Challenge Yourself Every Day
Keep Sharp With One Small Practice
Over time, it seems like we do the same actions every day, every week. We eat the same food for breakfast every day, or at least the same set of foods each week. We watch the same TV shows every night. We read the same website each afternoon.
Over time, slowly, invisibly, changes occur. Our shoulders hunch over. We feel creaky when we rise from bed. We didn’t recover from the 2.5 glasses of wine last night quite as quickly as last month. We don’t see road signs quite as sharply as last year.
How do we counter these erosive effects of time? Surely knowledge can help. We can remain aware that changes happen imperceptibly. So we should take care to do the seemingly small things to adjust over time. See the ophthalmologist each year. Be conscious of our posture as we sit and stand and walk. And so on.
A former manager, Rob O’Keefe, gave me another tactic. Establish a practice of “little challenges” each day. Test yourself every day in a few small ways.
For instance, if you have a step goal, see how many days in a row you can hit it. If you want to eat better today: eat no sweets. Then try to eat no sweets tomorrow. See how long you can go. If you don’t stay in touch with friends well, sit down for two minutes. Write down every friend who comes to mind. This week, call each one of them. Don’t text or email. Call, so they can hear your voice, and you can hear their voice.
In my life, currently, I have four “little challenges” going on:
Strength and Flexibility. We squeegee our shower. The left side of my body is much weaker and less coordinated than the right side. So I squeegee half the glass with my right hand and half with my left. For me, stretching up and bending down with it in my left hand is quite a task.
Balance. When I get out of the shower, I try a balance exercise. I stand on one leg. I try to dry the opposite foot and toes while balanced on one leg. If I successfully dry them off, I attempt to extend the position for another 30 seconds. On most days, I dry off one foot, but fail at the other.
Alcohol. I want to drink very little alcohol this year. So far, I’ve had one beer. When I feel the urge, usually when I come home from work, I grab an Athletic Brewing Co. beer. It tastes exactly like actual beer. Itch scratched.
Writing. Earlier this week, I started a challenge to write a post for my newsletter every day for 30 days. (Thanks to Steph Smith for the inspiration.) It doesn’t mean I will post each day. It means I take time to generate (hopefully) useful and creative content each day. Then I will take it through my editing process before publishing the article.
I will change these challenges often. For instance, in 2022, I would like to walk an average of 12,000 steps each day. Already, I have fallen behind. Soon I will likely start a “little challenge” to see how many days in a row I can walk at least 12,000 steps.
As days turn to weeks and then into months, I can tell changes have taken hold. When I started to squeegee with my left hand, I couldn’t reach the top of the shower, even standing on one foot. Now I can squeegee that entire side. Even after a few days of the writing challenge, I’ve come up with some better quality articles by aiming for quantity.
Again, these challenges are incremental to other, more significant life improvements underway. But they’re fun. They’re low-key. I feel no stress about them. They add at the margin.
Perhaps that’s the secret to their success.
Try a “little challenge” for yourself today. No stress. No ego if it doesn’t start well. Focus on “little” and try it each day. You may feel pleasantly surprised by how well it works – and how much you enjoy it.