Fuck New Year’s Resolutions: Challenge Yourself To Take Back 1% of Your Day

Dani Donovan
Jan 3, 2017 · 8 min read

Say goodbye to failed resolution baggage. The 10-for-20 Challenge focuses on gradual self-improvement through one simple concept — making more time for doing what makes you happy.

New Year’s resolutions have good intentions, but rarely accomplish much except ruining people’s self-esteem. Many people I know (myself included) go into the new year excited and full of energy, screaming “GUNG HO!” and putting everything we’ve got into bettering our future selves. Then we realize making dramatic life changes is not an instantly-gratifying process. It’s time-consuming. And overwhelming. And difficult to keep up on days where motivation just isn’t there. There’s got to be a better way to improve oneself— and I think I’ve finally figured it out.

Quick disclaimer: I am not a writer; I just started typing up my own 2017 resolutions and it somehow morphed into this blog post. Publishing this on the Internet is terrifying for me on so many levels, but I wanted to share because I’m hoping it’ll inspire at least one person.

Why Mountain Resolutions Don’t Work

Let’s visualize a New Year’s resolution as a mountain you’ve always wanted to climb. If you’ve given up on a resolution before, you might be familiar with this story line.

THE BEGINNING

It’s January 1st — time to set your sights on that huge mountain once again. You gaze upon it and think to yourself, “I know I say I’m going to climb this mountain every year, but this this year is different. I can feel it. Let’s go!” You spend a week buying the gear, making the plans, and maybe even finding other people who are also climbing the same mountain. You talk about it constantly to anyone who will listen. You’re overconfident. And stupid.

You start up the mountain with the excitement and energy of a four-year old on Red Bull. The self-satisfaction of being on the mountain makes you happy…for a short while.

Two weeks into climbing, you’re exhausted. You start to realize “Oh shit, climbing a mountain sucks. How long is this gonna take?” You’re not having fun anymore, and you’ve already watched people quit and head back down. But not you; not yet.

THE “HALF-ASSERY” PHASE

Instead, you start to walk sideways on the mountain instead of up. You try to find shortcuts. You convince yourself that sideways is better than down, because even though you’re not getting closer to the top, at least you’re still on the mountain.

You rationalize. You make excuses. You yo-yo. Deep down, you know you’re not doing what you set out to do. But you’re still better than the people who quit, right? You get stuck in the “Half-Assery” phase for a while, because you’re too stubborn to admit defeat. You keep convincing yourself that at some point, you’ll stop taking it easy and start climbing the mountain again. Any day now. Just not today; I don’t feel like it.

THE RETREAT

After that brief period of stalling, you look down the mountain. You can still see the entrance where you started. By comparison to the mountain peak, you’ve barely moved. You can’t believe you’ve worked so hard but still seem so far from the top.

Squinting down, you can see your friends are chilling at an outdoor patio near the entrance, drinking beer and having fun. You remember how easy it was to not be on this stupid mountain. Your stomach twists into a knot. You look up at how much further you have to go, and what used to just seem daunting now seems impossible. Your enthusiasm is completely gone. This is way too fucking hard.

You heave a sigh and mutter, “Well, at least I tried,” and then sulk back down towards the entrance. You hang your head in silent, internal shame for a while, then try to forget about it. You convince yourself the mountain wasn’t really that important to you. And then you repeat the same process next year.

When we attempt to perfect our personal “shortcomings” all at once, we often find ourselves slipping back in old habits faster than you can say “February.”

Making drastic changes to your life is impossible to do quickly, especially when you’ve got other stuff going on — work, family, friends, relationships, volunteering — that all compete with your most valuable resource: time. Shortcuts don’t exist. You need to keep moving in the same direction, even if it’s only 20 steps at a time. Consistent, forward momentum is the key — and stagnation is lethal.


Death to Resolution Baggage

Hopefully at this point, you’re realizing this cycle is extremely common. You are not alone, suffering in angsty silence of resolutions past.

It’s important to forgive yourself. It’s okay that you haven’t lost 50 pounds. It’s okay that you didn’t visit a foreign country. It’s okay that you didn’t read a book every month, or visit your grandpa more often, or cook at home more, or whatever shit you promised yourself you’d do. It’s okay. It’s in the past and it doesn’t matter now. Residual guilt only makes it harder to move forward.

Take a moment, right now, to relieve yourself of all the emotional baggage you’re carrying around. Inhale deeply. Pause for a moment, and as you exhale, push out all the negativity of past failures and goals that were never reached. Feel your body relax a bit as the self-loathing is gradually pushed out. Repeat this as many times as necessary. We want your slate wiped clean.

You good? Good.

This year, focus on slowing down to enjoy the ride. This means kicking the self-destructing notion that “I must be perfect at everything at once, otherwise I’m a failure” square in the teeth.


The 10-for-20 Challenge:

Make a list of 10 things you love doing, wish you did more, or want to get better at. Every single day, dedicate 20 minutes to do at least one of the things from your list.

That’s it. It’s about consistency and the choice to dedicate a tiny fraction of the day to your own happiness and improvement. Forget resolutions where you pick an “end goal” and then plan the steps that will take you to that goal. Instead, focus on picking the steps you love taking, and see where they lead you.

For your list, I’d recommend choosing things you already love doing, but don’t make time for because you’re “too busy.” Pick a few other things you don’t mind doing, but want to do more on a consistent basis. Consider this quote:

“I would have spent less time thinking about the person I would like to be, and more time doing the things that she would do.”

My #10for20Challenge List

Every single day, I promise myself I will do at least ONE of these things:

  1. Meditate for 20 minutes
  2. Draw for 20 minutes
  3. Read for 20 minutes
  4. Exercise for 20 minutes
  5. Write for 20 minutes
  6. Cook something that takes 20 minutes or more to make
  7. Learn something & take notes for 20 minutes
  8. Pamper myself for 20 minutes
  9. Organize the apartment for 20 minutes
  10. Play guitar for 20 minutes

If I look at just the bold parts, it reads like a list of stuff I love doing. It’s a pretty great unconscious summary of my interests. If you’re having trouble coming up with 10 things, make your list shorter. You can always leave a few blank to be filled in later in the year.

MAKE THE DAMN TIME

You can do anything for 20 minutes. It’s only 1.3% of your day. That’s not even a full episode on Netflix.

Find a portion of your day when you consistently waste time, and replace it with your new habit. Do you play Candy Crush every time you poop? Replace that time with reading The Washington Post. Always scroll endlessly through Twitter before going to bed? 20 minutes perfect for a journal entry. Netflix with dinner? Switch it out for a book instead of re-watching The Office for an 18th time. Doodle on your lunch break instead of checking Instagram. It’s really not that hard to find 20 minutes. People who say they “don’t have time” are usually not paying attention to where they spend theirs.

Also, reminders are important. Set alarms. Stick a post-it note on your fridge, computer, bathroom mirror, or bedside table. Don’t let yourself forget, even for one day.

Make a calendar and keep track of which item(s) you complete each day as a visual representation of your progress. Maybe it’s color-coded. This part is all up to you: what motivates you to keep up momentum?

Note: If, eventually, you come to a day where you somehow can’t squeeze 20 minutes in, just remember that 15 is better than zero. Hell, 5 is better than zero. You’re not a failure if you don’t hit 20 minutes one day. But there is never an excuse for a “zero” minute day. (And no, there are no “rollover minutes.”)

VACATION SPOTS > MOUNTAINS

So now, instead of trying to climb one massive mountain by the end of December, I now have 10 vacation spots that I know all make me incredibly happy and fulfilled — and 20 minutes a day of dedicated time to use exploring them.

“Will I get as far in Thursday’s 20 minutes as I did during Wednesday’s? What if I spend more time in one spot than another?”

Who gives a shit? It doesn’t matter. You can spend as many days as you want in one area, magically hop on a plane, and explore another on a whim. The longer you spend in one spot, the more time you’ll spend exploring, learning, having fun — and, most importantly — feeling really good about yourself. Eventually, you may notice you gravitate towards certain areas more than others, but that’s okay. There’s no mountain. There’s no “point” to reach, no goal to achieve, no expectations to be disappointed by, no milestones to fail. Imagine how much you can discover when you’re not worried about following someone else’s roadmap.

You can’t “underachieve” on vacation. You can only enjoy yourself. Stop measuring your reality up against your expectations, or worse, the opinions of other people. You’ll gradually improve without compulsively checking your own progress to see “how high up you are” on a mountain.

Focus on doing what you love, one day you’ll realize you’re looking down from the top of a mountain — without even realizing you’d started climbing.

***

P.S. If you’re feeling brave, post a list of your “10 Things” with the hashtag #10for20challenge (I want to see!)

Written by Dani Donovan, a graphic designer in Omaha, NE who was supposed to be doing other stuff today but got carried away writing this instead (First ’write for 20 minutes’ — donezo!)

Dani Donovan

Written by

Senior designer at Gallup, owner of One Night Brands, illustrator of mental health comics. “A little too honest for the internet.” — Mom

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