How daily challenges defy nature.
And why I’m doing one.
To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven.
— Ecclesiastes 3
I am not a fan of long standing challenges.
Run every day for 60 days, journal, write, do push-ups.
These treat the mind and body like a machine with an input-output system. Requiring that you generate a certain output by participating in whatever it is you have pledged to do.
But the body isn’t a machine, it’s an organism with rhythms, cycles, seasons.
It’s through working with the cycles of the body that I’ve found the greatest amount of personal change, healing, and growth, and I see the same in my clients.
This is growth that goes beyond forcing yourself to x for y amount of days. Challenges often lead to frustration, quitting, and discouragement.
Working with cycles and understanding moments of limitation or relapse allows us to make peace with our human condition and continue in a general direction without beating ourselves up all the time.
It’s the difference between yo-yo dieting and creating a healthy diet where you may or may not eat cake every once in a while.
Recognizing that our behaviors and energy levels are inconsistent allows us to remember our limitations
Our limitations make sense if we think about them chemically.
As an example. focus and attention are dependent on dopamine, noradrenaline, acetylcholine, and serotonin.
While the body is amazing in its frugality it’s not always able to restore our supplies of these chemicals as fast as we use them.
It’s why your productivity drops the longer you work with a project in one sitting.
Along with the chemicals we also have to look at blood sugar levels and other ways the system wears down or fluctuates into another cycle.
The body is constantly entering into different cycles as it works for homeostasis and we force it to do the next thing that throws it off.
It’s easier to work with the cycles rather than against them.
Spiritual traditions the world over have come to similar conclusions via internal intuition and observation.
Chinese medicine, for instance, suggests that you change activities every 90 minutes as the energy begins to turn. This goes hand in hand with their observation that active things need to rest, Yang and Yin.
TCM also suggests we work with the changes of season so that we’re not in opposition to the world around us.
Most of the ancient traditions have ways of doing this. Seeing life as a process of moving from season to season, cycle to cycle.
Much of this is based on cultures and livelihoods better attuned to the natural world around us. In agriculture, you see the way that things take time to develop.
You get used to the slow times in winter, the manic pace of harvest and having to get everything done.
Time or production challenges are unnatural.
Long-term writing or running challenges break the cycles we experience. They’re more industrial, expecting our energy and output levels to be like a machine’s.
As someone who has had to work on healing bipolar, I know humans aren’t machines. We have rhythms, seasons, cycles, moments when we have all the energy in the world and times when we weary from nearly nothing.
The more I’ve worked with my own rhythms and cycles the healthier I’ve become. I’m constantly seeing this with clients too.
What’s particularly beautiful to watch is how they stop beating themselves up when they look at their brains and lives as organisms that have limitations and rhythms rather than machines that should just go, go, go!
No one has to give up on their dreams, they just have to adjust their expectations of limitations and work with them.
So why am I participating in a daily writing challenge?
Well. . .
- It’s good to suffer sometimes.
- I’m breaking a perfectionist habit.
- I am working on flow in low and high states.
- I have a larger goal that requires the work.
- You’ve got to test your limitations.
While I’m all about working in the flow of things to reduce suffering, sometimes it’s good to build some grit and be uncomfortable.
Working out, for instance, is uncomfortable but it makes us stronger.
Writing every day isn’t going to kill me. My hesitation to commit and break with my cycles of energy and focus is based on the fear I’ll write really crappy articles.
I have a tendency to want my work to be perfect and I know there are days I’m just not perfect.
Like today, after spending all day yesterday traveling. 7 hours on a plane, 9 at airports, and 4 in a car.
I’m worn out and I can feel it.
So I adjusted my day around this.
Resting, eating healthy food filled with protein, vitamins, and minerals. Participating in a beautiful Balinese ceremony that doesn’t require thinking, just being.
As a human being, I’m going to have low tides.
As someone who works to take care of themselves (cause I go insane if I don’t) I’m trying to strike a balance where I can tend to the needs of my mind and body and acknowledge their cycles while still moving in the direction that is best for me.
Right now it’s a life goal to interact with a larger community. To get my thoughts out there and hear the thoughts of others.
I’m going to have low tides but I want to see how I can navigate those while still participating.
The alternatives are not to participate or try to hack myself into constant productivity. (Which always comes with some other sort of sacrifice.)
Instead, I’d rather face my perfectionism and risk a few rough or awkward thoughts on pixels.
This aligns with my greater goals and the larger cycles of my life. It’s uncomfortable but it’s challenging the perfectionist streak I know I have to break.
And while I was listing all the reasons why this isn’t the best idea; shifting energy and focus states, lack of time, extra stress, there was a voice inside that said “you’ve got to do this just to know you can.”
I’ve learned to listen to that voice.
It’s what taught me about the cycles, what teaches me about myself, and clearly has a lesson to teach here.
Maybe it’s that I really do write shitty when I’m tired. Maybe it’s that I can do a lot more than I thought.
What’s the life lesson?
It’s about balance.
Acknowledging our limitations and pushing them while accepting the process that we’re having.
If you want to push yourself, great. Do it, but keep in mind that you are actively pushing yourself to your limits.
Your body, your mind, your life will resist and this is what makes you stronger.
If you break down and don’t meet your goal for a day, it’s not because you’re a failure or you’re weak. You simply met the limitations of your system.
Acknowledge it, think it through, and find a way to better support yourself to meet your goals. If you’re trying to hit the gym every day but you just couldn’t make it today see what got in the way and address those points.
Check into your nutrition and what your feeding yourself.
Work on getting better sleep. Try to reduce your stress so you have more willpower to get yourself to the gym.
You’re a dynamic system and all of these things are affecting your current goal. You can beat yourself up for “failing” (read discovering your natural limits) or you can learn and adapt.
If what you’re really working for is consistency than challenge the perfectionism.
If you can’t get yourself to go to the gym at all, take the expectation of an hour and cut it down to 20 minutes.
If you have to cut some corners to make sure you’re consistent, do it.
Write a shittier article, run for half the time, throw some paint on the page and call it modern.
Challenge your limitations and then accept and hold space for yourself if you hit them. Recover, process, adapt and try again.
The cycles and rhythms aren’t an excuse. They’re a better understanding of yourself. Add this to your calculations and see what you can do.
Love and share.
I’m starting something new. Writing every day and putting my less than catchy thoughts on binary paper.
If you’d like to join me on this journey you can sign up for my email list here.