Ok, so you want to improve your life and reach your goals? But you find that changing your life is hard!
Like so many people, most of your days are spent looping through your habits mindlessly. Eventually, your life comes to an end and you look back at all those days and years spent in cycles of the same mindless habits.
I already hear you say it: "That sounds so depressing!"
And yes, I intentionally described it like that to make you feel a little uncomfortable. Not to make you feel down, but because I want you to take ACTION.
You've likely been in this spot before, looking for ways to improve your life. This means you took action to change and improve your life in the past. However, you've tried a bunch of things and for some reason, almost nothing seemed to stick!
But... have you tried designing personal challenges for yourself? Have you tried setting up a system that's so simple you can't help but do the work?
I think habit coach and writer James Clear says it very succinctly:
"You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems."
You can have all the goals you want, but it's human nature to fall back on the systems (read: habits) we have in place.
So in this guide, I'll walk you through how to create a system for yourself, in the form of a personal (30-day) challenge, to improve your habits and your life.
This guide covers four main areas:
- I talk about what a personal challenge is and how you can design and structure it.
- I show you the most important reasons why doing (regular) challenges is so powerful.
- I provide you with a list of personal challenge examples that I have done.
- I have a few Google Sheet templates of personal (30-day) challenge examples that you can copy and edit for your own use.
What is a personal challenge?
There may be some confusion as to what personal challenges are. Some people mean hardship that you have overcome in your life. A challenge like that, one that you did not create on purpose, is often a case of bad luck - though it can still help you improve your life.
In this article, however, I'm talking about intentionally designing challenges for yourself. A personal challenge is something that is personally tailored to you - in a way that you come out better at the end of it.
How to design a personal challenge
You can design personal challenges for yourself in all sorts of ways. But the best way to make it work for you is to make it SMART.
SMART as in Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, and Time-related:
- Specific: target a specific area to improve yourself. Make it obvious to yourself (and others) what you will improve and for what reason.
- Measurable: decide on a metric for success. Don't make it too complex, or else you run the risk of not tracking it at all.
- Assignable: you'll probably do the challenge yourself, but if together with someone else, make it clear who does what.
- Realistic: do set realistic goals for your (30-day) challenge. If you don't, you'll quickly become demotivated.
- Time-related: be sure to add a time or date when you start and stop. As well as how much time you spend on your challenge each day.
Here's an example of a SMART personal challenge to explain it even further:
- Personal challenge: 30 days of writing each day.
- I want to improve my writing so that I can write articles faster and better than I do now. (Specific)
- I will write and edit at least 500 words a day, for 30 days. (Measurable, Realistic, and Time-related)
- I will write all the articles and I will ask my spouse to proofread each article before I publish it. (Assignable)
Extra tips on deciding upon your personal challenge
One thing to think of is to choose an act or habit that would benefit yourself if done over a longer timeframe (at least a week, preferably a month or more).
Another valuable way to finish a challenge is to decide on a challenge that is easy to explain to others. Being able to explain your challenge is essential because it will enable you to talk about it. Talking about your challenge, in turn, keeps your eye on the ball. Also, as a bonus, you will be able to positively influence other people by showing the results of your challenge.
3 reasons for doing a personal challenge
I see three main reasons that make designing challenges for yourself so compelling. Let's get into it.
Reason #1 - Personal challenges empower you
Going through a personal challenge empowers you.
Finishing a challenge is proof that you can stick with something. Persevering means that the things you dream about (or fear) doing are attainable in the long run.
You only have to put in the work.
Shorter challenges like we're talking about here, are like tests for yourself to see what you're made of. It helps you face the fear of taking on even bigger goals for your life.
Some habits or acts from your challenge stick way past the challenge. So if you try a lot, you'll be able to keep some healthy and productive habits.
Reason #2 - A challenge helps you simplify improvement
Doing something over and over again keeps things simple. Repetition frees up your mind to think about other things while the important stuff is taken care of.
Say you're doing a challenge where you run every day, same distance, same route, but each time a little faster. In that case, you don't have to think about complex cardio exercises and more importantly, you don't have to bring up the motivation to exercise every day. Because you made the decision to run at the start of the challenge: you have no choice in the matter.
Contrary to what you may think, doing a daily challenge actually feels very liberating.
In turn, this simplicity helps you get more done in a day, just by having your mind freed up.
Reason #3 - Use personal challenges as an example
Fortunately, you are not alone in this world. So being able to make a positive impact on the people around you, especially loved ones, is a great benefit. All the better when you do it by doing what's right for you anyway.
When you keep up a challenge, you'll show your loved ones that anything is possible when they set their minds to it. The people around you may start to improve their own lives as well. Not because you told them to do (this rarely works anyway), but by being an example for them.
Examples of personal challenges
Below I have a non-exhaustive list of challenges that I have done.
#1 Write every day for 10 weeks
In 2019 I did a 10-week challenge of writing every single day. (I even combined it with weightlifting every day.) This challenge was very life-changing for me. I was in a slump and I felt weak, both physically and mentally.
Then I started writing every day.
It helped me claw my way out of that slump because writing helped me think clearly and understand myself again.
In the end, I wrote over 40000 words in those 10 weeks. Much of this blog was written in that period!
#2 Stop drinking alcohol for a year
Before I had kids I drank 2 or 3 times a week (only one or two drinks though). Still, I thought it'd be interesting to go a year without alcohol. So in 2016, I did a sober year.
What I noticed most was that my fat percentage decreased somewhat and I had more energy throughout the week. Nowadays I rarely drink alcohol (maybe once every few weeks). But I do attribute some of that because I noticed how good it is for you to not drink.
#3 Stop drinking caffeinated beverages
This is actually one of the hardest challenges in my opinion. I've done multiple challenges of not drinking coffee (30 days and 60 days). At the moment I only drink decaffeinated coffee, but I still drink Coca-cola zero regularly
It was hard to go without caffeinated coffee after my whole adult life. But it's a relief to know that I don't need a daily shot of coffee anymore.
#4 Lift weights every day for 10 weeks
Like I mentioned in the writing challenge, I also lifted weights every day in 2019. I chose a simple full-body workout program with a linear weight progression so that I didn't have to think too much about it.
I gained lots of strength and felt the 2md fittest in my life (fittest was when I played rugby as a 20-year-old, haha).
The volume I lifted in those 10 weeks was almost 300000lb's!
#5 Keto diet for 100 days
At the moment I'm doing a ketogenic diet. I'm a little over 100 days in and love it! It is somewhat strict though (maximum of 30 grams of carbs a day).
I've seen the most benefit in the first month (clear thinking, better stool, lower anxiety, fewer feelings of hunger). Though now I see some of the benefits wearing off a little, so I might change it up a little (add some more fibers or beans to my diet again, see how that goes).
In any case, I think this is a good challenge to do because it helps you get out of the rut of your standard (and possibly unhealthy) diet. And the benefits, in the beginning, are worth it alone.
You should prepare well before doing a ketogenic diet challenge though. Know beforehand what you will eat.
#6 Gratefulness journalling every day for 30 days
I can already hear you say it, "Everyone talks about this cliché habit..."
And yes, that's because it works wonders! Gratefulness journaling works so well because feeling grateful is one of the best ways to feel happy. When you feel grateful, you're content with what you have now. Gratefulness journaling is much like the ancient stoic meditation exercises that can help you feel grateful.
I do a very simple version of this, which is to write just one line in my bullet journal of what I am grateful for that day.
#7 Write Morning Pages every day
Similar to writing every day, but much more free-flowing.
Morning pages is a technique where every morning you write 2 or 3 pages full of your thoughts. You could write about anything that comes to your mind.
Thinking about your pet that needs food? Write it down.
Thinking about that difficult conversation you need to have with your spouse? Write it down.
You'll find that it clears your mind and helps you focus on what really is on your mind (beyond all the layers of self-talk on top of it). (Morning Pages is actually like a 'meta-challenge' in that it is showing me what is unconsciously challenging in life.)
Other challenges that I did
Ok, I have already lined out seven examples for you above, and there's a bunch more. But for brevity's sake, I'll add them as a bulleted list below.
Much of these challenges I don't do every day anymore, but most of them still stuck for much more than before I did the challenge.
- Only use fresh, non-processed ingredients when cooking.
- Eat breakfast/dinner with the family every day.
- Meditate every day.
- Run every day.
- Write in a journal every day.
- Do intermittent fasting (14 - 22 hours).
- No screens after 8 pm.
- No work after 6 pm.
- Sabbath-like habit (of at least not using digital media from Friday night till Saturday night).
- Not using ingredients with added sugar.
- Read every day.
30-day personal challenge template
Ok, this has been a long post so far, and I want to gift you something for sticking all the way!
(No sign-up link or anything like that needed. Although if you find posts like these interesting, I urge you to sign up for my newsletter. In it, I write about how you can find and pursue your purpose in life by taking ACTION.)
Ok, now go out and start a challenge! If you'd like, mention me on twitter if you do your challenge publicly. Would love to cheer you on!