I love a good monthly challenge. A month is long enough to see real changes in your habits, but not so long that it seems overwhelming in the "YOU MUST NEVER DO XYZ AGAIN" type of way. Completing one successfully can boost your mood and give you a sense of accomplishment, which is terrific if lasting happiness is one of your goals! And even if you fall a bit short, chances are you'll still accomplish more than you've ever done before.
Personally, I'm planning to tackle one or several challenges for every month in 2018, doing a combination of addition challenges (i.e., trying something you've never tried previously) and elimination challenges (removing something from your life to see how much you really miss it).
So without further ado, here are 10 Monthly Challenges for you to consider:
1) A Dry Month
I know, I know - it's the first one on the list and you're already telling me I've got to lay off the tequila? But actually - and I'm speaking from experience here - cutting out booze for a month is really, really easy. I'm currently participating in Dry January for the fourth year in a row (along with Veganuary, as you can read about here), and honestly, I'd recommend it to anyone.
In 2016, I blogged about my experience with Dry January, saying in part, "Challenges like Dry January actually aren't nearly as hard as I might expect them to be. In fact, they're not hard at all! Think about it: under normal circumstances, if someone asks me whether I'd like a cocktail, a beer, etc., I have to think about it, determine whether I'm up for it/whether I'm driving/whether it's worth the price/hangover potential/etc. But in Dry January, I don't have to think about it--the answer's just a simple, 'no, thank you.'"
So surprise yourself and give it a whirl! If you're like me, you'll have more energy, sleep better, lose weight, and save money. And you'll prove to yourself that while you may enjoy the occasional tipple, you don't need it to have fun.
2) A Conscious-Spending Month
This is what I'll be attempting for the first time in February, when I plan to set a €10 per day spending limit on myself. (I'm using euros because I live in Germany, but obviously you should use the currency that works for where you are.)
The conscious-spending challenge isn't about what you're paying in rent, utilities, or any monthly recurring expenses that you're on the hook for. Rather, it's about the money you don't tend to think about as you're spending it. Going out to dinner. Groceries. Stocking up on household items. Shopping for clothes, buying gas, taking local transport, etc. You get the idea.
I'm choosing €10 because that's an amount that seems possible, but still extremely difficult to me (my average over the past few months is closer to €30). Hell, Elon Musk lived off $1 a day for a month when he was 17 to see if he had what it takes to be an entrepreneur. So have a think about what amount could work for you. How much do you usually spend? How much of that amount do you actually need to spend? How much could you save this month? (And, if you don't know how much you spend in a day, why not?) If my average holds, I'll save €560 in 28 days - not bad!
3) A Month of Something Bad, Something Glad
This is one my Dad used to play with my siblings and me whenever we'd go on vacation. At dinner every night, he'd ask each one of us in turn, "So, tell me something bad and something glad that happened today."
I love it because it's so simple. Every evening, all you have to do is ask yourself, first, what was the worst thing that happened to you today? And, was it really all that bad? Chances are, not really. Write that down, either using a journal next to your bed or the notes app on your phone.
Next, ask yourself, what was the best thing that happened to you today? And have a little moment of gratitude or celebration for that. Write that down too.
Often times when we're moody, we don't stop to think about why. We get it into our heads that things just aren't going our way, and this isn't our day, and so on. But if you can really distill a day down into its best and worst qualities, you'll find that life probably isn't that bad, and that maybe you'd like to make those something glads even better!
4) A Physical Fitness Month
This will obviously depend on your current level of fitness, but what could you do this month to push your boundaries a little?
For example, could you do the 7-minute workout 30 days in a row? Here's a video to follow along with. And don't act like you can't find 7 minutes in your day to do it because yes you can.
If that's not your thing, could you set a running goal? Maybe to run 30 miles in 30 days? Maybe 60 miles if you're a little more experienced? Or maybe a biking goal? Could you sign up at a new gym or studio for one month and go for 20 minutes every day (chances are, they may offer a free or sharply-discounted first month for newbies anyway)?
And I'd bet you'll surprise yourself. I actually did that 7-minute workout 30 days in a row once, and on Day 1 - despite being relatively fit at the time - I wanted to curl up on the floor and die by the end of it. But by Day 30? It was nothing. Your body can do more than you think it can.
5) A Stretching Month
Now this is where you'll really see results you weren't expecting. Stretch every day for 30 days, and I guarantee your muscles will release tension. Want to work towards the splits, or open up your shoulders, or be able to touch your toes? Then 20 minutes a day: Go.
Take a picture of yourself on Day One at your edge, and again on Day 30 and see what the difference is. For example, here's a picture of my one-year progress in bridge. I HATE bridge. One year ago I could barely lift off the floor because my back and shoulders were so tight, and I hated it so much that I never, ever practiced it. I'd even skip it in yoga classes. And then, towards the very end of 2017, I finally gave in and started practicing every day. So I wouldn't be in the slightest bit surprised if you could achieve progress much faster than I did in any posture of your choice.
6) A Walking Month
Don't want to commit to a monthlong fitness or stretching challenge? Fine. Then join me in the other challenge I'm planning to undertake in February: Walking! (Which is perfect to combine with my Conscious Spending Month, because walking is FREE!)
According to Fitbit, 10'000 steps a day adds up to about five miles for most people, which can be enough to hit the 150 minutes of weekly exercise recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And how many steps do you tend to take in a typical day? Most people have no idea. I'll be honest: I know that I take waaaaaay fewer than that now that I work from home.
But we can do better! Start by finding out how many steps it is between two places you go every day (for example, between your home and your office, or from your desk to the lobby). See? You've already learned something. Now add in steps wherever you can. You don't even need a Fitbit - chances are, your cell phone is already tracking your steps without you even realizing.
And push yourself! Can you take an extra walk around the block? Can you walk to the grocery store instead of driving? How can you snag an extra 500 or 1'000 steps? Yes, even if it's raining. I live in northern Germany and I'm still going to try to hit this in February. So join me, won't you?
7) A Minimization Month
Confession: I'm slightly obsessed with Ryan Nicodemus and Joshua Fields Millburn from the Minimalists. I love their blog, I love their podcast, I love their books, and most of all, I love their message that it is possible to live a more meaningful life with less.
Play along with them, and many, many other people, on the Minimalism Game! How it works is, on Day One, you must get rid of one thing in your house that you no longer need. That shirt you never wear, the plate with a cracked edge, a book you've already read, whatever. On Day Two, you must get rid of two things. On Day Three, three things. And so on. And at first, it's easy! It's freeing! It's validating!
By about Week Two, though, when you're getting rid of 12 items one day, 13 the next, and 14 the day after that, it gets tough. If you make it all the way to Day 30, you'll have released a total of 465 things that weren't adding joy to your life, making space instead for things that will.
And if this feels reeeeeally impossible, then start small: Commit to getting rid of just ONE thing per day for 30 days. I bet you'll end up with much more than 30 items by the end of it.
Bonus tip: follow the hashtag #minsgame on social media for more inspiration!
8) A Home-Cooked Month
This is for those of us who can probably find our way around the kitchen, but who honestly prefer to keep things easy. But what if for just one month we didn't have to? I came across this idea in Women's Health Magazine to cook 31 meals in 31 days, and I love it!
And what's great is they don't have to be mega-sophisticated meals. Did you stir in some fresh fruit to your morning porridge? Did you sprinkle some sesame seeds onto your store-bought salad? BOOM! You, my friend, are on your way to successfully completing this challenge.
It's all about experimentation, little tweaks you'd never thought of before, and just maybe trying out a full dish at home once or twice that you otherwise wouldn't have. After one month, how much more comfortable and conscious might you be about what you're eating?
9) A Language Month
Who among us hasn't wanted to learn a new language? And I'm not implying that you'll be conversing fluently in 30 days (oh, if only that were all it took for me to learn Germany!) But you can pick up more than you think!
Find a conversation group you can go to four times in one month. Or download the free app Duolingo and do two five-minute exercises every day for 30 days. Or try out a playlist from Language Transfer. By the end of the month, I'd wager you'll be able to order a meal at a restaurant, read a few signs to get yourself around town in Barcelona, Berlin, or Brussels, and maybe even have set yourself on the path to conversing!
10) Insert YOUR Monthly Challenge Here
What have you always wanted to do, but never tried? Play the guitar? Write a book? Do a handstand? Paint? Learn about the Second World War? What lights you up?
So try this: For Week One (Days 1-7), work on your new hobby very deliberately for five minutes a day. That's it! Just five minutes. Set a timer for it.
Then in Week Two (Days 8-14), do ten focused minutes a day.
In Week Three (Days 15-21), do 15 minutes a day.
For Week Four (Days 22-28), 20 minutes a day.
And in Days 27-28, wind down with just five minutes a day again.
When you add all that together, that's 360 minutes. That's six hours you've spent on something you never, ever did before. Are you great at it now? Well, probably not. But are you a gazillion times better than if you'd never started? And do you have a much better understanding of what it's about, and why it interested you in the first place, and whether it still does? Probably yes!
So from that point on, you can either keep going because it does still interest you, or you can thank yourself for your efforts and move on because it no longer does. What could YOU learn about in the next month?
And by the way, don't miss this awesome TED Talk by Josh Kaufman on "The First 20 Hours - How to Learn Anything." As he says, people get good at things with just a little practice - you get really good really quick!
So, which of these monthly challenges spoke to you? Any others you've tried that I missed?
Trust me, 30 days is longer than you think (says the girl who hasn't had a drink in 24). You can get a lot done, make smashing progress, and be incredibly proud of yourself when it's all over. Now go have fun with it!
P.S. Unabashed plug: For more on this very concept, and how challenges and positive habits can make a difference for lasting happiness, pick up my book, Those Happy Moments!