Most of my friends and family know that, at any given moment, I am in the middle of undertaking some kind of personal challenge. Seriously, you could ask me "What's your current challenge?" at just about any time and I'll have some kind of response. I call them challenges, but since there's no competition or prize involved perhaps a better name for these projects is DARES (as in truth-or-dare).
In the Beginning...
When I first started out with challenges in 2014, my close friends and family were the source of each new endeavor. They would, essentially, dare me to try something for a month, and together we would create the rules/boundaries for the challenge. Okay, I know what you may be thinking - "you let yourself be a guinea pig for other people's weird interests?" Not exactly! Behind every dare there needed to be a clear, constructive purpose. The challenger had to think of something I could benefit from learning and/or experiencing, and then design a challenge that could be a conduit for those kinds of lessons.
Each of these earlier challenges lasted for exactly one month, and I described what I was doing and learning on my first blog, Thirty Day Endeavors. During 2014, I spent May through December undertaking challenges such as:
This initial set of challenges jump-started a new way of being in the world for me. And in the years that followed, while I didn't keep up with the blog, I did keep up with the challenges. After doing so many challenges suggested by others, I decided to get into the driver's seat. I dared myself to do (or not do) things for a certain amount of time to see how that disrupted my habits, changed my mindsets, and helped me learn something I didn't know before. These challenges ranged from 3 months to a year, depending on what I was doing.
And what was I doing?
When it comes to deciding on a challenge, I have exactly one rule that I live by:
If it scares me or seems impossible, I have to do it.
It is this rule that led me to forego shaving my armpits, that caused me to leave my phone in another room the moment I got home from work, that prompted me to remove Amazon (yes, including Prime) out of my life as much as possible (AWS is almost impossible to escape!), and totally changed my relationship with television.
The Past Becomes Present, and the Present Becomes Future
One thing that I've learned over the years is that every challenge, no matter how big or small, makes an impact in my life. Not only do I learn something about the challenge topic, I also learn a lot about myself. With each challenge I build up my sense of resilience and capability. I look back on these times and think "I did that! What else can I do?" But I also cultivate a lot of self-compassion and patience. It's rare to complete a challenge without at least one slip-up (sometimes even one colossal fuck-up!), but I've learned not to throw in the towel just because I had one or two (or five) missteps. Reflecting on and coping with these missteps becomes a crucial part of every new challenge, even more so than the surface-level behavior changes that come with trying something new.
The other thing that challenges have given me is a broader view of possibility for myself. It's hard to describe, but I have greater awareness of potential challenges now than ever before. I'm subconsciously on the look-out for new frontiers within myself, new ways of being in the world. As a result, my sense of myself has become more flexible and ever-evolving. When I started my first Thirty-Day Endeavor, I could not have foreseen this greater mindset shift. I had no idea that I would integrate a challenge-oriented mindset into my life for years to come. And yet, here we are.
As I look forward to 2020, I am eager to see what new lessons I will learn, and to share whatever insight I can. I have a new challenge lined up, and it is possibly the hardest challenge I've ever undertaken.
More on that later. :)