30 Day Striving Challenges

In the weight of summer humidity this past July, my sister Rosa Marie and I painted a consigned hutch that would go in the Greenville apartment I would be moving into the following month. As we rolled and brushed in the garage, we listened to a TED Radio Hour episode titled “A Better You.” One of the speakers, Matt Cutts, decided to try something new every thirty days, which is about how long it takes to develop a habit. Since beginning this practice, he has done all kinds of things – some ambitious, like climbing Mount Kilimanjaro; others are quite simple, like practicing gratitude, or taking a picture or complimenting his wife every day.

His seven-minute segment on that podcast has stuck with me since we listened. It made me think – what are the things I still want to add to my life, and why haven’t I done them? Maybe it’s time to try it, if only for thirty days. Matt found for himself that while doing his 30 day challenges, the time passed more memorably and his self-confidence grew. He also discovered that there were things that just weren’t for him, like meditation, or how going vegan allowed him to reexamine his assumptions; perhaps, just as we now don’t cook with shortening, eating meat won’t be a healthy practice in fifty years’ time.

My 2017 New Year’s Resolution was to watch at least one sunrise a month. I missed July and September, but I definitely pulled myself out of a groggy sleep at least 13 mornings this past year, and I’m satisfied that I did. Sunrises are extra special, because they require an extra amount of work. When I take in the promise of a new day, I’m aware that I’m doing something that most people won’t see. Especially since I traveled so much last year, I got to soak up some pretty spectacular demonstrations of God’s creation and the artistry of a painted sky (even if at other times there was a crane in the frame, or I was simultaneously warming up for a half-marathon).

Stigma surrounds many self-improvement philosophies, but I really like Cutts’ idea. Surely striving for things out of our ordinary routine stretches us as individuals, makes us more aware, and perhaps introduces us to new hobbies, interests, movements, or notions. In the last few days of 2017, I pondered how I wanted to approach the coming year, and I realized that I don’t want to be comfortable. As I settle into more routine and deeper, stationary roots in Greenville, I want to push myself into unfamiliar arenas by making and striving for new goals.

Apparently, most people have given up on their New Year’s Resolutions by mid-February. We get bored. We’re not disciplined or motivated enough, or our goals are unrealistic. I don’t have the tenacity to swim 365 days straight. But 30 days? That’s tough, but it’s feasible. This past year, I did end up adding some new experiences to my life. The two that most quickly come to mind are learning to scuba dive and running a half-marathon (I’m still on the mend for that knee injury, but I’ve deferred my marathon registration to next year, so hopefully I’ll have 26.2 miles in the books this December!) Both revealed new, stretched limits on my physical boundaries and showed me that oftentimes, to do something new just requires a decision to go for it.

Cutts recommended not making a whole planned out New Year’s Resolution of 30 day challenges, but I couldn’t help myself; there’s so much I want to try this year! And as I dreamed about what I’d like to do, I started pondering trips, and lectures, and books, and restaurants, and soon my challenges transpired into a full-on categorized spreadsheet. As my students would say, yes, I am so extra.

When I showed chart to Rosa Marie, she argued that I can’t plan out my whole life. I know; I’ve learned that lesson. But having a clear direction for what I’d like to accomplish makes it far more likely that I’ll actually get there. Plus, “don’t get sick” and “meet my husband” aren’t on this chart; these are decisions within my locus of control. Lists and productivity are in my nature; this chart is a pretty natural byproduct, comical and ridiculous as some of you may find it to be. I just bought my one month new member trial at Soul Yoga, so you bet you’ll see me doing headstands by the end of the month. The fridge is cleared out of junk food for Whole30. I’ve invested in all the cycling necessities and accessories to get out on the Swamp Rabbit Trail, and far beyond that. 30 day challenges in 2018 – let’s goooooo!

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