The Benefits of Writing a Journal

IMG_7863_2

I’ve adopted a new habit: writing an almost daily journal. Almost, because I try to write it every day but Sundays tend to become the exception to the rule. However, I still call it a habit because it’s ingrained in my system: from Monday to Friday I wake up at 6 AM and after showering but before breakfast, I write my journal.

I keep my thoughts to two pages per day – I’m afraid that in the modern world the hand muscles aren’t what they used to be. But it’s a 30-minute exercise in concentration and a great way to start one’s day. Let me tell you why.

(But first, I’ll shed some light on my history as a journal writer)

An On/Off Habit

Ever since I was little, writing a journal has been some kind of on/off habit for me. I can’t remember why I began writing in the first place – I was probably inspired by some character in a book that kept a diary and I wanted to be like him/her. The first journals I’ve kept are from elementary school when I was in second grade. The cute, pastel yellow Winnie the Pooh notebook has lost many of its pages and is barely holding together. But the important things, the diary entries about my dance practices and who of my class mates I liked the most, are still there.

After that, I’ve written a journal of some sort through the years up until this day. I’d like to declare I have something from every year from my life written down, with a date and a few thoughts about life, but I’m not quite sure. Some years might be missing. But in that case, it’ll only be a few.

For this post, I perused my old journals. There are three different time periods when I’ve written actively, i.e. on a daily basis:

  • In 2010: I wrote three pages every day for six months or so. I have no idea where the idea came from – maybe I wanted to prove something to myself or be able to tell everyone I wrote every day. But I did, and held on to the habit for an impressive amount of time, considering I was a teenager filled with angst and confusion.
  • In the Fall of 2016: one to eight pages daily. This was the time I spent in Ireland. Writing about my exchange period kept me sane and also had the function of making the time there more memorable.
  • Now, in Fall 2018 (which I guess we can start calling Winter as we just got our first snow in Southern Finland and it’s less than four weeks until Christmas): two pages on a daily basis. It is an effort to try to document my thoughts and feelings, trying to dig deeper into what I know and feel, what I want and how I want it.

Analyzing my more sporadic journal entries from previous years, I seem to have picked up my pen and put black on white when I’ve been 1) overwhelmed by feelings, may that be love, hate, sadness or confusion; 2) feeling guilty about not exercising enough and only eating candy and chocolate, or 3) when I felt like I needed to get out all those thoughts about people, school work and life in general, and didn’t feel like telling about them to anyone else (or writing about them on my LiveJournal blog that has been gone for a long time).

Focus on Depth

Today, however, I have a different approach on writing a journal. Actually, I only recently realized that I haven’t actually been writing a journal all these years. I’ve been writing a diary – a book where I’ve recorded events as they happen and that have included feelings and moods. That I have done, for sure – all that foul language, teenage hate towards others and myself, crushes on cute guys… And a play-by-play descriptions about my plans and what I intend to do later that day or the next.

But now it feels like I have become a grown up – I’m writing a journal. A book where I record, not events or what other people say and do, but ideas and thoughts. I try to focus on depth instead of just telling what I did that day or how I felt. I’m actually digging deeper into those emotions, trying to concentrate on what’s on my mind and find out why it’s on my mind.

Writing for me has always been something I’ve had to force myself to do. It’s not a natural daily yearning for me to write down my thoughts and pick on them with a stick to find out what these thoughts really are about. Sometimes, I also find the process somewhat frustrating: it takes time to write by hand compared with writing on a computer which means the process is slow, while at the same time my thoughts are running around like the crazy dodos in Ice Age. It feels like I lose the track of thought before I’ve managed to write everything down.

(And let’s not forget about the hand – it does get tired which means the writing won’t be as pretty. A thing that tends to matter to me.)

But never have I regretted sitting down to write my daily two pages. Some days, I know exactly what I want to write about. Last week such clear thoughts were about self-care, thoughts on why I’m writing my thesis, and how I deal with anxiety that comes from school work. And on those days when I have no clue what I’m thinking about – I write about that and try to figure out why I don’t have anything to say.

During this new in-depth writing habit of mine, I’ve experienced some of the benefits of daily journal writing:

  • I realize new things about myself and my though processes that I might not have realized if I hadn’t written them down.
  • I take a moment to focus on what feels important in my mind at the moment: what thoughts are constantly there?
  • I listen to myself: how do I feel today? Am I anxious, motivated, tired, stressed or energized?
  • I improve my concentration by focusing on a single, manual task for thirty minutes or so. It helps me focus on projects at hand during the rest on the day.

Retrospective Reading

And one of the huge benefits of writing a diary or a journal, when regarded in the long run, is the retrospect one gets when reading old diaries and journals. As I’ve been reading those old entries, especially from 2009 onward, I’ve understood myself in a different way than I did before.

Of course, I remember many of the big things I wrote about (and forgotten many of those that felt so big at the time but that lost their meaning in a few weeks or months). But the events and the people aren’t that important – it’s more about how I wrote about them. I’ve realized how much built-in anger I had when I was a teenager, and how I had no way of letting it out. So I wrote these awful things in my diary, and yelled at everything and everyone on paper – instead of confronting them in person.

Reading old entries gave me a refreshed view of my younger self – what was I insecure about, what events and happenings did I consider being important enough to write about, and what did that mean, on a deeper level? My findings have been thought-provoking.

What I’ve thought about is this: what if I had never written a diary? What would I know about myself today, what kind of image would I have about my childhood and being a teenager? In his book Homo Deus – A Brief History of Tomorrow, Yuval Noah Harari speaks about the experiencing self and the narrating self.

The experiencing self is the person experiencing the emotions, thoughts and feelings in the moment. The experiencing self is able to tell exactly how one feels, giving a realistic, although subjective, description of the current state of life.

The narrating self takes over when the experiencing self is taking a break – and builds up a narrative, a story, that tells how the situation was. The narrative self tends to bend the curves, put a filter on what the experiencing self just told and transform the memories into something else, something nice and less complex.

In one way or the other, the narrative self distorts the real experience and creates, in the long run, a not-so-truthful perception of oneself and the happenings that occurred.

This doesn’t help us understand why we have become the people we are today. What events formed us, who had a great effect on our thoughts and opinions? Here, the diaries and journals come to our help. They are the reality check we need every once in a while – how was the experience really, was it as good or as bad as I remembered? What did I think of this thing previously, has my thinking shifted?

Writing a daily journal helps to understand our own progress and who we are. This, however, requires patience and self-discipline: in order to have something to analyze, you need to take the time to write down those entries. But it pays off in the end, I’d say. What do you think? Is it worth your time?

***

Why do you write a journal, if you do? Or what is keeping you from it? Can you relate to any of the benefits I mentioned in this blog post?

Using Shortcuts to Succeed

pancake_1

Do you remember a game called Space Impact? It was an old-school spaceship war game one could play at least on Nokia 3310 if not on other cell phones as well. Another game I remember from Nokia phones, now the ones with a color screen, was Bounce where a red ball tries to get through a set of levels. Both games were highly addictive and I remember playing them over and over again, getting through the many levels and finally, finishing the last, most difficult level.

But what do these two games have in common except that they were both created by Nokia and could be played on Nokia phones?

They both had a magical four digit code that made you invincible.

The thing is, both games (but especially Bounce) required a good deal of practice from the player to get to the end of the game. Sometimes when I was feeling optimistic and motivated to complete the game with pure skill – but at other times I just wanted to play and focus on tactics instead of avoiding getting killed. When that feeling came over me, I decided to use the code that my friend had told me about.

(Fun fact: my grandmother still has a well-working Nokia 3310 with Space Impact on it so I can do a throwback to my childhood any time I want. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the code anymore so I’ll just have to get through the game with skill)

It was a great feeling – being invincible and able to complete the game without having to focus on not getting hurt or killed. That magical four-digit code was a shortcut to success, both in Space Impact and Bounce. But I also remember feeling that the winning at the end of the last level didn’t really feel like an honest, one-hundred percent win because I knew I had cheated. It wasn’t pure skill that got me through the game – the code did a good deal of the job.

Useful Shortcuts

There are many shortcuts in life that can be considered being extremely useful. For instance, finding the quickest route from home to the bus stop will help you save time in the mornings – give you a few minutes more to read the paper, drink your coffee, fix your hair and so on.

Another great shortcut is finding a lunch cafeteria with the best ratio between friendliness of the staff, quality of the food and length of the queue. This shortcut will save you time, energy and hopefully make your day better when you get to enjoy good food and nice service.

These shortcuts are pretty practical and make the daily life a bit easier. Even habits can be considered as shortcuts and they, if any, make the daily life more simple to digest. Shortcuts help us save time and energy on some things, and let us use that energy and saved minutes on the projects that require our time at the moment.

This kind of shortcuts are widely accepted, even recommended. Life is too short to walk the longer routes to the bus stop or deal with angry customer service. Instead, life is about doing what you enjoy, and if you can enjoy life a little bit more by choosing the shortest route to the gym or the restaurant with the best food – go for it.

But what about other shortcuts?

Creative Shortcuts

As I’ve become more and more interested in writing, photography and filmography, I’ve learned many rules or tips on how to create enchanting, well-functioning products.

For instance, in photography the two rules for composition are the golden spiral and the rule of third. They are widely used in photography and photos that use one of these rules tend to be perceived as good photos.

In filmography, one can find many rules that help to create visually pleasing content. Switching between three different frames (full shot, detail shot and something in-between), using the 180′ rule, the Hitchcock rule… All these things help the film become more interesting, pleasing to look at and enhance the storytelling.

And in the world of novels there’s the classic storyline, the hero’s journey. A simple storyline many films and novels follow that creates a familiar adventure, sweeping the viewer or reader into the story. Reading stories that follow the hero’s journey is almost always nice because it’s something we are used to – we know what’s going to happen, we just don’t know how and what all the consequences will be.

These creative shortcuts are effective and help create pleasing, easy-to-take-in kind of content. The way the products are formed feels familiar to us consumers and therefore we enjoy them. Similar shortcuts can be seen everywhere. For instance, in journalism and the newspaper world there are several rules/guidelines for creating headlines that trigger curiosity in the reader, or what are the best ways to structure the article so that the reader will read the whole news story instead of just the headline.

One might not think of them as shortcuts – they can be described as well-functioning patterns or as recipes with certain ingredients that guarantee your cake will rise in the oven. And getting to know these rules, these shortcuts, the recipes, help anyone to become a better creator.

But are this kind of shortcuts as accepted as the practical, life-simplifying shortcuts?

A Creator Using Shortcuts

Somehow it seems that almost everything today has some sort of hack, a magical four digit code that will function as a shortcut to success. Using the rule of third or golden spiral you can create intriguing photos; switching between three different frame sizes in a film keeps the tempo up and the viewer interested. A novel with a structure like hero’s journey will help one create a good structure and tempo that will make the book more pleasing to read.

To me it feels like everything is possible and you can create your own success – if you know the code. I realized this on a whole other level when I read an interview with the author Ottessa Moshfegh. Her successful novel Eileen was ”a deliberate exercise in playing with the format of commercial fiction to get the attention of a big publisher.” She hacked the system, found out about the four digit code, and made her writer dreams come true.

The interview made me realize that anyone can write a novel. Anyone can write a best-selling novel, as long as they know the recipe. And as a writer hoping to become a published author…

I feel confused. I feel a little bit disappointed as well. Aren’t published authors supposed to be true fighters, true talents? Aren’t you supposed to feel lucky if a big publisher wants to take your book under their wing?

Apparently not – because here’s someone claiming that anyone can write a best-selling novel and has actually proof of it, her own work.

Honestly, after learning this I’ve had some trouble feeling encouraged. It feels like I’m out there, on the battlefield with all these other writers, hoping to get published. But suddenly there isn’t only 200 of us – there are 2,000 writers, all trying to claim that same space as I am. And the one with the best ingredients, the best ability to take in that recipe and follow it, will win.

It’s like authorship isn’t anything as glorious as it used to be. Like children who learn that Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy isn’t real – it feels like my belief in the glorious authorship has been broken.

Finding that Optimism

But the tone of this blog post is getting somewhat cheerless and depressing – so let’s get back to the intro of this blog post.

I wrote that winning Bounce or Space Impact with the help of the four-digit magical code didn’t make the victory feel like a real, honest win. It was more like thirty percent skill, seventy percent cheating. And I would like to think that the same sort of ratio goes for the creative content we produce. At least if we do it according to a certain type of shortcut/pattern/recipe.

The storyline in my first draft of Yellow Tails doesn’t consciously follow any tips, structures or recommended beats. I’m a pantser, planning as I go (although I’ve had the ending clear in my mind from the very beginning). I’ve felt the temptation to order books that give tips on good writing or help one structure the story in the best possible way, but for me it feels like I would be cheating. If I would start writing my book according to certain rules and guidelines, it wouldn’t be my story. Not entirely.

I might miss out on something for not taking in all the tips and guidelines. I might make it harder for myself to get my book published and actually making it. But for me, this feels like a road I’m supposed to take. The road where I do it the hard way and where I learn from my mistakes and, eventually, become the master of my own work.

Although, after saying all of this, I don’t think there’s actually anything wrong with reading these guide books. I believe there’s a good deal of practical shortcuts that help one focus on the things that matter the most. But I don’t want to read them – not yet. Maybe I’ll pick one of the books up after reading the first draft for the first time after finishing it, if it feels like it. However, at the moment, I’m happy where I am. I’m satisfied with my own thoughts on how Yellow Tails should look like, at what pace it should go forward, how my hero’s journey will turn out and what the cover should look like.

What are your thoughts on (writing) guides and other helpful rules/shortcuts? What tips have you found useful or do you experience that the information makes you to create differently than you’d like to?

Still Life Sunday: An Optimized Route

Processed with VSCO with hb2 preset

14 An Optimized Route

I stand on a crowded street, letting people, bikes and cars pass me by without really seeing them.

I am here to test something. A route. A passage that I have planned for days.

For days, even weeks, I’ve taken notice of how other people walk from one place to another. On which side of the road they opt to stay on, in what traffic lights to cross the street to the other side. Who of them step over to the lane meant for cyclists in order to walk faster and who stay on the pedestrian side.

All these things I’ve observed.

And what I’ve concluded from my many observations is that hundreds of people opt for a route that isn’t the fastest, most efficient one. No. Instead, they waste seconds that turn into minutes by choosing streets that are crowded and traffic lights that do not change color in the favor of pedestrians.

What a waste of time, I think. What a waste of energy! I would like to tell this to these wasteful people walking the streets.

I’ve spent most of my life optimizing my time. I am an optimizer (I ask you kindly not to confuse it with optimist, because that I am not). Therefore, I have planned and altered and optimized this route I’m about to take. I’ve put down so many thoughts, so many hours to be able to save as much time and energy as possible.

It is important, I tell people. I am optimizing my well-being.

Some think it’s unnecessary, pointless to put this much energy to plan something so little. It’s only a few minutes from your day, they say. Why make such a big deal out of it? Why not enjoy the fresh air, the commotion, the moment?

I tell them that instead of enjoying the moment on a crowded street with honking cars and sometimes angry but mostly passive-aggressive cyclists (you might notice the sarcasm here), I want to enhance my route, develop it into the best possible route from place A to place B. I want to be in control of my own time and resources, I say to them.

So here I am, in the beginning of the route I’ve thought out in advance. I am about to test the passage for the first time today.

It is Monday, the most stressed out day of the week. As I stand on the street, I can feel the stress in the air. The impatience, the sweat. I can almost smell it. So unnecessary, I think to myself, such a waste of resources.

But after taking only a few steps along my pre-planned route, I halt to remind myself of two things.

Reminder number one: My route may not be any better than the energy-draining route other people walk every single day. I might be just as wasteful of my resources as they are.

But my case is different: I am in control of my route.

Therefore, reminder number two: As long as I’m consciously thinking about my route and critically evaluating it, I will be taking many more steps forward compared to all these people who walk their routes in an auto pilot mode. I am developing while the others waste their time walking these streets.

I start taking steps again on my pre-planned route and I think: I’m already ahead of them.

 

Investing To Know Yourself

Processed with VSCO with hb2 preset

It was Friday, the sun was setting and we had just finished the typical Ikea-meal: meatballs and mashed potatoes with brown sauce and lingonberry jam. We decided to check the outlet-corner (or the Corner of Findings as it’s called) before hitting the rest of the store, curious to see what they had there.

We have never actually found anything we wanted in the outlet, the furniture being either too expensive or unnecessary for us, but this time my partner spotted a grey armchair on the staff-side of the outlet, kept behind a red-white line that separated the customers from the staff space. We walked to the red-white line to take a closer look at the chair (both curious because we planned on getting armchairs for the new apartment instead of a sofa) when a staff member asked if we wanted to step over the line and try sitting in the chair. Yes, please!

We stepped over the line to the staff-only-space, and I got to test-sit the chair first.

Let me tell you – it was  the  p e r f e c t  chair.

It wasn’t too soft, it wasn’t too hard, it was just perfect (and yes, it was a total Goldilocks moment). And apparently I looked so comfortable sitting in that chair that the staff member reminded me friendly not to fall asleep there. He had a point – the chair felt so comfortable I could have taken a nap in it right then and there.

However, we left Ikea without the perfect armchair. Why? Because 1) the price was not exactly student-friendly, and 2) we aren’t staying in the next apartment too long which made me think it was unnecessary to invest in that kind of armchair for such a short amount of time. It wasn’t an easy decision because I really wanted the chair, but the facts spoke against buying it so we left the grey armchair to the outlet.

Yet, in the evening (after we had returned from the 2,5 hour-long trip to Ikea) my partner asked me this: although the chair was expensive and even though I wouldn’t be able to enjoy it for a very long time – wasn’t I worth that perfect chair? Why wouldn’t I enjoy the perfect chair as long as I could, and invest not in the chair but in myself?

And that was an excellent question. What was I actually doing when I decided not to buy that chair that was so comfortable, so perfect? What kind of logic is it, and is it a sensible logic in the long run?

Cheap Living

I’ve been a student now for five years. I’ve lived on my own, handled my own money and been responsible for many adult-life-things, including my finances. Being a student with a very limited monthly income means that I’ve also lived as cheaply as possible for the past years. It has become a routine of some sort: comparing prices at the food store, making detailed grocery lists, avoiding spontaneous shopping and so on.

Especially after I returned from Ireland in the Fall of 2016, having studied there for one semester as an exchange student, I started paying more attention to my finances. That had most probably to do with the fact that when I came back I had less than 20 euros on my bank accounts (not my most glorious days, to be honest). Before Ireland I hadn’t really considered how I consumed my money – but now I decided to take action, never wanting to be in a similar economic situation again.

Today and two years later, after returning from The Green Island, the situation is quite different. I’ve become more conscious about my incomes and expenses. Together with my partner, we’ve managed to minimize our expenses, and I’m doing my best to update an Excel-file every week to keep an eye on our money.

During these last couple of years, I’ve managed to build an economic buffer for myself for emergency cases, for a rainy day or simply to be able to invest that money someday in something. But as I’ve reached this state of economic ”welfare”, it has made me think: I’ve been saving and saving and saving, 10–15 percent of every payment I’ve received on my bank account from subsidies to study loans to salary. That has been a plan that has worked better than I expected. But when have I saved enough? Or, rather: when can I put my savings into good use? I mean, the money isn’t just supposed to sit there on that bank account until the day I leave this world, right?

Right?

Because, as I wondered about the armchair I had left in Ikea, I asked myself this: how do I know when to skimp and save the money, and when to invest in myself and in my own life? After living the life of a student for so long, do I even know what investing in myself is anymore?

Rerouting the Thinking

As I’ve been living cheaply/economic-consciously for the past couple of years it has become almost like a lifestyle. The economical thinking is rooted into my thought-system and turns on automatically when I’m making choices. In one way, this is extremely helpful, giving me the continuity in cheap living – but when seen from another perspective, it gets a bit tricky.

I feel that this kind of autonomous cheap thinking twists the way I see myself and what I’m worthy of. Often I find myself thinking ”I cannot afford this” and opting for the cheaper alternative instead. Or I leave the object in the store, thinking that ”maybe I don’t need it anyway”. And in one way, again, this is helpful – but then again, I wonder this: do I hinder myself from buying something that could give me great joy simply because I think I can’t afford it?

As the amount of money on my savings account has been increasing slowly but surely, I’ve become more aware of the fact that there are actually quite a lot I could afford. But it’s amazingly difficult to try to switch from that cheap thinking to investment thinking – mostly because when I find something that feels worthy to invest in, those items tend to be the more expensive ones. But if I really want those things and think they will help me do the things I love to do – aren’t they worth the investment?

(By the way – although I’m talking about having money on my savings account and being able to afford things, it doesn’t mean I’m in any way wealthy. I do okay, mostly thanks to government subsidies and a study loan, but I rarely eat out or buy new clothes.)

Investing In Yourself

There is a thing I’ve thought about a good deal after that Friday night in Ikea:

I need to invest in myself to know who I am and what I enjoy.

If that money stays on that savings account from here to eternity, simply growing in amount, why have I been saving it in the first place? Isn’t saving money supposed to be about saving for things you enjoy or want to try out?

If you never invest that money you’ve so patiently been saving, how will you ever learn to know yourself and what kind of things you enjoy? If you only leave cheap, always skimping and thinking ”I can’t afford this” although you do, have you actually lived life to the fullest at all?

During this move we’ve made oh-so-many choices from carpets to chairs to lamps, and it’s been a constant balancing between what to invest in and where to save the money. And the conclusion we have come to in this decision-making process is that if the item you are thinking about helps you get closer to where you want to be or helps you to do what you enjoy, then it’s worth the more expensive one (that also tends to be better quality).

(For instance, the carpet we picked for our livingroom is an investment in our creativity. We call it the jungle mat as it’s a crazy jungle-themed dark-colored carpet with birds and other jungle-like things, and it’s thought-provoking to look at.)

So, after this lengthy thought process on Friday night, we woke up a bit earlier the next morning, drove the car to Ikea five minutes before they opened the doors, raced to the Outlet of Findings, and I bought the chair.

I bought the chair for myself.

I bought the chair because 1) it is comfortable, 2) it doesn’t make my butt hurt, 3) I can see myself drinking my morning coffee in it, reading books and sometimes even writing while sitting in it. In a way, investing in this chair is also an investment in my creative process and my well-being.

And that’s something, isn’t it?

– – –

How much effort do you put into your choice-making when you’re buying something new? What do you think about when making that choice?

What Happens After 30 Days?

IMG_7474_1

This Monday was the 1st of October which means that for four days now challenges such as #inktober (thirty-one days and thirty-one ink drawings) and #preptober (thirty-one days of prepping for the thirty-day writing challenge in November) have begun.

It seems to be a pattern: new challenges kick in as a new month begins.

September was spent doing the #whole30 (resetting your nutrition for thirty days) or challenging oneself to live free from waste for the whole month. And in November one gets to challenge his or her writing habits with NaNoWriMo or let their body hair grow as a way of participating in Movember.

The monthly challenges give a rhythm to our year in the same way as Church Holidays did especially in the times before industrialization. Months fly by so quickly if we don’t pay attention to them, and by challenging ourselves with something new each month, the year gets twelve new meanings and time becomes more memorable.

Or does it?

For me it feels like there’s almost a compulsive need in the society to give a different meaning, a new theme for every month. We humans seem to have a need to find something to do with our time, with our energy, and the best way to do it is to challenge ourselves in a new way every thirty days.

(Or, actually, we have gone so far that almost every day of the week needs a theme: Taco Tuesdays, Throwback Thursdays, Pizza Fridays, Screenless Saturdays and so on, but let’s not go there, not now.)

As I’ve been observing this thirty-day life cycle of the society, I’ve asked myself: what is the main reason behind all these challenges? And maybe most of all: when it comes to 30-day challenges, what are we trying to achieve?

Why We Participate

I wrote about the pros and cons about participating in NaNoWrimo on Tuesday and came to the conclusion that depending on the reason you’re participating, you are aiming for different things. The same logic goes for the monthly challenges as well.

I see two main paths that could explain why people take part in the 30-day challenges:

  1. The challenges are a way of discovering new things about yourself: you learn new things or skills, you create new habits and try things that help you find your path, your conviction in life.or
  2. The challenges are a way of making your life more interesting: every new month brings a new challenge which makes your life more challenging and exciting. The time goes by and you get to try the same things that others are doing at the same time (this way you get the inspiration, motivation and support while doing the challenge, you get to be a part of a community).

So, you try new things to learn something new and spice up your life. But why do you do it? Why do you put your time and energy into these challenges?

Are the thirty-day challenges a way for us to become better persons? Do the challenges lead to some kind of progress, development? Or are we just trying to spice up our lives, pass the time so that we get from one weekend to the other, this vacation to the next, from birthday to birthday or Christmas to Christmas, whatever it is that gets you going?

Because: what happens after those thirty days of zero waste/ink drawings/writing/squat challenges are over? What’s the outcome? And what happens next?

Big Change Equals A Shock

Matt Cutts gave a short but highly informative and entertaining Ted-talk in 2011 about how anyone can do anything for thirty days. In his presentation he talked about all the different things he had tried for thirty days – from participating in NaNoWriMo and ’becoming a novelist’ to biking to work and eating sugar-free foods for a month.

His message is clear: you can do anything for a time period of thirty days. You can do small things, such as drink more water every day for thirty days, or big things, like climb Mount Kilimanjaro. But he also said this:

”I learned that when I made small, sustainable changes, things I could keep doing, they were more likely to stick. There’s nothing wrong with big, crazy challenges. In fact, they’re a ton of fun. But they’re less likely to stick.”

And this made me think about the nature of the monthly thirty-day challenges: most of them are pretty big challenges, especially those that require a great deal of time and energy in order to make them happen.

Living a life of zero waste for a month can be a big shock for someone who isn’t used to thinking about his or her consumption. Suddenly you have to plan your grocery shopping and how you spend your time.

Aiming to write 1,667 words per day will get exhausting in the long run if you’re not used to dedicating an hour or two every day for writing (because it’s a good deal of time away from other things).

And going cold-turkey on meat for a month probably leaves you hungry for meat until October is over and you are, once again, ’allowed’ to be a carnivore (fun fact: in Finland the challenge for October is Meatless October, and in January the challenge is to eat only vegan food for a month).

These big, crazy challenges – as Matt Cutts put it – can be fun, and even make you a more confident person. But if what you managed to accomplish during that 30-day challenge vanishes into thin air when the month changes – what was the point in doing the challenge in the first place?

And this comes back to the two paths I presented earlier. Why do people participate in these monthly challenges? Are they aiming for self-development, trying to find out what they enjoy in life or could consider doing for the rest of their lives? Or are they just having fun while trying different things, simply trying to make their every-day life more exciting?

Does A 30-Day Life Cycle Get Us Anywhere?

Once again, it comes down to the ’why’. Why do we decide to try something for thirty days? Is our aim to find long-term habits that help us get where we want to be in one, five or ten years? Do these thirty-day challenges help us get to that thing we consider being the meaning of life? Or – –

Do they actually hinder us from getting there?

I feel strongly that many of the big thirty-day challenges actually distract us from what’s really important in our lives. Especially if you try out every single on of them, and if you enter them just for fun, instead of wanting to find out something about yourself (I mean – isn’t it the reason why we do these challenges, to learn more about ourselves?).

These challenges require a whole lot of energy, time and thinking capacity – and that’s time away from something else. Is your investment in these challenges worth your personal resources?

However, if you participate in these challenges with the aim of actually improving your life – living healthier or environment-friendlier, lowering the threshold for drawing and publishing them online – then I think the thirty-day challenges can actually be helpful. Then all those minutes and hours you put to the challenge can be useful and help you develop and get where you want to be in one to ten years.

Seen in this light, participating in a challenge for thirty days is a great way of trying out something, then cherry-picking the best parts of it and hopefully making them a part of your life.

(And, of course, it’s also good to remember that you are allowed to fail. You are allowed to try something and after thirty days decide that it wasn’t your thing. The thought was presented well in the Ground Up Show, a podcast hosted by Matt D’avella, where he had T.K. Coleman as his guest. Coleman said this:

”Conduct experiments instead of life-long commitments. Try something for thirty days – it’s not marriage, it’s not a new religion. It’s just thirty days.”)

The True Challenge

But as I wrote on Tuesday, simply because you try something for thirty days doesn’t automatically mean you become a pro at it or manage to create a habit that sticks. Challenges like NaNoWriMo can make one exhausted. Meatless October can make you more hungry for meat than you’ve ever been before. And a squat challenge works out as long as you have that thirty-day schedule to follow.

But the true challenge comes when the month dedicated to that challenge is over. Only then you’ll be able to see if the changes you made during that month were small enough to stick or if they vanish into thin air when the next month begins. So – the next time think about participating in a challenge that sounds exciting, I’d say this: ask yourself why do you participate, what do you wish to be the outcome at the end of the month?

Have you participated in any thirty-day challenges? Why did you participate and how did you feel about them in the end, did any of the habits created during the challenge stick? In your opinion, did the thirty-day challenge make your life better?