Last month I embarked on a 30-day challenge to myself that involved four daily goals:
- Meditate for 30 minutes
- Publish one post
- Read, read, read, read, read
- Lift weights again
The overarching purpose, as I wrote at the time, was to up my game:
I don't mean "do more"--I've learned the hard way how important it is to preserve space in my mind and on my calendar for the things that really matter, and I have no intention of cluttering up either with frenetic activity. And I don't really mean "be better"--I have room for improvement in every domain in life and I'm very much at peace with who I am.
Upping my game means being a fuller, truer version of myself. Not chasing after "more" or "better," but, rather, allowing things to happen that might not otherwise. Although that doesn't mean sitting around on my ass waiting for the universe to make those things happen--I have an active role to play in this process.
Yesterday was Day 30. How'd it go?
This was the biggest surprise and will likely result in the most significant change. I've been a believer in the value of meditation for years, although I've gone through periods of inconsistency, and even when I was most deeply committed a typical session for me lasted about 15 minutes. I knew I could keep a streak going for 30 days--I've done far longer ones in the past--but I didn't know what to expect from a 30-minute session. It turned out to be much easier than I would have thought--and just difficult enough. I can't say that I consciously experienced anything dramatically different--I felt a little more relaxed, a little more deeply immersed in the experience, but it generally felt like an ordinary meditation session. And yet there were some interesting side effects. It appears to have had an impact on my resting heart rate--here's the data from December:
It's inched back up to 63 over the last week, but that's still lower than where I started. And I'm well aware that correlation isn't causation, so I'm not leaping to any conclusions, but it's seems safe to say that meditating for 30 minutes hasn't hurt. Also, I feel a stronger commitment to the daily practice. This is probably in part a function of the 30-day challenge, but keeping the streak intact isn't that big a deal to me. The practice just feels like a more deeply integrated part of my daily routine, like my coffee in the morning. If I didn't meditate now, I'd miss it.
Last month I was blunt and to the point:
As a writer, my critical weakness is failing to finish. I have over 100 unfinished essays in various states of completion at this very moment. I dicked around with my book manuscript for a year, when I should have shipped the damn thing off to my editor. (Sorry, Tim.) So this month it's time to let that anxiety go, to finish, to get things done.
And here's what happened over the past 30 days:
- Stop Trying to Be "Good Enough" by "Getting Better"
- You're Not Multi-Tasking, You're Half-Assing
- Pasta Shapes (Stupid Fights and How to Stop Them)
- Get Moving! (Exercise for Busy People)
- Seeing What's Not There (The Importance of Missing Data)
- The Map Is Not the Territory
- The Ideal Bar
- Why Should Anyone Be Led By You?
- What Is Winning?
- The Danger of Playing It Safe
- The Value of a Good Fight
- The Spirit of the Stairway
- The Life Cycle of Learning Design
- Amy, California and Highway 1
- Upping My Game: Halftime
- Technology and Unhappiness
- Three More Horsemen (How We Self-Sabotage)
- Importance vs. Urgency
- You Make Me Feel... (On Language and Responsibility)
- Monuments to Our Inadequacy
- This Year: A Look Back at My 2016
- Gualala (On Mortality and Gratitude)
- Open Space, Deep Work, and Self-Care
- The Importance of Slowing Down
- How to Fight a Fire (Self-Coaching in a Crisis)
- How Leaders Create Safety (and Danger)
- Acting As If
- Three Paradoxes (Another Coaching Manifesto)
- Touchy Feely Feedback from 2009
- What Do Great Leaders Do?
No magic, just a few simple changes: Go to bed early, wake up early, make a cup of coffee, and start writing immediately. Write in an offline Word document, not a browser, to minimize interruptions. Keep writing in the morning as long as possible before moving on to other activities. Don't waste early morning hours on other work. Don't try to do serious writing at other times of the day. Do this as often as possible.
I won't be able to maintain this pace in the future (nor is that a goal of mine), but doing it for 30 days straight was enlightening and empowering.
In 2015 I picked up the habit of reading fiction again--and in 2016 I promptly dropped it. I read constantly, but usually on nonfiction topics related to my work as a coach and teacher, and yet my experience two years ago helped me realize what an important role fiction has played in my life and how much I've missed it. I didn't set the world on fire as a fiction reader over the last 30 days, but I did read at least a chapter every day.
I finally finished a mediocre mystery that had been moldering on my bedside table and then plunged into Phineas Finn, Anthony Trollope's story of a young Irishman making his way up the social and political ladder in 1860s England. It was delightful. Not an earth-shattering experience, but every evening I looked forward to putting work aside, taking up my book, and seeing what would happen to these people I had come to take an interest in. And the experience of feeling connected to these characters, learning about their world, and in the process learning some things about myself and my world is precisely why I read fiction.
Current book: E.M. Forster's A Room with a View. I love the Merchant/Ivory movie more than words can say, but have never read the book. It's stunning, and (thankfully) leaves my lovely memories of the film intact.
I specified weightlifting because I've been in the process of slowly recovering from a painful elbow injury that I suffered last Labor Day and which prevented me from lifting any weights at all for over three months. Exercise has always been important to me, and the more I learn about physiology the more value I see in weightlifting and other forms of resistance training, so my enforced inactivity last Fall was a frustrating experience.
But a lesson I took to heart was the importance of avoiding injury, and once I was able to get active again I was determined to be persistent but prudent, making sure that my eagerness didn't get the best of me. And the 30-day challenge turned out to be a great way to insure that I made steady progress without overdoing it. I wound up taking a few days off from lifting because my body needed the rest, but on those days I found a way to get some less strenuous exercise in, and a number of times I just went for a walk in Golden Gate Park.
A point worth noting: Throughout the past 30 days, I continued to prioritize sleep, averaging well over 7 hours a night. Optimal for me is about 7.5 hours, so I'm very happy with that result. I've learned the hard way over the years that good sleep hygiene is the foundation for everything else I hope to accomplish.
So having concluded my 30-day challenge, I feel like I'm beginning 2017 in good shape--mens sana in corpore sano--certainly in a much better state of mind and body than I was in a year ago. I have plenty of concerns about the year ahead, but I do feel that I've put myself in the best possible position to weather those storms and help out where I can. Let's get to work.
Photo by Daniel Mitchell. Yay Flickr and Creative Commons.