A Challenging Year: 2021 with twelve 30-day challenges

The Challenge, by Charles M. Russell

What is it?

Twelve monthly challenges, one for each month in 2021.

Why?

As an interesting exercise, I've tried a few weekly challenges in 2020. I liked the concept and the results. To make it even more interesting and useful, I've decided to go all in and do 12 monthly challenges in 2021.

Why monthly instead of weekly?

Weekly challenges were nice, but in almost all cases, it wasn't enough time to see the real results or to assess if it's feasible to stick with the habit for  longer. Even if you hate something, it's possible to suffer seven times and be done with it. With a full month, it's unlikely for me to do something 30 times if I realize along the way that I hate it and that it does me no good.

What kind of goals?

The goals are not really related. I've chosen things that I wanted to improve, or things that I wanted to get rid of, or something that I wanted to start doing. Some are related, but mostly I judged them on their potential usefulness to me.

The goals fall into two broad categories: goals of addition (do more of) and goals of subtraction (do less of).

  • Goals of addition: 8
  • Goals of subtraction: 4

I think it's a nice balance. Twice as many goals where I want to add something vs. the goals where I want to reduce or completely remove something.

What are the goals?

I've chosen 12 goals that make the most sense for me from today's point of view. It's very likely that I will be updating, changing, adding or removing them as I go, based on the situation, the learnings from the challenges or if something more important emerges. For now, here's how I see the challenges ahead for me:

Challenges for 2021

  1. Challenge: 3 priorities for the day, completed no matter what
    Why: I've noticed that I often planned too many tasks for the day and while trying to complete as many as possible, I left the more challenging and important ones for the end of the day, which often resulted that the critical tasks were not even started and needed to get pushed to the next day.
  2. Challenge: Publish something every day (a blog post, a tweet, a book summary, a post on FB)
    Why: Get into a habit of daily writing.
  3. Challenge: No sugar. Zero, at all.
    Why: Sugar is bad, but it also tastes good. It's easy to get carried away. Consciously avoiding all sugar for 30 days and observing the results should be an interesting exercise.
  4. Challenge: 50 push-ups per day. Total, doesn't need to be in one go.
    Why: Get into a habit of daily exercises.
  5. Challenge: 30 minutes of reading a paper book.
    Why: I read a lot, but I don't read as many paper books as I'd like. At the same time, some of the most interesting books I have are on paper, waiting for me to read  them, sometimes for months or years.
  6. Challenge: Wake up before 9 AM.
    Why: Nobody would call this being a morning person, but for me, this would definitely be a big shift and a transition to becoming a morning person. I'll make an effort and see if this works for me. I've tried this a few times in my life, always reverting to late nights.
  7. Challenge: No coffee.
    Why: I love coffee, and it has multiple health benefits, but it can also mess with your sleep. I'll go a full month without coffee and substitute it with other stimulants (e.g., yerba mate), observing the effects of the change, if any.
  8. Challenge: No alcohol.
    Why: This one should be easy. Recently, I hardly ever drink at all. I'd have to plan it for a summer month where there are more opportunities to drink for this even to make sense.
  9. Challenge: Cold shower in the morning.
    Why: I've tried it a few times already, usually lasting 2-3 weeks. Every time it wasn't easy, but I loved the effects. Every time, my sinuses flared up (I have a chronic problem with my sinuses), and I had to stop. Maybe when I do it in the summer, it will be less of a problem.
  10. Challenge: In bed by 2 AM.
    Why: I go to sleep late. Very late. When people think they go to sleep late, I usually go a few hours later. Going to sleep before 2 AM for 30 days could be one of the most difficult challenges this year.
  11. Challenge: 7-minute daily hanging (not seven consecutive minutes, but seven minutes total in a day).
    Why: I've found this challenge somewhere, and I immediately liked it. It's crazy enough and at the same time has enough health benefits (shoulders, grip strength, spine decompression, joints, ligaments), making it a perfect candidate for a monthly challenge.
  12. Challenge: Only "boring stuff" for a month. This means information fasting: zero news, Facebook feed, Twitter feed, Instagram, Hacker News, Reddit, etc.
    Why: News consumption is toxic. News value is vastly overrated and expires in a matter of days. The time commitment to news is much greater on a daily basis than we realize. Never consuming news is tempting but not feasible, but it's definitely doable for 30 days. Observing the effects of this challenge should be very interesting, as well as learnings and changes in behavior going forward.

How will I measure success?

All the goals are binary and easy to measure. I either achieve a goal in a given day, or I don't. If I drink coffee in a "No coffee" month or if I go to bed at 2:03 AM on an "In bed by 2 AM" month, that's a fail.

My goal is obviously to have 365 successful days, but I know it's not feasible. I also don't want to give myself any outs by saying something like "anything above 300 is fine" because it would give me too many temptations to just skip a day when I don't feel like doing the hard thing.

At the end of each month, I'll have a clear number: how many days I have done what I planned to do. At the end of the year, I'll sum up all the months and see how good I am at beating the challenges on a daily basis. The goal is to become good at marathons, not sprints.

How will I stay accountable?

Each month, I'll publish a new post summarizing the results of the month's challenge, where I'll write how many times I've been able to achieve the desired results, how hard (or easy) it was, what were the learnings and how I plan to incorporate the learnings into my life going forward, with options being to drop the habit, keep doing it on a daily basis or any combination in between.

It starts now

The challenge for January is to set 3 priorities for the day, the day before or in the morning, and then complete these priorities no matter what. When I finish writing this article, I'll be able to cross off one of these priorities.

I'll have the full January update at the beginning of February.

And may the Challenges be ever in my favor!


Monthly challenge updates

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