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  • Writer's pictureArtem Gonchakov

Challenge Yourself


A different type of new year resolution

In 2020 I did twelve 30-Day challenges.

Some changed my life, some taught me important lessons, and some…just felt like a waste of time. It all turned out to be blessed suffering for a higher cause — getting to a better state of life.

Self-challenges ideology enable making difficult life choices faster by undergoing not so easy self-development process, savings month or even years of overthinking and worries by basically transforming motion into action. It also helps to reveal the limits of mental and physical abilities.

In this fast-pacing and competitive world, it sounds very appealing to have a tool like that available to anyone, so let me share my experience and maybe you’d consider putting on a self-challenger hat.

Answering the obvious

One might ask why you even try self-challenges in the first place. The most common answers on the internet are:

  • Due to significant changes in life, i.e. loosing a loved one

  • Discipline test, i.e. can you go without sugar for a longer than few days

  • Following the crowd, i.e getting motivated by someone else

  • Building a habit, i.e. start to run every day

It actually doesn’t even matter what kind of challenge you take, because the decision to improve your life in any shape and form feels like an adventure we all need from time to time.

In August 2017 I was influenced to try the “300 push-ups a day” challenge. In the end it made me rethink the sanity of some statements made by influencers. I struggled every single day, and despite successfully finishing the journey, I thought to never go back to any of this madness.

Until 2019 happened with new job in industry I never worked before, moving from Long Island to New York City, changing the whole diet system, fixing two of my stomach ulcers and also leaving another long term relationship behind.

The whole year was dedicated to embracing the changes and to sort out my overwhelmed mind. As time flies by I realized that some of previous years of my life had specific dominating themes:

  • 2017 — psychological stability and fixing anxiety

  • 2018 — learning to enjoy isolation and being true to myself

  • 2019 — physical health and revisiting health ideologies

I wanted to exploit this coincidence and to choose the theme myself this time. Having no idea what 2020 should be dedicated to, I accidentally found another media story about the 30 Days challenge, so one thing after another led me to appoint 2020 a year of exploration.

What do you know about discipline

Consciously or subconsciously all of the challenges I selected were about Health or Mind.

With little or no preparation I jumped right into it:

Challenge # 1: Cold Showers | Difficulty: Medium | Impact: High

One of the most popular challenges on the internet started my mornings and finished my nights in the shivering cold water. You can approach it in two ways: always cold water or switch between hot and cold. Regardless of the strategy, the value it creates is a significant boost of energy, the ability to better focus, and less tiredness. You are never going to be sleepy after a cold shower, so no coffee is needed.

At first, it felt uncomfortable. But eventually, you train your body and, what is more important, your mind to adopt to new behavior. At some point I started to look forward to it and stopped counting days, which extended the challenge from 30 days to 1 year.

Challenge # 2: 10K Steps | Difficulty: Easy | Impact: High

I walked 4500 steps a day on average before starting this challenge.

It is very little, however considering my job in IT — I wasn’t surprised and also knew why I felt tired and stiff more than I should for my age.

My strategy was simple — limit the use of public transportation on the way to work and back home, which gave me extra 60 minutes of walking time around the beautiful streets of NYC.

In the short run, by the end of the challenge, I didn’t see much health benefits. In the long run however, by boosting my average daily steps to 6500 in 2020 and 9000 in 2021 my back pain disappeared, my desire to walk long distances built up, and I was looking forward to traveling more to explore other cities and states.

Challenge # 3: No Social Media | Difficulty: Easy | Impact: Medium

In March because of COVID-19 people were forced to stay home 24/7.

Having access to social media felt like a hot shower on a cold day… see what I did there?

The annoying habit of checking social media increased in January and February, hence I decided to go 30 days without it. Surprisingly, it wasn’t as hard as I thought. I basically switched from social media to reading, meditating, secretly walking outside and training.

It reminded me that having enough willpower can make great transformations even with simple addiction, considering the state of insanity with social media and the growing need for attention.

Now, every time I spend too much time on another social platform, I just remind myself about March 2020 and put the phone aside.

Challenge #4: No brushing teeth | Difficulty: Easy | Impact: High

You might think “Disgusting” and I won’t judge you.

It’s been a while since I wanted to stop brushing my teeth as an experiment and COVID-19 gave me such an opportunity. I always had sensitive teeth and gum bleeding problems, which no stomatologist could fix for years.

Believe it or not, after giving it a rest for 30 days the problems disappeared. I got back to brushing my teeth again, but I was left with a weird feeling of being lied to all these years. Strangely enough, this challenge also improved my ability to critically think and question some of the dogmas promoted by wise experts and promoted gurus.

Challenge # 5: No Coffee | Difficulty: Medium | Impact: High

I laugh sometimes after recalling situations of sheer awkward silence at work meetings when people learned that I stopped drinking coffee.

This challenge lasted 1 year instead of 30 days as I didn’t want to stop after improving my quality of sleep to the point where I didn’t need an alarm clock anymore. I also regained the natural ability to fall asleep in a matter of minutes instead of hours. It also lowered my normal blood pressure from 130/90 to 110/70 giving me a much-needed feeling of health.

I started to drink coffee again for nutritional reasons and still use the benefit of good sleep to these days.

This challenge created a thought in my head that hitting a reset button for different things, especially in consumption, seems like a good idea, and we all can implement it with such ease.

Challenge # 6: Meditation | Difficulty: Easy | Impact: High

Have you ever imagined what happens beyond space we all know and are told about?

I did, well, technically, my mind did it, helping to push the boundaries of conscientiousness. With 15min a day I made breakthrough discoveries about myself.

Here is how you start:

  • First 5 min — observer your body and check how you feel

  • Next 5 min — observer the environment around you

  • Last 5 min — let your mind wander and travel where it wants

By doing these I generated countless ideas for my professional life, which boosted enjoyment in work, promotions, and bigger salaries. In my personal life, I learned to be calm in almost any situation and generated tens if not hundreds of ideas for articles, books, and stories, which is my hobby. It also helped me to accept some chronic pains I have and probably will continue to experience for the rest of my life.

Meditation became motivational.

Challenge # 7: No Alcohol | Difficulty: Medium | Impact: High

2 years later I still don’t drink — it is not a challenge anymore, just life.

It is a significant shift in life, one of the biggest, as you will most likely lose weight, learn more about yourself, feel better in general, save money on drinks and maybe start to question some of the decisions you made before.

The only downside is that you need to be ready to deal with Virgin Mojitos at social gatherings as the only option for a drink before people start asking you questions.

Doing this type of challenge for many people would feel unimaginable and I highly disagree with that statement, but at the same time, I totally understand why we drink as I have been doing it for so many years. Some of the best relationships started as big drunk fun, so who am I to judge the crowd?

I certainly don’t miss the feeling of being wasted and can’t afford to loose so much energy and time for recovery in the morning.

Challenge # 8: Journaling | Difficulty: Hard | Impact: Low

I write as a hobby so I was surprised to find out that journaling every day could be hard.

Many find it beneficial to put things on paper on a daily basis and I expected the same, however, it felt like a burden instead. I’m very disciplined, some would say radically disciplined, so I surprised myself by having such a terrible time documenting my thoughts. It basically killed the romantic part of creating things by applying too much structure.

Some days it gave relief, some it created unnecessary tension and most of the days felt like an unwanted routine. I finished the challenge successful, but learned that forced writing is not for me — most likely never going back to do it.

Challenge # 9: 150 Push ups | Difficulty: Medium | Impact: Low

Doing 300 push ups challenges in 2017 almost destroyed my desire to exercise so I wasn’t going to risk it again.

This time, by doing 150 push ups a day I just increased the complexity of my training routine. It was easy to break it down into a few parts and finish throughout the day — 50 in the morning, 50 at lunch and 50 in the evening. If you think of it that way, it is just a warmup for someone who trains regularly.

It felt good and I knew what outcomes to expect — higher endurance, more strength, better form and what more important, is psychological stability to take on another challenge.

Challenge # 10: 15 Ideas | Difficulty: Hard | Impact: Medium

People’s heads are polluted with thoughts, so I tried to extract as many as I could.

I wrote down a minimum of 15 things that were on my mind every single day. To dos, thoughts, worries, desires — all things that would spark in my head even for a second. I end up with 500+ different ideas documented and some of them transformed into real projects in professional and personal life. Some of my more eclectic thoughts were: get drafted to the military, swim naked with sharks, leave everything and disappear forever, cut the finger or open a bagel shop.

My mind felt lighter, predictably, after transferring all the heavy thoughts from my head to a paper. I learned later that many of the thoughts populating my head were influenced by other people. This challenge helped me to filter a lot of noise and unnecessary worries about accomplishment that would lead to nothing meaningful.

I keep documenting ideas on a weekly basis now.

Challenge # 11: No sex | Difficulty: Medium | Impact: Low

Self control is tough, but hey I was taking a cold shower for a year anyway.

I don’t remember why I wanted to do it, probably just out of curiosity and it turned out easier than I initially expected. I didn’t learn much from this experience, so it is an example of time wasted. Next time, I would choose to do a more practical challenge.

Challenge # 12: Wake up 5am | Difficulty: Hard | Impact: Medium

I wake up without a clock alarm on average at 7am, but doing 5am really pushed the limit of my psychological stability.

Having so much time available in the morning was too big a change and required restructuring the way I approached the day. I figured that doing the most difficult things in the morning and leaving the evenings for easy things was the best strategy. Physical training, self-development, home chores, mediation and all other socially popular things that influencers of the world preached were scheduled for the morning.

By the time I got to work at 9am I felt like half of the day had already passed and it was easier to take work duties in a much more relaxed state of mind. It is important because mainly you want to have a sense of accomplishment by the end of the working day and here I was beginning the day with it. Quite a powerful tool to remove so much pressure from your mind. Physically it was only difficult for the first week and then my body adjusted as expected.

I see why people are so paranoid about waking up early, but these days, I let my body naturally decide when to wake up

In the middle of the self reflection

Every challenge made a micro-change in my personality and repainted the reality of normal. Every month I was observing how each new adventure added to the harmony of the mind and removed the burden of overthinking.

Fundamentally I built the ultimate mindset to accept the inevitable change, regardless if it is dramatic or tiny. My reaction to everyday situations, people’s behavior and life’s difficulties was enriched with calmness of the mind, critical thinking and ability to focus on the most important things. This transformation added to my confidence and showed how to be with one self in agreement.

More than you need

30 Days challenge nicely fits in the category of self-development and probably why it is so popular nowadays. It is a search for adventure, that make it so appealing as we psychologically and wholly want to reach a better state — mind or body.

It is a simple recipe to quickly validate the idea of specific change that you need or want in your life. It is available to anyone, extremely easy to customize to individual needs and no long-term commitments required — no contract to sign. Just you and another day to go — almost perfect tool for people striving for more or different.

Plan the next adventure

When the time is right and you find yourself in a situation for new experience, try the 30 Day Challenge. You should know immediately what kind of challenges you want to try, but if you don’t know how to get yourself organized and what to prioritize, here is structure and areas of focus.

Types of challenges:

  • Health — body or mind.

  • Wealth — financial freedom or stability.

  • Purpose — exploration or habit building.

Strategy to win in the challenge:

  • Plan the environment around — make sure to be able to have access to things that you might need during the challenge. If you want to try the 30 days challenge of eating home cooked food, maybe it is important to not travel much that month.

  • Setup tracking system — a notebook is the easiest and fastest way to keep track of things, especially if you want to document your thoughts.

  • Social Commitment — in case you have fear of giving up, commit to other people to do the challenge and ask them to check on you once in a while to reignite the motivation..

  • Opportunity the mindset — challenge is not really a challenge, it is an opportunity to learn something that might take years doing it other way. It has minimal cost and limited commitment, which make it doable even with most crazy challenges, like 300 push ups a day.

Change the perspective

I do a few challenges every year even since and I learned to play it on the meta-game level, means leverage the best out of the system.

For me it is a state of ultimate understanding why certain things should happen and be introduced to your life and I welcome it instead of resisting. When I don’t like the results there is no need to justify why I gave up, there is no guilt. It is an exploration based on the personal value system that improves over time and keeps me calm in critical times.

Challenge makes you whole and unite in psychological harmony with a chaotic world that pushes so much on you. It gives you power and control to make the last call on what to do with your life, isn’t what you looking for?

(c) Artem Gonchakov

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