“I give myself very good advice but I very seldom follow it.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass
I want a personal assistant. Someone who will do all the things that I don’t seem to get done. Someone to whom I can delegate my to-do list and know that it will be done properly, efficiently, and perhaps even with zeal. Someone that will help me achieve my wildest dreams . . .
Before I unveil this Live Your Best Life 30 Day Challenge, it is time for a confession: It takes some effort to write articles about personal development. But it takes far more effort to sustain functioning at a high level for extended periods of time. And although I can manage writing when I put my mind to it, I don’t reliably heed my own advice.
We are not always consistent in what we want for ourselves. We can set a goal and then at another point in time find that we do not care about that intention, as if we are a different person suddenly.
What if instead of striving for some miraculous integration or disappearance of our dark side, we simply accept that we have a multitude of selves? And that what our “higher” self wants for us is not necessarily something that our “lower” versions feel like cooperating with. I use quotations here because I hesitate to judge different aspects of myself harshly.
But the truth is that sometimes I write and exercise and clean my house and earn money to pay the bills and cook broth from scratch, complete with medicinal mushrooms harvested from the wild. Other times I just want to quit my job and stay in bed for days, and perhaps wake up occasionally to eat ramen or ice cream.
In our home we often refer to the more basal aspects of self as Chimp. The good news is that if we recognize the existence of various selves, we can learn how to rally various parts of our personality to work together and thus achieve more in life. (For a full discussion of how different parts of ourselves exert influence on our agendas, check out The Chimp Paradox by Steve Peters).
As I write this, it is pouring rain out, a winter storm is descending on these mountains and I’m recovering from a cold that enjoys leaving me breathless. And here I am embarking on a 30 Day Challenge. Why not just rest, why the sudden burst of ambition?
Because I am capable of more.
The time has come to audit myself. To face the gap between what is possible for me and my current reality. Doing this entails asking myself some hard questions and having the courage to answer honestly:
What would I like to do that I am not doing?
What am I doing that I wish I weren’t?
So I asked myself these questions. My chimp-self cringed and tried shrieking and throwing rocks as a distraction. And then the answers came like flocks of migrating birds surrounding me.
How could I have overlooked something so obvious? All around me lurks The Undone. Moving boxes sit unopened, wondering if they will ever be unpacked. Invisible taxes whisper that deadlines are approaching. The floor wants mopping. Windows beg to be washed as they mournfully block fleeting rays of winter sun. My yoga mat worries that something might have happened to me.
I have a to-do list, of course. I’m going to get to all of this at some point . . .
But sometimes just writing it down is not enough. Sometimes we need to stop dreaming and intending and actually DO something.
I’ve been hiding behind the fact that this past year was busy. My husband and I built a new house and moved into it. We ran a million errands and drove our children to school and ballet and gymnastics. We sold several properties for our real estate business. And we did all of this while surviving the most challenging year that our 13+ year marriage has ever faced.
In order to do all of that without totally exhausting myself I had to cut myself some slack. I allowed myself ample leisure time. I spent hours drinking tea and sitting by the river, watching the summer unfold until it became fall, and eventually winter . . .
But there is something to be said for the concept of inertia. The era of gently expecting less of myself during a stressful time had slowly morphed into old-fashioned procrastination with a suspicious scent of laziness.
Time to utilize one of my favorite weapons against complacency: The 30 Day Challenge.
This 30 day challenge is to taste what it is like to Live Your Best Life. To ask your inner life coach what that would look like, and then create and follow a plan for 30 days that reflects your expectations and harnesses your highest potential.
For me, this means creating a plan that maximizes productivity in a balanced and healthy way.
Now the challenging part of the 30 Day Challenge: How to get my lazier self to comply with my aspirations?
Back to the personal assistant idea . . . Sigh . . . Like many people in my income bracket, I do not have a personal assistant. Then it dawned on me that I know someone very capable who is available and will work for next to nothing, at least temporarily.
Is it possible I could be my own personal assistant? How silly! But wait, maybe it is not so silly. See, my lazier self doesn’t actually mind doing things with a bit of encouragement. Here is the plan:
Create a schedule, and be realistic about how much time there is in a day . . .
First, I need a schedule, lazy me likes to know exactly what it is signing up for. So I’m going to be clear on what I expect from myself and realistic about how much time there is in a day. For this 30 day challenge I agree to work for myself 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. I’m self employed, which means it is up to me to manage my time. If much of your week is filled with a day job, you can still adapt this idea to your specific situation. You may have less time to repurpose, but that is not an excuse not to live your own life to the fullest. See: 9 Ways To Have More Time.
Create a daily To-Do list with clear priorities.
I need to prioritize. My reluctant side doesn’t care about what is urgent or important, so I’ll have to use my brain to create a daily to-do list with clear priorities. Maybe I would prefer to sit around a fire all day, tending a burn pile on a Monday, because clearing the brush from my land is important in the long run. But really the taxes need to get done now, and I know that, and walking around the woods gathering sticks is not going to make that happen.
Pay myself, and consider what motivates me.
Last of all, payday! I am going to bribe my inner chimp. My lazy side doesn’t actually care about money, it sees money as just a means to an end and doesn’t get excited about it. Actually objects or experiences are far more alluring, even if they don’t cost much (think about how chimps prefer bananas to dollar bills).
So instead of using shopping as a distraction from tackling my to-do list, I will use the things that I want to leverage myself. I also know that if I devote 40 hours a week to my goals, more income will eventually follow as a result. So at the end of each week I will allow myself to buy something reasonable from my wish list, a new office chair perhaps, a wood carving set, new running shoes, underwear, etc. Whatever feels like enough of a reward to keep all the multifaceted and intricate parts of myself on board with this plan.
We are all different, and this 30 Day Challenge allows us to design a unique agenda that honors both what we want for ourselves as well as how we sometimes get in our own way. My long term goal is to revise and adopt this plan as a lifestyle, but the 30 Day Challenge is a less daunting yet powerful way to dive in and see what happens when you unleash your full potential.
Here are the Results of the Live Your Best Life 30 Day Challenge . . .
For me, this Live Your Best Life challenge meant getting things done. My plan to “hire” myself as my personal assistant, and then tackle my to-do list for a solid 40 hours a week . . . almost happened. I ended up about 3 or 4 work days short of my goal. This is the first time that I didn’t conquer one of my 30 Day Challenges. But the experiment was successful enough overall. I definitely saw a substantial increase in my productivity. I am going to renew this challenge for another 30 Days, with a few tweaks.
Here is what worked for me during this 30 Day Challenge, and a few things that I am going to do differently this time around . . .
Prioritizing what needs to get done and doing it without procrastinating.
I got all the urgent and important things done. Towards the end of the month I was less focused and as a result the days were less productive. Next month, I am going to write down a short plan every single day. I might write it the night before, or first thing in the morning, but every single day will have a clear agenda.
Judging productivity by time invested instead of outcome.
The focus of my challenge was to work a certain amount of time each week. Although 40 hours a week seemed like a reasonable and common standard, I found that it was somewhat unrealistic for me as a mother of two young children. My six year old goes to kindergarten and is only at school until about 1pm, and my 4 year old is home all day. Between the two of them, I am probably asked for about 487 things a day, snacks and scissors and socks and stories and so forth. I’m not exaggerating. Anyone who has raised children knows how often they are capable of asking for a snack. It’s insane.
The concept of committing my time each week to whatever needed my attention (instead of measuring by outcome or particular goals completed) worked well overall. I felt motivated every morning and the 30 Day Challenge energy boost made it easy to keep going well into the late afternoon.
This time around I am going to aim for a 35 hour work week, which will still be enough of a challenge for any parent with young kids at home. It will also create some space for the unforeseen. Last month I had some evil virus for a few days, which made me realize that my plan did not include any sick days.
If you’re ready to try this challenge out, please consider sharing this post on social media. The accountability will help keep you on track, and you can help inspire your friends to live up to their potential as well!
RESULTS UPDATE: When I tried this Living Your Best Life 30 Day Challenge again, I succeeded. The small adjustment to the hours per week made it possible without experiencing total burn out. Prioritizing felt a lot easier the second time around because I had a lot of urgent work come my way. It felt like there was a lot of flow in my life because I had intended to work hard, so the work appeared. Join me for my next challenge, the 30 Day Writing Challenge!
photo credit: Aurora Borealis by Kris Derdzinski