Last month, as I was trying to come up with a blog topic, I mined my inbox for ideas and discovered a newsletter I kept meaning to read. Among the links, I found this one, about setting a 29-day challenge.
I was intrigued, but couldn’t decide whether or not to take the leap – no pun intended. I already set monthly goals and achieve them with varying degrees of success, but aside from routine things like showering, eating, and sleeping, there aren’t a lot of things I do every day without fail. I’ve read on more than on one occasion that it takes 21 days to create a new habit, and so it seemed that taking the 29-day challenge in February would be the ideal way to do just that, especially if the right behavior — something I wanted to make a habit — presented itself.
And then it occurred to me that there are two behaviors that get edged out of my daily life on a regular basis — two that I always swear I want to do more of. Neither is particularly complex nor hugely time consuming and yet both of them — reading and writing – have a tendency to get nudged to the bottom of the list. Overachiever that I am, I was tempted to go for broke and say, “BOTH!” but the reality is that my hesitation about taking on any daily challenge is largely based in fear of failure. Setting two goals seemed to simultaneously increase and decrease my likelihood of success.
As I write this, it’s closing in on the middle of February and I have read every single day (not true for my writing, I am sorry to say). I’m hoping the habit I’ve developed will continue beyond the 29 days of this month, into March and beyond.
But, more important, I think I want to go through this same thought process again before the end of this month, seeking a new behavior for a new challenge: the 40 days of Lent. Adding something new into the schedule – even something desirable – can be very challenging, but also very rewarding. I’ve learned from my 29-day practice run that my goal needs to be specific enough for me to recognize whether or not I’ve been successful, but not so specific that it’s easy to fail because I missed dotting an i or crossing a t.
Case in point – “read daily.” Read what? For how long? Did I simply want to read or did I want to finish a book, or read through a towering stack of magazines? Failing to be specific broke several established tenets of goal-setting but, in doing so, allowed me to pursue the goal in a way that worked for me. I read whatever I chose to read, starting and abandoning several books that just didn’t grab me, and reading magazines some days instead of books. Because I wanted to challenge myself to actually make the time to read something of my own choosing, checking off the reading box every day was more important than the making my goal fit specific parameters. Approaching the task in whatever manner worked for me each day meant that I also had some ancillary payoffs, such as recycling some of those magazines and donating books that didn’t make the cut.
Personalizing our goals is even more important as we consider how we want to use our 40 days of Lent. Do we want to establish a particular practice, so that our focus becomes doing the same precise thing every day for 40 days? Are we looking to replace a bad habit with a good one, in which case our growth will be imperfect and incremental? Or, do we perhaps desire to deepen an existing practice, something that’s hard to measure by any objective standard, but perhaps best assessed by journals and contemplation?
Our lives are busy, our schedules full. Before taking the leap, it’s worth considering why we’re leaping in the first place. What do we hope to gain? Will our self-care make us kinder to those around us? Will contemplation bring us closer to God? Will Lent be the springboard to reducing physical clutter to make way for the joy of Easter?
Whatever you choose, whether it’s perfecting the schedule you already have in place or making what’s good even better, choose to set yourself up for success so that, whatever you add to your schedule, it adds value as well.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to get back to my novel.
Copyright 2020 Lisa Hess