A Month To Focus

“Focusing is about saying No.”

Steve Jobs

Can you focus on one task exclusively for one month? Can you give up a bad habit for one month? Can you instil a new habit for one month?

That’s exactly what I have been doing recently. After being  inspired by movements such as ‘Stoptober’ ,’Dry July’ along with seeing online fitness challenges like 10,000 steps a day and run everyday for a month or Ride 500Km in a month. I decided to trial some of my own month long experiments.

The benefit of this is that a month really isn’t that long, so if it doesn’t work then you have only sacrificed something for just over 4 weeks and then you can return to normal. It’s easy to say no to something for a month knowing the opportunity will come up again in a following month. But if the change works and you’ve learnt something from it. Then you gain a new perspective in a short period of time which could pay dividends going forward.

My Experiments have included: (along with what I learnt)

  • Running at least 5K everyday for a month
    • My running economy improved in the initial two weeks, but soon found I was enjoying running less when I wasn’t recovering. My final two weeks training sessions were less effective and during my next race after the month of training i found I had greater aerobic capacity but I had lost the sharpness and ability to inject speed into my running. Soon after the race I realised I had burnt out and needed a few weeks of low volume running to recover.
    • Lesson: Don’t ever neglect recovery, I now try to avoid consecutive days running and monitor how fatigued I get after each run, especially leading up to a race.
  • Eat a vegan diet for one month:
    • I long wondered if the stories of dramatic weight loss and improved energy and vitality were true. During my month on a vegan diet I experienced mostly positive outcomes. I had more energy as my Carbohydrate levels increased. I was more hydrated following a reduction in Protein and an increase in water abundant plant ingredients. My weight went slightly up de to increased water retention but not to the extent it changed my appearance. I enjoyed the taste of food more as the diet required me to be more inventive with herbs and spices to jazz up the vegetables. I became a lot more conscious of what food I consume and how many foods contain meat,eggs and dairy. I was satisfied by blander food, where before I may crave meat, cheese other high fat products for snacks I now found contentment and satisfaction in a raw date or a whole banana because avoiding high fat,salt and sugar products meant my taste buds craved actual food.
    • Lesson: We don’t need animal products to thrive despite conventional wisdom. We crave what we eat most there fore the body can easily adjust what it craves. Soon after eating more fruit and veg this is what my body started to desire. I found so much enjoyment from eating more vegetables and fruit that I have now adopted primarily a plant-based diet, not 100% but approximately 9/10 meals.
  • No fizzy soft drinks for one month
    • There was no purpose to me drinking fizzy drinks but I had a daily habit of drinking a 330ml can of diet coke. After reading information on the negative effects of soft drinks and in particular sweetener, I soon realised I actually didn’t enjoy drinking coke and that I solely consumed it out of convenience and habit. I stopped for one month to see if I could handle it.
    • Lesson: I stopped for a month with the intention of only drinking soft drinks when I really wanted one. It’s been two years now and I haven’t ever desired one single soft drink. When I am out a fizzy water is as refreshing a drink as I need!
  • No alcohol for one month.
    • I normally drink a glass of wine on a Friday and Saturday, but when times are tough I found an excuse for Wednesday and Thursday drinking which was affecting my sleep and wellbeing. I longed for a break just to see what my body would do and if it would improve my mood and sleep. I didn’t actually find this challenge hard to implement at home but did find social situations in bars a restaurants a little boring.
    • Lesson: I did see some change in my weight, not a lot but my belly was slightly less bloated and my digestion was a lot more consistent. The main change was I slept better without needing a pee at 3am and this in turn improved my mood and energy. I now drink far less and consider if I really need it before i buy a drink. The biggest factor for me is not having it in the house that way I only drink when I go out which is less than once per week. Overall the less I drink the better I feel.
  • No Coffee for one month
    • More detail on my blog post about this, but in a nutshell the hardest thing I have ever given up (even temporarily) but once I got through the tough week I began to feel better during the day, with less dips in energy and after 3 weeks I slept a lot more consistently through the night.
    • Lesson: I was addicted to caffiene without knowing it and it was a painful withdrawal. I now appreciate the strength of caffeine and the impact it has on the body but because I love the taste of coffee I won’t give it up for good. I now have a fresh coffee first thing in the morning and drink hot and cold water throughout the day as a substitute to the espresso and avoid coffee machines like the plague.
  • Train (Swim,Bike or Run) everyday for one month
    • I generally have trained everyday or at least most days for the past 20 years initially just swimming but now a mixture of swimming, cycling, running and weight training. In preparation for a big event such as an Ironman I have a 4 week training block of overload where I don’t have anytime off to see if I can maximise the load on my body and prepare it to handle extreme periods with little rest, this overload period is generally followed by a week-long recovery.
    • Lesson: I found I can accelerate my fitness greatly during a focus month, even across all three sports. I also find by mixing the sports I do, I don’t suffer from overtraining or pick up any injuries. unlike running exclusively. That is because swimming and cycling is low impact on the body so is unlikely to damage the muscles. It is still possible to get overuse and fatigue injuries if not managed correctly. I don’t do a solid month often but I do, I use it strategically to accelerates my fitness and prepare my body for a tough demanding race.