need to lose weight)… so I had to increase my calorie intake dramatically. I learned that I had to plan out each day in advance to figure out the best use of my time, and the best way to get it all done without imposing on my family. I didn’t do this perfectly, but as things progressed, my husband got better at supporting me and I got better at balancing my daily tasks.

Above: I spent a weekend painting on the grounds of the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. Below: painting in Malibu during a trip to attend the opening of the California Art Club Gold Medal Exhibition.

Below: at the opening of the CAC Gold Medal Exhibition. I made lots of new friends… but did not drink any wine!

So here’s the part you guys want to know about. Was it worth it?

Well, I was pleasantly surprised by my results.

· Overall health: I’m convinced all the water and the sunshine prevented me from getting sick all summer. The regular movement through daily walks and CrossFit actually healed my lower back, which has been strained and limited for almost a year.

· Mental health: I solved problems while out on those walks and came back happier and more capable of being there for my family.

· Appearance and other: The progress photos… well, they were up and down (because that’s what it is to be a woman!). My appearance didn’t change that much, since I was already eating pretty clean and working out regularly before. I did get a bit more toned and lost some body fat, but the real transformation has been in how I feel. No more back pain, no more energy plateaus, no more stomach issues. My confidence has soared. I feel more capable of handling stressful situations. I look forward to the 10 pages of reading every day, and I feel mentally sharper and more educated because of it (duh).

While my body got harder, my heart gradually got softer, especially on those walks. During the second half of the challenge I ditched the headphones and the audio books I was listening to, and I opted to take in all the sights and sounds, and to use that time to pray and meditate. I saw so many things I would have not noticed before. There was a pair of white ducks, who swam around the lake together like a waltzing couple, inseparable and in love. I saw a kingfisher eating a fish up in a tree, and of course there were the numerous Canada geese who seemed to be my constant companions. The lake I circled each day became like an old friend as its many moods and changing expressions grew familiar to me, yet always exciting and beautiful. I found myself storing up lots of painting ideas in my mind.

Some of the many amazing scenes I saw during my daily walks.

I wanted to work towards a couple of personal goals: one being, to model as an athlete for my art group and take on a challenging pose. Another was to pose for photos (I collaborated with my friend Sara Long – she is a great photographer!). I am always doing photo shoots of other people, helping them look amazing, and finding potential paintings everywhere I go. But I wanted this just for me. I want my daughter to see these photos someday and be inspired to take on challenges of her own, to prove to herself that she is strong and capable just like her momma!

Above: I held this pose for 3 1/2 hours(with breaks of course… and eventually switched to a broom instead of a barbell). It was very challenging, but fun to see all the cool paintings and drawings that resulted by my talented friends!

I’m still blown away by these photos by Sara Long (Long Shots Photography). 

So, when did I find time to paint this summer? Only occasionally. But I realize that it’s a season, and a short one at that. Before long the kids will be back at school, and I’ll be looking at our summer adventures in the rear view mirror. I’ve delighted in getting to know them both as they grow up before my eyes, so I’m glad that I could be present with them in body and heart. 

Above: we took a 5-day trip to west Texas (Possum Kingdom Lake) in June with my twin sister and their family. It was so joyous seeing the cousins together making memories! This trip was especially hard for me to continue with 75 hard simply because it got SO hot everyday, but I prevailed! 

The good news is, this time “off” from painting has only made me more hungry. I’m ready to get back at it with full gusto, as soon as I can. I’m also ready to go back to being the one behind the easel and the camera. Modeling was fun and all… but, I think I prefer being the artist. ;-)

Whether or not you take on a crazy challenge like this, I think it’s in our best interest and that of our loved ones, to be intentional about practicing mindfulness every day, and being fully present in every moment. Life is all about choices and the effort we put into cultivating our values. I’ve realized that taking care of my body has only benefited my mind my relationships and my art. There were a few workouts especially at the beginning of the challenge where I just checked out and grit my teeth, counting down the minutes till I was finished. I realize now that those were missed opportunities… or perhaps, just growing pains, and all part of the mental toughness piece. I’m thankful for the big and small lessons I learned from this challenge. But now, I’m ready for that hard-earned donut. ;-)

Books I read and/or listened to during this challenge:

Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage to the Antarctic by Alfred Lansing : if you think 75 hard looks impossible, read this book. Humans are capable of more than we know.

Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher by Timothy Egan – inspiring story about Edward Curtis, who set out to photograph ALL of the North American Indian tribes in the early 1900’s before they died off. This man sacrificed everything for the work.

Gifted Hands by Ben Carson – wonderful autobiography about an inner city kid who became a life-saving pediatric neurosurgeon.

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow – I’m blown away by this guy’s accomplishments and how much he did to shape our country during his short life.

The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom – another book that gives us perspective; there is much to be learned from Corrie about faith, gratitude, and God’s awesome provision.

The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting up a Generation for Failure by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt – I think the title says it all, ha!

Transformed into Fire by Judith Hougen – doing this book with my Bible study group and learning so much about what it means to take hold of our true identity in Christ.


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