Challenges and the Hard Thing

Posted on December 11, 2019 | 3 minute read

Challenges and the Hard Thing

Anyone that knows me IRL knows that I have challenged myself on a semi-monthly basis for almost 7 years now. Every year, I have set a challenge (what? you have those already? resolutions? I know, but I keep these) to follow for 12 months and then 12 smaller challenges.

Some I made public and some were healthy and others were…less than healthy. Normally these challenges are a way of forcing me to do something by setting the limit stupidly high. For example, I felt I was not cycling enough so I set a 30-day challenge to cycle 1,500 km. Yeah.

I love these challenges but, as time has gone on, age and wisdom and all of these annoying traits you develop have made me question why I do the challenges instead of doing the thing I want to do. Almost all of the challenges I have done (meditation for 30 days, vegetarian for a year etc) have been only for the duration of the challenge. Having an end date makes it easier to do the excessive thing. Well, that is one reason, the other is because I like extremes: eating too much sugar? NO sugar for 30 days.

Challenges in 2020 on

I am not ready to give up my black-and-white thinking just yet but I am ready to modify my challenge structure so that it does not just become a list of things I did at some point.

Now, each challenge that I do must have 1 takeaway from it that I would be incorporated into my life permanently.

My consumption of gadgets is stupidly high, but so is my consumption of excess. It is painfully ironic that I am writing this in an airport hotel surrounded by 3 bottles of sugary drinks and an empty bucket of pick'n'mix.

The lasting change I want from this is: conscious consumption and justification of choices made. I think I am not alone here when I say that I am a therapists nightmare: a person that is overly aware of their flaws, why they do them but does not change them. These challenges have enabled that, consumption has enabled that.

Boredom and instant gratification have led me to:

Instead of addressing things I want to do (achieve B1 in German, refresh Computer Science fundamentals, build side projects), I have spent money I should not have, eaten things I should not have and skimmed articles to avoid solving problems. This may all sound more negative than I see it as, these are all ways that many of us live (have you ever checked how many times you unlock your phone in a day? Wow, that is some sobering stats), and I like some of these things. I enjoy scrolling Hacker News mindlessly but I am painfully aware that going to the site 4 times within an hour means I am stuck on something and just need to walk away from whichever machine I am in front of.

The TL;DR of this post is this: 30-day challenges are great, challening yourself is great but there is no reward without review and blindly moving on to the next challenge dooms you to repeat the same mistakes. Do not choose topics you think you should change about yourself, rather choose things that are stopping you from, and I hate to write this, living your best life.

tags:personal challenges tracking quantified-self
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