By Katie O’Shaughnessy
Brogan Graham and Bojan Mandaric wanted to stay in shape during Boston’s cold New England winters, so they made a pact to keep each other working out every day for a month. What they called the “November Project” has since grown to feature “tribes” in nearly 30 cities across the United States and Canada. In a world that pushes the snooze button to its limits, November Project aims to inspire people out of their beds and into a workout using peer-to-peer accountability.
“It took off so fast because kindness and community are a need right now,” says Graham, who has co-authored with Mandaric a book appropriately titled, “November Project Book: Inside the Free Grassroots Fitness Movement That’s Taking Over the World.”
Since November Project requires no financial commitment, Graham and Mandaric had to get creative in holding members accountable for their health.
The solution? They created an uplifting community in which each member becomes part of a “tribe.” “We are not as responsible for keeping people accountable as the rest of the tribe is,” says Graham. Hugs are part of the culture, making each person feel connected and part of the whole, and as part of the whole, they feel they need to be at the workout meetup point week after week, according to the website.
But just for good measure, their website, November-Project.com, offers a friendly shaming section where members can write a post to others who chose to stay in bed.
Week after week, tribe members kick off their slippers and lace up their running shoes. “When people are new to the tribe, we do a group or partner workout,”says Andrew Watt, co-leader of November Project Chicago, which started in May 2014. “As you’re getting to know these strangers, you create accountability.”
November Project uses a system of “verbals” to make sure tribe members show up for their community and self. Whether spoken, texted or emailed, a verbal is a commitment on steroids. According to its website, “Giving a verbal is like swearing on all graves covered in holy scriptures and future loved children and grandchildren that you’ll attend. Do the right thing, don’t break a verbal. Ever.”
With a nationwide network of tribes, members can find a workout and, more importantly, a community even on the road. Members often look up a local tribe when they’re traveling, offering them a fresh perspective with the sweaty comforts of home. Building these relationships is the magic of a November Project workout, giving everyone a sense of true accomplishment and meaning you don’t get from a gym.
As the volunteer co-leaders of November Project Chicago, Watt and Kevin Wasielewski need to embody the organization’s motivational, judgment-free spirit–even at 6 a.m. workouts. The workouts begin with a goofy ice-breaker and hugs. “It breaks down personal boundaries so you’re not afraid to interact,” says Watt. “We want people to connect with each other and push them. We’re here to support each other in the long run.”
Each workout is more more personal than a session at the gym. “It’s a pretty simple thing,” says Watt. “You have people in a safe environment, and they can put themselves out there where they’re not going to be judged. We’re going to have fun, be weird, laugh and sweat. It’s going to be hard, but you’ll feel like you actually accomplished something.”
Watt and Wasielewski commit themselves to getting everyone to the end of the session, even if that means getting down on the ground and joining a member sweat out the last few push-ups. Their brand of encouragement inspires and uplifts, often with a tinge of goofiness. Each workout is challenging, but the tribe leader respects everyone’s individual abilities, offering modifications and a safe, comfortable place for people of all shapes, sizes and experience levels to show up and break a sweat.
“I can say on a weekly basis, ‘I love you,’ to everyone who comes out – without any reservations,” says Watt. “A lot of positive things come through our interactions. We get to see our communities grow, and we do nothing but look after and support each other.”
Katie O’Shaughnessy is a yoga teacher, health coach specializing in autoimmune disorders, writer and editor. Visit katieoyoga.com for more information.