#456 - Seven Eight Nine

5 minute read

A very focused Column! For once!

Challenges

As a surprise to nobody who knows me, I’m a fan of self-imposed temporary challenges. I have a Notion database where I’ve tracked my challenges, what they were, when they took place, what areas of my life they were meant to impact, and how successful they were. There are 90 entries.

I’ve done 2,700 days of “challenges”, and counting.

I have already done a pretty comprehensive retrospective on challenges in Column #3771 in which I cover what 30 Day Challenges are, remember some of the best ones I’d done, and make suggestions for implementing challenges for yourself. This post isn’t about that.

Challenges & Change

Time boxed challenges are all well and good. You do a thing for a week, or 30 days or whatever2, but then you’re done. The cynic would say “sure you did dry January, but come Feb 1st you’re the same person you always were”. To some extent, this is always true and inevitable. The point of any time boxed challenge isn’t to experience some step function change - suddenly and irrevocably becoming a whole new and better person forever. The idea is to try something new. To try it for long enough that you can actually experience what living in that new space is like. To be there long enough for the messages in the feedback loop to stabilize. All the while, learning things and having new experiences.

The reality is, even if you throw out 100% of the new behaviors adopted during the challenge, you’ll have learned “this way of living is not for me”. That’s a valuable lesson.

alt accumulated changes

More likely, you will find something during the challenge you like, there will be at least some tiny bit you will retain.

the change

When you do enough of these, you get something that would make James Clear very happy:

accumulated changes

Challenges & Project Sprints

Sometimes challenges are to give you a reason to do something you’ve been wanting to do, but too intimidated to start. Many of my biggest accomplishments came as a direct result of 30 Day Challenges. Something about saying “okay, this is the month for this hard thing” makes it seem, well, less hard. Maybe because the point of it all is that it’s supposed to be hard. Or perhaps because of the focus the challenge gives to its singular purpose. You’re not faced with a tidal wave of big projects you can’t really progress, instead you’ve selected one you can make meaningful progress on.

Some examples:

  • Migrated financial services
  • Drew recognizable faces
  • Moved house
  • Migrated my notes from Notion to Obsidian
  • Rebuilt my PDW app
  • Held a garage sale

You can also use 30 Day Challenges as means to schedule when you’ll do one of those “someday” projects. One of those things you’ve been meaning to get around to, but there’s no urgent triggering action - you could knock it out simply because it’s September.

WIthout an excuse to focus - you end up with a giant pile of “maybe could do this now”.

A pile of projects

The challenge is a great way to focus in, and push everything else to back of mind. I love this approach.

Some examples:

  • Migrated financial services
  • Drew recognizable faces
  • Moved house
  • Migrated my notes from Notion to Obsidian
  • Rebuilt my PDW app
  • Held a garage sale

You can also use 30 Day Challenges as means to schedule when you’ll do one of those “someday” projects. One of those things you’ve been meaning to get around to, but there’s no urgent triggering action - you could knock it out simply because it’s September.

one project

Challenges & Memory

The purpose of challenges isn’t always about making grandiose changes, self improvement, making massive progress on some large project - one of the best reasons to do challenges is to make new memories. Routine is the enemy of memory. Challenges by their nature ask you to do get out of your routine. Simply by doing something different, you are more prone to doing things you’ll remember.

You can (and absolutely should) go on great & big vacations to make memories, but you don’t need to big vacations to do things you’ll remember.

This week we walked to our local grocery store in the rain cause 75 Hard. I will remember that. Honestly, not at all bad. We’ve gone to new places in town, found new trails to hike that were right by our house, tried new gyms, ate new foods, and learned all about ourselves (& the world) thanks to challenges.

Right now

Right now Melissa and I are one month in on our 75 Hard challenge. It’s been hard, but also it’s been possible thanks to the mutual support Melissa and I have had for each other. We are approaching the 1/2 mark, going strong.

Also it turns out if I work x2/day I get crazy fit. I don’t normally share bragadocious photos, but check this out:

a pixel art rendition of me

Not an ounce of fat on that.

Top 5: Starter Challenges

If you’re interested in challenging yourself here are some great ideas to get you started.

5. Buy a nice journal, write in it every night.

Journaling is an excellent habit. Writing about your ideas, thoughts, about your day… getting thoughts out of your head and onto paper - it all works. It has a way of helping you grow the ideas, or yourself.

4. Don’t eat out Monday through Thursday

If you have a habit of going out for lunch or dinner during the week, try to curb that. Bring your lunch. Make your dinners and save the leftovers. Save money and learn which foods make for the best leftovers.

3. Do the house project

If you have a house, you have a house project you haven’t gotten around to yet. Go do it. If you have an apartment, you probably have one, too.

2. Break a sweat every day

This one is great because it scales with your ability & gives you a lot of latitude in how. You mowed? Check. You went for a walk? Check. You did 5 sets of pushups to failure? Check.

1. Get off social media

Then just don’t get back on.

Quote:

Get a piece of paper, write “here’s a joke” on it, Aaron, then just hold it up. Derek

  1.  The fact that I wrote that 5 Years Ago is mildly terrifying. 

  2. 75 days, in the case of our current 75 Hard Challenge