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Discomfort and Desires: 12 Challenges for 2020

Maira Salazar
Dec 30, 2019 · 12 min read

How long ago did you realize this year was the last of the decade? I’ll confess that I didn’t notice the significance of 2019 coming to an end until less than a month ago. Sure, end of the year, time to think about the goals for the future and reflect on the victories of the past… but to realize that the whole DECADE was coming to a close? Man, I’m a bit ashamed to say that it took me by surprise.

It is definitely an eye-opener, right? When you start counting things in decades rather than in years, it causes an impression. Just to think that I’ve already burned 2 of the (hopefully) 8 decades I’ll be on this Earth. Puts things in perspective, to say the least.

So, let’s make the first year of this brand-new decade count! With a delicious mix of discomfort and productivity, I aim to make 2020 my Official Year of Exploration! And what better way to do it then lining up 12 30-days challenges to tackle?

Now hold up, hold up. I’ve been here before. It is not the first time I say I will take on 30-days challenges. But this is the first time I commit to it in a public way. That’s why I’m pretty confident on my ability to see these 12 challenges through!

The objective is to explain what the challenges will consist of right now, and then, at the end on each month, write up a nice little post telling how it went and my key takeaways. And as mentioned before, those challenges will be a mix of uncomfortable challenges that make me try something I wouldn’t otherwise and challenges that make me do something I have been postponing for far too long.

Let’s get to what the challenges will look like, then!

1. Read 1 book per week — January

To kick things off, I have picked a nice one. The embarrassing truth is that is has been ages since I read an entire book. I consume information and stories in audio and video format almost exclusively. When I do pick a book, is for research. And the other ones I have started reading for leisure, let’s just say I didn’t stick to it.

This challenge will be a great motivator to actually pick up a book instead of my cell phone or my laptop when I have a break. And although it’s only going to last 31 days, I’m hoping to make a habit out of it, even if at a slower pace!

Why: To get back into the habit of reading paperback books and take a break from screens.

How: I will have roughly 8 days to read each book. I’ll start with The Name of the Wind, then Great Expectations, some other book I still have to get at my university’s library and, lastly Sapiens (one of those I never finished, but which I’ll read from the beginning).

Expectations: Less time staring at screens, improved creativity and desire to continue reading more than I did in the previous years.

2. Quit added sugar — February

Uh, this one will be hard. I don’t think I have a huge big tooth, but I do like a sweet every other day (is that considered a huge big tooth?). However, the real difficulty will be noticing and avoiding all the added sugar that might not be so obvious.

This challenge — and many others — was inspired by Matt D’Avella’s video. It is kinda scary to think how much sugar even “healthy” products have, and that’s why I’ll quit added sugar, instead of only sweets, for the month.

I won’t lie, I don’t expect this challenge to go perfectly. If I eat out during the challenge period, I’ll do my best to avoid things that might have added sugar, but it’s hard to know for sure.

Why: Being more mindful of what I eat and desiring less sugar.

How: I’ll start by making sure I don’t have anything with added sugar stocked up at home. During the entire month, never buy any grocery with added sugar and don’t consume anything I believe has sugar in it.

Expectations: Fewer cravings for sweets, more stable energy levels.

3. Gratitude & Fun Journal — March

A feel-good combo! I expect this to be one of the best challenges, I won’t lie.

A gratitude journal is one of those things we always hear about. It is good for your emotional, psychological and physical health, after all. Although I know it’s supposed to bring a lot of benefits to anyone’s life, I have never done it for more than a week.

Then, to kick things up a notch, I’ll also do the “Three Funny Practice” on top of it. I heard about this practice in an amazingly beautiful podcast called The Science of Happiness. Basically, it comes down to writing down three funny things I witnessed or experienced each day and how it made me feel. I’m pretty excited for this one!

Why: To see if I can feel the supposed benefits of having a gratitude practice and if the “Three Funny Practice” changes anything in the way I see the world.

How: I’ll follow the guidelines of the Greater Good Science Center for both the Gratitude Journal and the Three Funny. However, I’ll do both of them daily, totaling around 15 minutes of journaling, by hand, each evening. If I have plans of going out in a certain night, I’ll do the practice earlier in the day.

Expectations: More positive thoughts, noticing things I’m grateful for more often, noticing the humor in life more often.

4. No-buy month — April

Another hard one! For this challenge, the goal is to go through the entire month without purchasing anything other than groceries for cooking at home and hygiene essentials that I have to refill. That means no purchasing anything that I didn’t have before for hygiene purposes. No eating out. No coffee (I’ll take it from home, obviously :p). No new subscriptions, no drinks, no online products, no beauty services, no Uber.

Coffee, eating/drinking out and the occasional Uber will be rough!!! I already know it. I think this challenge will require me to open up and let people know what I am doing and why I can’t purchase anything in a night out. Speaking of which, I can only go out to free-entrance places. Oh man.

Is it ok if I stock pile some drinks to take to gatherings? I’m honestly considering it, just for the sake of not being a complete anti-social being in my semester abroad.

Why: Becoming more aware of where my money goes. Saving some money. Challenging my boundaries. Getting creative with my leisure time.

How: Only paying for recurrent monthly expenses: rent + bills, university, cell phone plan, gym, transport card. Other than that, only purchasing essentials to cook (no snacks) and hygiene products that I already had, in case they end during the month.

Expectations: Extra money by the end of the month. Better control of my expenses going forward.

5. Daily meditation — May

For years now, it has been my goal to get to a point where I can meditate for 30 minutes. I’ve been meditating on and off for a while, but never more than 5 minutes. That’s why this is the perfect challenge to finally achieve that level of mindfulness that I always thought was too far away.

I still have to figure out some details, for example, when and where I’ll do those meditation practices. I won’t be too strict on that, though. If I realize the time and place chosen is not the best, I can definitely adjust. The same goes for the type of meditation, as I’ll mix both guided and silent meditations.

The only thing I don’t want to change, at least not too much, is the length for each day’s meditation practice. I’ve already noticed that if I’m too bold and aim for 7 minutes out of the blue, it just doesn’t work. Sure, I’m there with my eyes closed, but my mind is everywhere and I’m not being mindful at all. So I want to take it slow and increase the minutes gradually.

Why: Finally achieve my goal of meditating for 30 minutes straight!

How: Day 1, meditate for 3 minutes. Increase the time in 1 minute each day. Use the free guided meditations available in Insight Timer and alternate it with silent mindfulness practices.

Expectations: Solidify the habit of meditating daily for at least 15 minutes. Be able to identify and deal with moments of stress and anxiety better, by using mindfulness techniques.

6. Quit podcasts and music — June

I’m a podcast junkie. That’s a fact that I’m pretty proud of, to be honest. Every time I have a chance, I put my earphones on and start listening to some 1.5x speed goodness. From history to curiosities to daily news, I love it all. Less often I’ll put my favourite songs on repeat, and sing along as I do something else.

Unfortunately, I have also noticed some negative side effects. First of all, I’m always on. I’m always connected to my phone, always receiving information. When I’m walking around, I’m much more focused on what I’m listening than in what is around me. I’m constantly multitasking. And as much as I love learning interesting things or laughing along my favourite hosts, I am starting to be scared of what it is doing to my attention span.

Listening to music feels a bit better in that sense, but unless it doesn’t have lyrics, it still distracts the brain. Since I listen to music when studying and doing other important tasks, this can be hindering my productivity.

I do expect to be frustrated in long commutes without my earphones. Those cravings will be real! But I’m also curious to see how it will affect my productivity and ability to focus.

Why: To see if my attention span, focus and productivity increase. Try to live more in the moment and notice things around me.

How: Uninstall Spotify from my phone. Only listen to instrumental music, if I want to, and only when studying/working.

Expectations: I expect that, since I’ll be more time alone with my thoughts, I’ll come up with more interesting ideas throughout the month.

7. Cold showers — July

Another Matt D’Avella inspired challenge. This one is all about seeking discomfort. However, I’ll tweak it a bit. Granted, it will make things a bit easier for me, but I don’t think it will defeat the purpose.

As my curly, long-haired pals out there now, we can’t wash our hair every day, due to its natural tendency to be dry. But when we do wash it, it takes time, patience, love and quite a lot of water. I don’t want to die a cold, long death when I wash my hair.

Why: Exercise the “discomfort muscle”, getting out of my comfort zone and realizing that it isn’t the end of the world.

How: Whenever I don’t wash my hair, take a cold shower. When washing my hair, finish with a cold burst.

Expectations: Feel a bit more energized after each shower. Hate every second of it. Feel ready to conquer the world of discomfort!

8. Quit caffeine — August

The second hardest challenge of them all.

I love coffee. I love the smell, the taste, the feeling when I take the first sip, the focus it gives me afterward, making it and also going to a coffee shop... I drink it every day, often more than one a day. And yes, I know I am addicted. That’s why, continuing on the “seek discomfort” wagon, I’ll endure this torture.

Just thinking about it, I can already feel the headache that will accompany me in the first days. But, on the bright side, my mom will be really happy about it. I often have stomachaches, and she has been trying to convince me to ditch coffee for years. This one is for you, ma!

Why: Give a break to my stomach. See how the lack of caffeine will affect my body.

How: No coffee, teas (except herbal), energy drinks and chocolate.

Expectations: A lot of headache, having the best coffee of my life right after the challenge is done and decreased dependency on caffeine.

9. 15 minutes of journaling — September

I have a bunch of incomplete journals with me. Well, I used to have, as I’ve been transcribing key takeaways to my private blog. As someone that moves constantly, journals are not the most convenient thing to keep. But I still value being able to take a pencil and a notebook and jotting down the things that don’t make sense in my mind.

However, I never made a practice out of journalling. It was never a daily thing for me. But I think it might help me ground and reflect a bit every day. Plus, as someone that works in a computer, any opportunity to be staring at a piece of paper and not a screen is a welcome one! Without these challenges, I probably wouldn’t so that’s already a win.

Why: To take the ideas and thoughts out of my head and be able to analyze them.

How: This video by my old friend Matt pretty much sums it up. 10 minutes of free form journaling, writing anything that comes to mind.

Expectations: Make a habit out of it. Find patterns in my days.

10. No alcohol — October

Another difficult one. Alcohol is definitely part of my life. I go out for a few drinks with friends every other week. My first dates this far have all been over a beer. I like relaxing after a long week with a glass of wine. And I have recently started making gin infusions at home which taste pretty damn good.

That’s why this is a challenge I’m both excited and scared of. Excited because it will be great to have a reason not to drink when going out and just having a different kind of experience. I don’t want to depend on alcohol in my social activities, but honestly, I think I do. It will also be a good way of cutting on some empty calories that do nothing for my body or health. And I’m scared because of the social aspect, but I think being forthcoming and just letting people know about the challenge will be a good way to handle it.

Why: Challenge the idea that I need alcohol in social events or to have fun.

How: Simply not purchasing alcohol nor drinking alcohol.

Expectations: After this challenge, I expect to go out and not drink more often. Curb cravings for that wine on Friday night.

11. Write 50,000 words of fiction — November

After years of putting it off, 2020 will be the year I complete my first NaNoWriMo! I found out about this world famous challenge 6 years ago, and never tried it. Well, actually, I did start it once… I lasted 3 days.

This time, I’ll complete it! The great thing about taking on the challenge of writing some fiction, which I already wanted to do, during NaNoWriMo is that they provide a lot of tools, structure and encouragement. Plus, there are plenty of Facebook groups to share our struggles and be motivated.

I still have no idea what I’ll write, but in the weeks prior I’ll devote some hours to brainstorm and plan.

Why: To finally write a long form piece of fiction. To have a creative outlet, which I’ve been craving lately.

How: Following the NaNoWriMo framework.

Expectations: Finish the first draft of a work of fiction, go back to refine it and then share it with the world somehow!

12. Five ideas per day — December

I once heard in an interview that writing down ideas is a great workout for the “creativity muscle”. I have no idea whose interview it was or when I heard it, but the concept stuck with me. To end the year on a high note, with creative energy everywhere, I picked this fun challenge.

Why: To become more creative.

How: Write down 5 ideas. It can be an idea for a product, a company, a service, a plot, a character… Anything goes, outrageous or realistic, good or bad! Out of these 5, choose one to elaborate on for 5 minutes, adding details. I don’t need to act on any of them.

Expectations: To get into the habit of coming up with creative ideas.

This is it! Twelve monthly challenges for 2020. I’m really excited, a bit scared, and convinced that this kind of accountability will make these challenges a reality.

Are you joining me? Or do you have other projects you are taking on? Let me know and I can be your accountability partner for it!

Maira Salazar

Written by

A lost girl, trying to figure out her path through writing. And eating vegan deliciousness. More stuff in mairasalazar.com

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