This will take about 3.5 minutes to read
When COVID shut my life down, I shut down.
This is the story of how I recovered and how what I learned still supports me today.
As I shut down in response to the world, I fell into old addictive patterns. I binged shows on Netflix.
Hours and weeks passed by as I clicked further and further down strange avenues of Youtube.
I dug myself deeper and deeper into an unpleasant rut.
Hardest of all, though, were the days I’d feel fine. Or even great.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a week would pass with me barely leaving the house.
Something wasn’t working.
In late August of 2020, after months of living like this, I needed help.
I phoned a counsellor friend and set up an appointment.
The good news? He didn’t think I was clinically depressed.
Instead, he suggested I try getting consistent exercise and eating a more regular, nutritious diet for one month.
If that didn’t work—or if I wasn’t able to make these lifestyle changes—he said I could come back and explore other options (i.e. medication).
I was skeptical that “diet & exercise” could help me—I didn’t think it could be so simple and I didn’t want to believe or accept that, in part, I’d done this to myself by stopping these healthy behaviours.
I didn’t have anything else to try, though.
So I set myself some goals. I tried to pinpoint my challenge:
“I’ll ride my bike 3 times this week and eat a green protein smoothy after each bike ride.”
To my amazement, I started feeling better after only a few days.
I was more confident. I felt proud of getting out of the house.
It was simple, but not easy—and definitely rewarding.
Until three weeks later, when forcing up the motivation to ride my bike through the pouring rain became too much.
I dropped the habit. I’m sure you know what happened next.
Yep—darkness came creeping back in.
But this time I was armed with greater self awareness and empowered with the vision of possibility that my biking challenge had given me.
I knew the basics could help, so I made a new commitment.
“Maybe I can get the same benefit from walking for one hour—which is way less miserable than biking in the rain.”
In came another smart goal: “I’ll walk 1 hour 5 times this week.”
It was another challenge, but I gave it everything I had. I believed in it.
And it helped!
But the cycle repeated itself. After a few weeks, I stopped walking as much.
At first, I beat myself up about having “failed” my challenges. If I didn’t walk 5 times in a week I’d let my failure be evidence to fuel the story of my inadequacy.
I knew the challenges helped, though, so I kept committing to new ones.
One week I told my partner I was trying to walk 10,000 steps each day for 1 week (about 1.5 hours).
After three days, I’d walked a total of 9,000. I was way off my target and feeling angry and frustrated.
Then she said something that stopped me in my tracks.
She turned to me asked, “Is it really about the steps?”
I had to think about that one.
The answer, of course, is that it wasn’t at all about the steps. It was about seeking happiness, self-love, and a sense of accomplishment.
With a little more compassion towards myself I was able to see why I could walk my target of 10,000 steps. My days were full of other meaningful pursuits—my work, our puppy, sleep.
As I repeated Aidan’s question over and over in my mind I began to realize I’d been thinking about things all wrong. I wasn’t committing to challenges. I was committing to experiments.
Challenges have milestones. Milestones are predetermined and linear.
Experiments have outcomes. Outcomes are neither good nor bad. They represent a field of possibility.
When I set myself challenges I set myself to fail.
When I gave myself an experiment, it was impossible to fail.
Looking back I could see each experiment carried key lessons about myself and the world I lived in.
On the whole, I was more active. I was eating better. And the experiments themselves were fun enough to keep me going.
I started focusing more on the outcomes of my experiments and worried less about hitting every milestone I set for myself.
I tried journaling—even started this newsletter—learned to do pushups and enjoy cold plunges.
Each experiment became a form of medicine. Not all were equal—and I missed a lot of milestones—but every foray added to my arsenal of self-care tools.
Today, I continue to run mini experiments on myself.
But I’m weary of doing them alone.
I’ve developed a sense for which experiments tend to produce interesting outcomes and a protocol for keeping myself open to unexpected outcomes.
I’m ready to invite you along into my experiments.
Every Sunday I’ll send an email that looks a lot like this post. In it you’ll find a short story from me and an experiment to try in your life.
My goal is to help you find little tricks that make your life more enriching and connected.
Sometimes the experiment will be more physical, sometimes less.
Walk 1 mile outside everyday for one week.
A few ways to walk a mile:
There are many reasons to walk more. Here are three:
There are many ways to deepen your walking practice. Here are some I recommend: