Recently, (about thirty days ago in fact), I made a post about how I would start challenging myself for thirty days to stick to those pesky New Year’s Resolutions and grow into my goals. The plan was that for thirty days I would exercise (a work out or walking 10,000+ steps), study Korean (and add thirty new words/phrases to my online flashcards), and write my book every day.
And I did it. On day one I wrote on my whiteboard “Day 1/30” and a section for each of my three goals, and every day I drew a tally mark under each section after accomplishing that task. Last night I drew my last tally marks and then made big circles and stars all over the place, showing my victory over my own laziness. So, after thirty days of challenging myself to actually work on my goals, here are ten things I’ve learned:
1. Shame is a great motivator. Even when I went out with friends one night and forgot to get my studying done beforehand, I came home at 1am and got down to business before passing out. The one thing I knew during these past thirty days was that I was not going to suffer the shame of not having all three sets of thirty tally marks at the end of my experiment. I at least owed that much to myself.
2. I’ll totally lie to myself. Okay, so I didn’t exactly lie…no, I basically did. Most of those thirty tally marks for exercise came from days when all I did was about ten squats (and maybe ten push-ups if I was feeling ambitious). Sure, some days I really worked out, but most days I just decided that ten squats was enough to call it exercise (and no, I’m not that weak). Similarly, I totally didn’t study every day. I tried to, and I did study more than usual, but quite a few days I just went to a website and copy and pasted thirty phrases into my flashcards. I barely even looked at the Korean as I did it.
3. The bare minimum is better than nothing. So I lied to myself, so what? Each day that I did those ten squats or copy and pasted some Korean phrases, I did a little more than I would’ve done anyway. Almost each of those thirty days I only wrote a single sentence of my book, but that makes thirty sentences that I didn’t have before, and I likely wouldn’t have if I hadn’t forced myself to write something. Progress is progress.
4. You can find the time. Most of us think that we’re too busy dealing with real life to accomplish our goals. We think that work, school, children, and chores are more important. I’ve always been the same way. While I don’t have school or children, I did have work and chores to do during this period, the same as always, and I managed just fine. On days when I taught five classes, or days when I saw friends, I somehow managed to get my things done. Maybe I could only find time for the bare minimum, but as I said, that’s better than nothing.
5. A few phrases in Korean. “영화를 좋아해요,” “어디에서 왔어요?” and “몇시에 만날까요?” (“I like movies,” “Where are you from?” and “What time should we meet?”) are maybe half of the phrases that come to mind directly from these thirty days. I went through an entire conversational Korean book during this period, and I retained a fair bit of it, but most of what I learned will need a lot more repetition and practice.
6. Waking up early is wonderful and awful. For a few days I tried waking up an hour earlier to do the exercise part of this challenge. I decided that I would be “one of those people,” as I put it. I would get in the habit of being put-together and exercising before breakfast and work. Admittedly, I still like the idea, and I felt great the few times I managed to do it. I just really like sleep.
7. I could do this challenge for thirty more days, but I won’t. Now that this bare minimum approach to progress has achieved habitual status in my life, I could easily keep it up. I honestly don’t feel like it was that difficult to manage. That said, I think it could use some revision to be more effective, which brings me to…
8. Saying “exercise every day” is way too vague. As I said, many days I got by on ten squats. From now on, I’m going to be a little more detailed in my weekly exercise goals (10,000+ steps every day, a work out 3+ times a week). Hopefully that will help me see real progress.
9. When it comes to studying, it’s always quality over quantity. I now have a folder of online about 900 online flashcards, maybe 100 of which I might actually know. Adding thirty words/phrases a day was rather ineffective if I wasn’t actually paying attention to them or using them in practice, and after a while I had too many flashcards to actually study them, I just kept adding to them. Now I’m going to go back and learn all of the things I “learned” in the past month before I move on.
10. I can be my biggest priority. I’ve had work, and friends, and a birthday happen during this challenge, but I managed to make all of this happen. It’s okay to put yourself and your goals first. Knowing that I took at least a little time out of my day for my growth felt like I was really investing in myself and my future. Sure, I spend time on myself every day when I watch Netflix, but this was time I was taking for self-improvement. It was a statement that my future self is worth my time.
So, what’s worth your time?