2009’s Monthly Challenges Reviewed

While some folks make new years resolutions, our experience has generally been that we start out with good intentions and a good head of steam, and within a few months, the resolution gets lost in the shuffle of our busy lives. So we have broken it down into presumably more bite-sized pieces: Monthly Challenges! Each month (starting in January 2009), we have been undertaking a new challenge, and this article recaps some of the fun.

One great benefit of this approach is that you can introduce new challenges any time you want, which keeps things real, pertinent, and interesting. We didn’t plan out the whole year in advance; we just took it a month at a time. More details on any of these specific challenges is available upon your request.

JANUARY — No Alcohol Month – From Thanksgiving’s long weekend through the Christmas holiday and even New Year’s Eve, celebrations abound! While neither of us had a “drinking problem” (I drink, I get drunk, I fall down. No problem!) (Hey, just kidding!), we thought it wouldn’t hurt and it would be a great disciplinary exercise to go a whole month without a glass of scotch, wine, or beer.

Comments/recommendations: If you’re below legal drinking age, definitely do this. Otherwise, if you are inclined to enjoy the occasional adult beverage, we recommend this for a month — any month — preferably this month! Why not?

FEBRUARY – No Coffee Month – This seemed like a natural follow-up activity to No Alcohol Month. Coffee can be a habit, and can be an expensive one at $4.50 per cup. So a good habit is worth breaking now and then.

Comments/recommendations: If you’re a coffee-drinker, prove to yourself that you don’t need the stuff. After a few days our experience was that we were kinda glad we weren’t drinking coffee. We enjoyed more tea, and didn’t feel the roller-coaster caffeine effects; not bad.

MARCH – No News Month – All of us are bombarded by ‘news and views’ on a fairly constant basis; more than we even realize. We undertook a News Fast for 31 days straight! This included avoiding all of the following:

  • TV news, “pundit” shows, talk shows, etc.
  • Newspapers, magazines
  • News websites (media, Drudge, most blogs, etc.)
  • radio (other than Sirius/XM music only)
  • Conversations/discussions about topical events

Comments/recommendations: Doing a personal news blackout for any period of time is an experience, and a real challenge. However, it is eye-opening in that you will be amazed at how little information relevant to your life you missed after you re-enter the media-managed civilization. In fact, much of what you missed was opinion, not all fact. And a big part — noted by its absence — is the lack of fear, uncertainty and doubt you are not subjecting yourself to during your news fast. What a relief!

There were many situations where we had to politely excuse ourselves from ‘news’ situations, TV shows, etc., but it was never uncomfortable to do so. In fact, people seemed somewhat intrigued by the idea, and perhaps by the notion that you could even do that! Try it if you dare.

APRIL – Dream Journal Month – We decided to attempt, upon awakening, to record our dreams, as best we could recall them. We put our spiral-bound sketching notebooks near the bed, and then write/scribble or scrawl what stood out as the fleeting images inevitably start to flit away. It proved helpful to draw quick imagery, too, and over time I found that the more dream reflection, the better I got at it.

One purpose of the dream journal is to have some record that can be referred back to. Perhaps a recurring image or theme is notable, or questions and maybe even answers become evident.  And then, sometimes I woke up and recalled Nada, zip, nothing.

Comments/recommendations: Try it, you might like it! Consider how you allow yourself to be awakened. Blaring alarms or rude radio can be replaced by more gentle methods. My personal favorite: The zen alarm clock.

MAY – One Day per week, One Hour per day Silence Month – Yes, no talking allowed! In addition, but not absolutely required, engage in the Silence in a quiet place, away from conversation, noise, music, or other distractions.

Comments/recommendations: Definitely try this! It is a great practice (and I do mean practice) and makes for better listening, clearer thought, and a little self-discipline that doesn’t hurt. Seemed like Sunday was the best Silence day for our schedule, but you have to work that one out yourself.

JUNE – 15-25g Sugar per day Month – That’s right, maximum of 25 GRAMS of SUGAR! By Sugar, our definition included the OSES: High-fructose corn syrup, Sucrose, Glucose, etc. as well as plain old sugar. (We did allow a little honey (Mmmh….Honey!) but hey, we make the rules! 😉

Comments/recommendations: YES, highly recommended. This was enlightening, in more ways than one. First, you will be surprised at the contents of so many of the foods and drinks we consider fine for consumption. Later, you will realize you feel lighter and better. In fact, you are lighter and better as a direct result. If you do nothing else for a diet plan in 2010, do this, and you will lose 20 pounds, for sure. (Probably not the first month though…) This one we are generally sticking to, and it’s great.

JULY – Watching/Tracking Every Penny Month – Maybe you do this every month, but it was a good experience for us. Pretty self-explanatory. According to the book “Your Money Or Your Life”, there can be no cheating: EVERY PENNY needs to be accounted for during this one month. Some people call pennies “Howdy-Doodies” and won’t even bend over to pick one up on the sidewalk. But it’s the principle of recording everything that counts, and lends more awareness to where that money went.

Comments/recommendations: If you’re not already, of course do it. Some people are better than others at tracking their inflows and outflows, but anyone should be able to meticulously record for 30 days or so. Upshot? As an indirect result, we have begun using (and recommend) a cloud-based expense-tracking program that is free, called mint.com. Check it out.

AUGUST – 38 Energization Exercises Month – Each day we committed to an exercise program which took less than an hour per day. Generally we would do this in the morning. Difficult to stick to this one, and we were kinda spotty on it but gave it a good try.

Comments/recommendations: While 38 is no magic number (it was from the list of isotonic exercises we had), highly recommended that you get or create some list of exercises, stretches, breathing techniques, etc., and do them on a regular basis. It energizes you and jumpstarts your day. Give it a go.

SEPTEMBER – Recite the Heart Sutra MonthMany of both of our regular readers will know that we have been studying Sanskrit since March of 2008. We are gradually developing proficiencies in speaking, writing, and reading this fascinating and wonderful language, and now we’re beginning to study its grammar (Panini, you were a genius!) The Heart Sutra is a short one-page recitation which we read aloud, once in the morning and again once at night, in Sanskrit.

Comments/recommendations: OK, we’re not fanatical about people learning Sanskrit, or reciting anything. But having said that,  we really enjoy it… no particular recommendation to share on this one. If you are thinking about language study, though, there are some good reasons to look at Sanskrit, the oldest known language on the planet. More on that elsewhere.

OCTOBER – Walking/Running Month – Daily, weather permitting, we walked or ran (jogged, more like) for at least a half an hour.

Comments/recommendations: Start by walking.

NOVEMBER – Write a Novel Month – On October 31st, we heard about the “National Novel Writing Month Competition”, and somewhat impulsively decided to do it, “IT” being, write a 50,000-page novel in 30 days. While the material is not edited and ready for prime-time yet, we did it! We were awarded Winner’s certificates and everything.

Comments/recommendations: One of the things about writing a novel is, you will never do it if you don’t just commit to doing it, and a ‘best lesson’ from the exercise of writing an average of 1,667 words per day is that there are other things in your life that are actually “FORGO-ABLE”, meaning that you can do without them and free up an amazing amount of time. Chief among these for us was TV viewing.

DECEMBER – Decluttering Month – You know the drill… clear out that old junk! Clean up your closets, et cetera… With the holidays and all, we thought it would be great to get the place all spruced up, organized and wide-open-like. While this was not an epic failure and we did accomplish some declutteral success, in our case it was the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Hence, we have also declared 2010 to be “Decluttering Year”. Maybe that will be a more reasonable goal…

Comments/recommendations: Designate small chunks of time, 30 minutes is good, to devote to clean up/clear out activities. Or bite off a small, reasonable goal: One drawer per day, one box, one closet per weekend. If you go longer or do more, great! Sometimes you’ll notice some energetic momentum. If not, you still will have made a small dent. The accomplishments are generally pretty visible, so the reward is always there.

For 2010… JANUARY has been Philosopher’s Notes Month – We started into a program developed by Brian Johnson, chief philosopher at Philosopher’s Notes.com that gives us daily recordings and accompanying PDF’s summarizing big ideas and bits of wisdom from great personal growth books. Brian’s site says it’s the “Mini-CliffsNotes(tm) for Personal Growth Books — Giving You More Wisdom in Less Time.” We’re in favor of that. It’s been great so far, and this challenge overlaps well into February.

FEBRUARY – No Complaints Month – That’s right — No complaining! This challenge includes no criticizing, no condemning (which means no negative judgments)! Oh yeah, and no gossiping! This is a huge challenge, and a great one!

More on this one in my next post.

Posted in Healthy, Positive psychology, Sanskrit Language, Serving Others

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