Monday, February 06, 2012

Change Your Life: Take the Monday Challenge

When I was a kid, I used to love reading stories about characters that changed their life. Either they were athletes who trained and practiced and after initial failure, eventually found success. Or, they were fantasy characters sent on an unexpected journey who discovered they were capable of more than they imagined. Those stories still touch a deep part of me. (I’ve spent the past three years writing a story like that.) I suspect they connect with many of us. And when you’re young, they seem more plausible, don’t they? Life hasn’t become a complicated routine yet and everything is in front of you. Change, a new life, doesn’t feel so impossible. Your dreams are there, just outside your reach, and with just a bit of work and luck, you know that it’s only a matter of time.

But the years pass and you never get any closer. You feel trapped in this life that has developed around you seemingly without your consent. University and high school are well into rear view mirror, and we find ourselves working at a job we don’t love. Some of us assume the responsibilities of marriage and parenting. We have no regrets, but we know something is missing, and somewhere inside the routine is slowly bleeding us to death. We find that we’re angry, even if we manage to keep it hidden so it’s not easily visible to everyone else. We want to change, we want excitement in our life, but we don’t know where to start. And when we do make an attempt to break out, to do something different, we soon get discouraged by the enormity of the task and end up flowing back into our old routines. And when we hear people talk about “changing our life”, we scoff at the notion. (It doesn’t help that companies use this powerful idea of changing our narrative by promoting shit like Viagra or vacations or a new household appliance.) The years go by and we become people who are shrinking instead of growing. Our fears crowd us into a corner, and we justify these feelings by assuring everyone that “it’s just the way things are.”

But the idea that we can’t change is pure bullshit. Of course we can! We just have to take off our skeptic’s goggles for a few minutes. Will you do that for me? I have something that might help. I call it the Monday Challenge.

The rules are very simple. Every Monday I want you to pick something in your life that you will do differently the upcoming week. You can pick anything, but I would suggest small things to start. What route do you take to work? Pick another. What TV shows do you normally watch? Skip them, and pick up a book at the library to read during the time you normally watch that show. Go for a nightly walk. Learn a new board game. Go to bed at a different time. The key is to pick ROUTINIZED items, and change them. Don’t go for the big things at first, necessarily, the idea is to readjust to variation in your life. (You’d be surprised how difficult that becomes.)

Make sure you write it down. Open a file in your phone or on your laptop, and mark the week and your Monday Challenge that week.

At the end of the week, reassess. If the change you picked is working for you, try to do it another week, but only to a maximum of four weeks. Now obviously, you can continue with the changes, but after 28 days you want to pick a new challenge as well.

Throughout this challenge, remember that attitude is very important. Whatever goals we set, make sure you hold them lightly. NO GUILT IS ALLOWED. Have fun with it. If the change doesn’t happen one day, or you forget another, don’t worry about it. Try again the next day. It’s only a week, and if it doesn’t work, choose something else the next week.

Changing our life often seems like a daunting task because we try to tackle everything at once. The voices in our head and in our life compete for our attention and we become exhausted just thinking about it. With the Monday Challenge, we’re not worried about the entirety of your life, we’re only thinking about the next seven days. Take one small thing, chart it somewhere, and see what happens.

At some point in our lives, most of us have been told that we shouldn’t dream, that we shouldn’t challenge ourselves, and that we just need to accept things the way they are. The implication is that we can’t be responsible and still live a life that pushes us forward. Why not? Why should we live in fear of change? Why should we accept a life without dreams, the same dreams that propelled us when we were kids?

Look, life will never be perfect. It will be filled with tragedy and heartache and sadness. Unfortunately, that’s the human condition. But there’s joy in humanity as well, especially when we challenge ourselves, contest our own ingrained status quo, and start stepping outside the box. Whatever you’ve been told; let me assure you that you can do it. There is so much out there for you, so much more than you realize, just waiting to be discovered. All you have to do is take the first step.


PS Fill me in on your challenges below if you like, or email me, and let me know how you’re doing. Good luck, my friends!