Michele Mehl is the founder and CEO of Excy, a Seattle-based startup focused on eliminating the exercise barriers of health condition, injury, time, and space to help people conveniently connect exercise to their everyday life.

In an employee review early in my career, my boss told me, “You rely too much on tenacity and grit.” 

There’s such a thing as too much tenacity and grit? 

She was right. I was 24, and I’d always been that way, but those traits had served me well in sports and in life. Tenacity helped get me through college while playing two Division I sports on scholarship. Grit helped me flourish in my career, even though I was far from the smartest person in the room. 

MacGyver, Mustangs, and pantyhose

I got some of those traits from my dad who grew up dirt poor and left school in 10th grade, but who managed to feed four kids while battling alcoholism until I was 13 (has been sober since). We called him MacGyver because he always found an unconventional solution to a problem, usually because we couldn’t afford the “typical” way. Once, our car broke down on the freeway. Dad fixed it with pantyhose. Grit, tenacity, finding a way — I ended up embracing those skills as my greatest asset. 

Fast forward to today: surprisingly, during a pandemic, tenacity and grit haven’t always come in handy. In fact, the skills I have leaned on my entire life are backfiring and throwing me way off balance. In August, I found myself struggling with feelings of anxiety and sadness for our world, on a constant roller coaster of emotions and feeling a total lack of control. 

Being a control-happy extrovert meant this out-of-my-control, stay-away-from-people world was wearing on me. I’m used to being able to push to find a way to win, but there’s nothing to push through here, so I ended up spinning my wheels and feeling helpless. 

I can’t control COVID and the restrictions it puts on my life. I can’t change the physical distance it creates with people I care about. But, I realized, I needed to find a better way to control how I deal with the crisis. 

The missing piece

Tenacity and grit are great, but what I was missing in an attempt to feel remotely balanced and ok was resilience — the capacity to accept the world as it now is, adapt to it, and thrive in it. 

So, this August I started a Resilience Challenge to build up my resilience, knowing that this pandemic wasn’t going away anytime soon. Even better, I could help my customers. Many Excy users are battling age-related injuries, disabilities, and health conditions, so they’re even more limited by COVID than the rest of us. I knew that if I was struggling, they were likely struggling more.

Thirty days of Resilience Themes and Dares would push me outside of my comfort zone, give me a healthy focus for the day, and help me feel more in control. 

I noticed an improvement on day 1, but even more after the first 10 days. After completing each day in a highly mindful way, I felt like my old self a little, ready to do my best to be a strong and competent role model who does not crumble under the pressure of all that is wrong in the world.

Let OK come

Day 19 was a breakthrough. I went to bed the night before feeling … not OK. Not sick, just not OK. I lay in bed feeling angry at myself for getting stuck in the Facebook matrix vs. thinking about the next day’s “to-do” list. And then I thought, “It’s OK. Take it slow, breath easily, enjoy a good night’s rest. Let OK come.” And it did. I got up, took it slow, and OK came. An hour or two later, I was deep in my to-do list, and better than OK.

It’s true what they say about resilience — you don’t know how much of it you’ve got until you really need it. What they don’t tell you about resilience is that you can make more. Once you know how, it’s a renewable resource. 

The COVID-19 pandemic is disproportionately impacting women’s mental health, and I still feel the burden. I feel guilty for my uneasiness, because my day-to-day struggles are trivial compared to front line workers, or to people who’ve lost their jobs and businesses, have lost loved ones, or have special needs children being taught at home. But it’s OK for me not to be OK. I mean, who really is ok right now? 

Break it down, build it back

I work with people with significant health challenges, and for their own sake, they need to be truly resilient now. My co-founder Mike Rector and I created Excy (short for Exercise Cycle) to help people build and strengthen muscle. “Resilience is like a muscle,” I tell our customers when they’re struggling. “When it breaks down is the perfect time to build more. But like muscle, it takes work to build it back.” 

Below is the Resilience Dare Challenge I put myself and our customers through to build that resilience muscle back up. Each day contains a theme and a dare. They are health-based and science-backed to truly increase resilience and mindfulness. They are also informed by my own experiences as an entrepreneur, a mom, wife, daughter, sister, and more. 

I challenge you to take the Resilience Dare Challenge! 

Day 1: Patience and Kindness for Yourself

Dare of the day: Squash a negative thought about your body and instead find one aspect of your body that you are thankful for.

Day 2: Focus on Kindness Towards Others

Dare of the Day: Do at least one UNEXPECTED gesture as an act of kindness for someone you love or care about.

Day 3: Self-Care is Not Selfish

Dare of the Day: Do one DELIBERATE thing today to care for yourself with zero guilt.

Day 4: Cultivate Positive Social Connections

Dare of the Day: Thoughtfully connect with someone in a meaningful and positive way!

Day 5: Connect with Nature

Dare of the Day: Pick a place outside and allocate five minutes to absorb nature (try using all your senses).

Day 6: Avoid Being Rude in Favor of Being Pleasant 

Dare of the Day: Practice self-control by being considerate to someone you disagree with.

Day 7: Perseverance

Dare of the Day: Identify and Do Something Difficult (especially if you have failed at it before)

Day 8: Add Margin to Your Schedule

Dare of the Day: Consider what “good or bad” things to say “no” to in order to prioritize saying “yes” to the “best things.”

Day 9: Assume Good Intentions

Dare of the Day: When you feel criticized, assume that person is genuine, good, and means well before responding.

Day 10: Incremental Change is Transformational Over Time

Dare of the Day: Identify one new, “small,” healthy habit you are willing and able to do 5x per week!

Day 11: Crying is Good for You. Cry IT Out!

Dare of the Day: Let the tears flow to show empathy, compassion, and to relieve stress and/or anger

Day 12: Comparison (jealously) is the Thief of Joy,” –Theodore Roosevelt

Dare of the Day: Celebrate other people’s achievements all day today!

Day 13: Hopefulness

Dare of the Day: Try visualizing what you want, rather than worrying about what you fear.

Day 14: Listening

Dare of the Day: Seek to understand before you seek to be understood

Day 15: Laughter

Dare of the Day: Do something or watch something silly just for the fun of it

Day 16: Hug IT Out

Dare of the Day: Get and give big, warm (safe) hugs

Day 17: Pay IT Forward

Dare of the Day: Perform a good deed without asking or expecting anything in return

Day 18: Prayer and/or Meditation

Dare of the Day: Engage in a spiritual practice like prayer or meditation with a focus on restoring hope

Day 19: It’s Okay to Not Be Okay

Dare of the Day: Honor and accept your emotions with a sense of curiosity and without judgement

Day 20: Sleep is Critical

Dare of the Day: Take one small action to enhance your sleep health.

Day 21: The Power of Pets

Dare of the Day: Pause and take notice of the joy that pets bring into our lives

Day 22: Move It or Lose It

Dare of the Day: Find any way possible to become less sedentary

Day 23: Treat Yourself Kindly

Dare of the Day: Make a small purchase just for you

Day 24: Forgiveness

Dare of the Day: Explore the pros and cons of letting go of pain caused by someone else (let go if you can)

Day 25: Dance to Feel Good

Dare of the Day: Dance to one full song

Day 26: Positive Altruism

Dare of the Day: Seek to understand and help or support someone from a place of empathy vs. sympathy

Day 27: Positive Relationships

Dare of the Day: Nurture an existing positive relationship today vs. focusing on a negative one

Day 28: Movement is Medicine

Dare of the Day: Focus on moving your joints. Motion is lotion for the joints!

Day 29: Choose Love

Dare of the Day: Express love today in your actions and your words to at least 5 people

Day 30: Exercise is Medicine

Dare of the Day: Fill in the blank…Healthy is…(____). Find your why, identify your inspiration, be mindful of what you are willing and able to do, commit to a weekly goal. 

I reserved Day 30 for my core belief that exercise is medicine. I live this truth now, but the Resilience
Challenge helped me remind myself just how crucial exercise is to improve our resilience and keep our immune system strong. And both of those are so important during a pandemic. 

In hindsight, the order of the themes and dares isn’t important, but this is the order in which they came to me based on what I needed at the time. 

I invite you to run through them in your own order and at your own pace, but try to take on each dare and mindfully focus on the theme. Then, keep this list handy to revisit them again as needed. Do them with friends and family for added support! We all have to be in this together.