What Is the Lifestyle Challenge?

It’s the eve of the new year. Tomorrow will be 2017. I’m on day 118 of this lifestyle challenge and I realized that there are some things about it that I have not yet explained. A lot of people have been following my progress, getting inspired, and doing their own challenges, and during these 118 days a lot has become clearer for me about what the challenge is about.

At the center of my Lifestyle Challenge is a chart representing a month (about 30 days). There is a column for each day, and a row for each adaptive lifestyle practice. I have found that the core practices are related to sleep, meditation, exercise, nutrition, and socialization. There are also many other practices that I have been experimenting with. Every row must either have a minimum target (e.g. 15+ mins) or record some units (e.g. mins). The chart is a form of two-dimensional checklist and it relies on the wisdom that “what gets measured gets managed” — Lord Kelvin (probably).

The purpose of the lifestyle challenge is to create a lifestyle foundation that provides energy and mental clarity to fuel a rich and fulfilling life. It’s a minimal checklist that I try to complete every day. By completing this list, I get some of my basic needs met, like socialization, and maintain momentum with core practices, such as meditation. Because I can see, at a glance, the consistency of my application of these practices, I find myself both motivated by what I have done, and inspired to achieve even greater consistency. I notice the practices that I may have lapsed on, and give them some time and energy.

Over time, this consistent application of lifestyle best-practices has led to maintainable mental clarity and physical energy. At 42 years of age, my body looks fitter than it ever has before in my life, I have more energy than ever before, and I am significantly more calmly creative and productive than I remember ever being.

Each month, and sometimes more frequently, I review and revise the specific rows on the chart. There is a continually shifting sweet-spot where the list of daily activities is exciting, challenging, and energizing, but not overwhelming or disabling. It is possible to create a checklist so long and complex that it takes most of a day’s energy or time to complete it. I have explored many points on this spectrum. It’s important to maintain self-awareness of the degree to which the lifestyle challenge is serving me. I choose not to be in a position of serving the lifestyle challenge. I prefer not to have structure in my life. The lifestyle challenge provides just enough structure to provide me with lots of high-quality unstructured time.

It might seem strange to have a daily checklist like this for such simple things. It turns out that checklists should be used for important things, not necessarily for complex things. In The Checklist Manifesto Atul Gawande demonstrates that in critical situations, such as pre-operation procedures, having a checklist, even for a very simple set of steps, significantly reduces the rate of negative outcomes, such as post-operative infections. Checklists are valuable where consistency is critical. Building healthy lifestyle habits, and getting the benefits of the regular practice of those habits, is mission-critical for all of us. We can’t train to be surgeons, perform surgery, or write books about checklists unless we have reasonably well functioning lives.

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