My 2021 Jumpstart: 4 Challenges in 4 Weeks
Here is how I decided to leave stagnation and jump into action in 2021 just as courageously as this pup.
Well, the good news is we made it into 2021. The not so good news, the world remains chaotic, leaving many of us feeling anxious, restricted, and stagnant. Trust me, I'm with you.
This leaves us with two choices: On the one hand, we can look at January through Negative Nancy's eyes and see no point in setting new goals this year. But on the other hand, we can also look at January through Positive Polly's eyes and see many possibilities for how to navigate the year 2021.
The question is, what will you choose?
I asked myself this very same question, and the answer was clear: anything but Negative Nancy because I have seen enough of her in 2020. Haven't we all? Personally, I can relate.
My 2020 started with new goals, dreams, and habits – I even made a vision board, yet somewhere along the way, I pressed pause on all of it, putting the blame on (you guessed it) COVID-19.
The truth is that my mindset and toxic friendship with inner Negative Nancy really pulled the plug on my 2020 possibilities.
So, this year I made a promise to myself to start this year off with a bang. A bang of new possibilities.
It was time to switch things up and add some actionable fun into my stagnant quarantine life. It was time to get out of stagnation by getting into action.
Btw, did you know action is a kind of muscle that we need to practice if we want to see results? Be sure to check out this TED Talk where action expert Steven Garguilo shares valuable tips on how we can get closer to making our dreams a reality.
How exactly did I plan to take action? Weekly Challenges.
I always did like a good competition, so I thought, hey, maybe it's time to face that inner Negative Nancy and show her who is boss.
So, I decided that I would do 4 exciting challenges for 4 weeks in January.
According to a Harvard article, trying new things and challenging yourself is known to improve your cognitive skills and protect again depression, hearing loss, and social isolation.
The eager fox that I am, I decided to try the most riveting, challenging and sworn by challenges to jumpstart 2021, including Morning Pages, Contrast Showers, 4:30 AM Mornings, and Expressing Gratitude.
Week 1: Morning Pages
Morning Pages are a meditative practice that swears to help you connect with your greatest ideas, creative insights, and deepest passions. It helps you connect with your Inner Artist.
Here is how I expected to feel on my first day being creative.
Needless to say, I did not get to this pup's creative level.
So how do the morning pages work? Simple.
Every morning, as soon as you wake up, without checking your phone, you handwrite 3 full pages of consciousness writing.
Just you and your mind, and of course the pen and notebook. This practice comes from the book The Artist's Way and was developed by Julia Cameron, the same woman who helped many frightened creatives release their fears and become great creatives, including Elizabeth Gilbert.
Morning Pages also help you silence your inner critic, Debby Downer, who always talks down at you. Those two things alone gave me a lot of hope for this practice as I tend to struggle with perfectionism and self-doubt, also known as creative blocks.
The first day was exciting until it wasn't.
I swear for the first two pages, all I did was complaining about being tired (hello, it was January 1st), having nothing to write about, or the fact that I had to wake up early for this.
By page 3, I felt resistance start to fade, and suddenly I was asking myself about what I wanted to do today, not what I HAD to do but simply what I wanted.
I felt deeply connected to myself. That was the first time I really heard my inner artist speak. It might sound strange, but before you judge, just try it for yourself.
By day 4, I remained resistant in the first couple of pages. In fact, on this day, my inner critic Debby seriously attacked me. Thankfully, I stood my ground with the morning pages' help and told her to buzz off.
That's the thing, the morning pages make you talk through your deepest fears, emotions, and doubts – one way or another, the truth will come out.
On the last day, I felt like a champion and boasted about myself for the full 3 pages. I felt proud of myself, and I communicated that in my pages to look back and recognize the effort put in.
After one week, I did not see many changes externally, but internally a lot changed. I realized that within this week, I learned so much about myself then I have in years. They taught me to listen.
Verdict: In a week, the Morning Pages helped me hear myself clearly, the way I have never heard myself before. I decided to continue this practice for the rest of the month.
Week 2: Contrast Showers
Here is an idea of how I felt after my first cold shower that morning.
Though I did not look as cute as that pup, I sure as heck was that cold.
You might be thinking why in the world did I decided to do this in the middle of CANADIAN WINTER?
Jokes aside, contrast showers have immense health benefits. They are proven to improve your immune system, ease stress, speed up muscle soreness and refine your hair and skin.
The way I did it: 60 seconds warm water + 45 seconds cold, repeat 4 times.
"You got this," I say to myself in the mirror and get in the shower. I had to jump up and down to withstand the cold because it was freezing. I couldn't wait for the timer to go off. But I did feel extra wired right after and was ready to start the day.
By day 4, I wasn't scared anymore and kind of looked forward to it, especially before a work-filled day.
On my last day, I had gotten used to it. Instead of jumping in the shower, I tried to just let the cold water take over. By the third rinse, I noticed my body had become more immune to cold water, which was a relief.
Overall, this challenge was worth it.
I really felt unstoppable. Starting my day off with a contrast shower helped me be more alert, focused, and energized. It also made me feel more motivated and accomplished right from the morning.
Verdict: I will continue to do this but limit cold showers to 5 times a week; as I noticed some days, I really did not feel like jumping in the cold – especially when it was cold outside.
Week 3: Wake up at 4:30 AM
That was a mere representation of me when that alarm went off at 4:30AM.
By this point, you are probably thinking I'm nuts.
Well, to justify, 2021 was either I go big or stay stagnant (I sure wasn't sticking with option 2). Plus, I felt like my alone time had decreased by at least 50% since the pandemic. No matter how close you are to your family or roommates, being surrounded by them all day long is not easy.
With my 4:30 AM mornings, I hoped to gain more quality alone time and start my day with more stillness.
To make sure I had enough energy, I went to bed at 9:30 PM the night before. Surprisingly I woke up at 4:30 without pressing snooze – already a great start, I thought. I felt pretty much the same throughout the day, maybe a little prouder of myself than usual because I felt accomplished.
I really enjoyed my still mornings with no distractions. The only downside I noticed was the shift in my schedule in comparison to my family. While my family watched movies and had fun, I had to go to bed early.
Last day was no different than the rest for the most part. I struggled to go to bed early on weekends when my family stays up late watching movies or playing board games. Hence why I had a hard time falling asleep around 9:30 PM as my family would be loudly enjoying their weekend (I can't blame them for having fun) .
While I enjoyed some aspects, I hated being the odd one out who needs to be in bed by 9 PM. Nonetheless, I did feel more productive and avoided all distractions in the morning.
I recommend this for early birds who live on their own. Also, it is probably better to do it Monday to Friday to enjoy the weekend.
Verdict: I will most likely do it when I live on my own as I found it very hard to manage with my family's sleep schedule and student obligations.
Week 4: Gratitude Challenge
Gratitude and compassion is something I really value, and I decided to take on this challenge to show how grateful I am to be here.
My goal was to do three nice things every day that make people smile.
My first day, I complimented a stranger on his hair, bought my mom flowers, and cooked chicken rigatoni from scratch for my family (boy, I felt fancy!) Seeing people smile was so rewarding and made my heart smile.
I sent beautiful flowers to a friend. Called my grandparents and told them how much I love and miss them. And, lastly, I paid it forward at my neighbourhood Starbucks.
Seeing the joy on people's faces, whether it was my most loved ones or strangers – I felt like a Fairy of Goodness.
It felt good to give. Even the simplest effort came across as a warm gesture that made people smile. That day, I was overwhelmed with gratitude as I realized how grateful I am for simply being here.
On the last day, I bought Starbucks for my friend, shovelled snow in the morning, and made dinner for my family. Once again, my day was filled with smiles, thank-yous, and love.
I am very glad that I did this as my last challenge.
Throughout the week, I felt amazing being able to make people smile, which got me thinking; why does it take a challenge for me to do some of these things? I should really do this more often.
Verdict: This challenge really put things in a different perspective for me, and I am for sure going to do more random acts of kindness every day, whether it be sending a friend a postcard, paying for a stranger's coffee, or making my family breakfast – the possibilities are endless.
All you have to do is want to make people around you smile, a little extra.
Today is January 31st, the last day of my Weekly Challenges for the month.
This is my current mood.
Throughout this month, I have challenged my negative perceptions and attitudes, and it led me to find the deeper parts of myself that I have been missing.
More importantly, I learned the power of taking accelerated action.
If you are feeling stagnant or restricted, remember you have the power to take action!
Sprinkle some fun into your life. Season your life up with new possibilities. Make your life delicious.
I will continue doing Morning Pages every day and exploring my creativity to become as cool as that pup.
From now on, challenges will be my new go-to, and I am excited to do another set of challenges in February featuring Reading Deprivation and Stillness Meditation to continue sparking new possibilities in the year 2021.
Remember, if you allow your mind to see new possibilities, they will show up in your life in the most magical and unexpected ways.