A few years back, my best friend and me started doing monthly challenges every year. We didn’t do it for the whole year, but ever since I’ve pondered putting together a book for one year of challenges and how small things change your life. For us, it did.
The most important part? These challenges are manageable. They won’t feel like climbing Kilimanjaro. They won’t make you stop halfway through the month.
Some of these exercises are for one month only, but most you can continue to do once you’ve incorporated them into your routine.
1. The Month of Love
Here’s what you do: you gather one to three friends or family members. Then you decide that every day you will send them a compliment and an ‘I love you.’ By the end of the month, you sit on a minimum of 28 compliments and ‘I love yous.’ You’ve likely also learnt the art of giving compliments.
Throughout this month, you also challenge yourself to tell anyone and everyone that you love or like them, and give random compliments to as many people as possible. Decide to give at least three compliments a week to people.
Loving yourself and expressing love for others is a big thing. If you master that… boy your life will be good!
2. The Exercise Month
Every morning when you get up, spend five minutes warming up your body, dancing and stretching. If you don’t make it in the morning (because you pressed snooze one too many times), do it during the day or at night.
I tend to do dance exercises—I do a warm-up where I move from my head down to my toes. You could do that, a yoga or tai chi routine. There are plenty of ten minutes exercise routines on YouTube. The important thing is that you warm up your whole body and stretch. Also, take a moment for deep breaths and gently warming up your voice, using the r-sound.
You are also going to steal (that’s to say, buy or get in the library) a copy of The 4-Hour Body by a certain Tim Ferriss and read the bit about doing daily 2-minutes exercises before each meal. Then, you are going to do those exercises. And don’t worry: they are so simple you can do them in the bathroom at work if you have to before lunch. If you feel that’s unacceptable, just do them before breakfast, dinner and any snacks you have at home.
3. The Lunch Break
Did you know that we need sunshine to feel good? Most people don’t get enough Vitamin D, which leads to disease. And even if you munch it in a pill, it does not substitute for a good ‘ole walk in sunshine.
During your lunch break, take a ten-minutes walk. In Sweden, we have a saying that there is no bad weather, only bad clothes. So, unless there’s a storm brewing, put on your clothes and take a walk, come rain, come shine. It will invigorate you. It will make you feel alive. And, by changing the scenery for a few minutes, you will get perspective on your life and your work.
A bonus exercise would be to go for a country walk once this month. Find a nice little walk somewhere near where you live, and make a day of it with a nice picnic or a pub meal by a fireplace by the end of it. You can even turn it into a date!
4. The Fake Stuff
Ever wondered what goes into those toiletries and cleaning products you use? Unless you are using all natural products, chances are you don’t want to know.
Head to your local Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s or other health food store. Then, buy all-natural cleaning products for the house and all-natural products for your skin. If you can afford it, change your make-up, too.
The skin is the body’s largest organ and will absorb whatever you put on it. Likewise, you breathe in whatever you put in your house, from deodorizers to bleach. Experts reckon a lot of today’s allergies and maybe even diseases are due to this. So, clean out your house and body!
Sugar is getting a bad rep these days, but let’s face it: we all want to treat ourselves from time to time. And if you are anything like me, you like your coffee sweet, and once a week, you need a treat to celebrate.
There’s a difference between sweetener and sweetener. Coconut sugar might have roughly the same amount of calories as your regular white stuff, but it takes longer for the body to release it into the bloodstream (Funnily, I’m at a cafe right now and someone just said, “He takes seven spoons of sugar in his tea!”), meaning you won’t suffer the same sugar rush as you would from white sugar. Honey, maple syrup and agave, likewise, don’t give you such a fast sugar rush and they are all natural.
Xylitol is derived from plants and trees and does not have calories, so it won’t give you a sugar rush at all. It should not be consumed in large quantities though as it can lead to stomach upsets. You also have to make sure it’s derived from non-GMO crops.
Likewise, stevia is derived from a plant naturally and contains no calories, though the aftertaste is slightly weird, so it’s best mixed with another type of sugar. The good thing is that one drop of stevia goes a long way. I don’t like it in coffee, but I use it a lot in baking, blending it with other sugars. I find that you can make excellent banana breads, for example, using only bananas and stevia.
So this month, ditch:
- refined white sugar
- unnatural (and potentially harmful) sweeteners such as aspartame
- corn syrup
- high fructose corn syrup
- unrefined cane sugar
- coconut sugar
- maple syrup
- agave syrup
- dates (you can easily blend them and use them as sweeteners)
Try mixing different sweeteners together for the best result.
Also, start ditching sugar when you buy products in the store. Read the label: how much sugar does the product you just bought contain? Fat free yoghurt can be crammed full of sugar as are many “natural” bars you eat as snacks.
6. Read the Label
It’s time to read labels properly. Hydrogenated fats are not good for you. Neither are most fake colorants and preservatives (the natural ones are usually fine). And how about GMOs: do you really want to eat them? Hormone treated milk? Really? Or meat from animals fed with antibiotics? High fructose syrup – hello spiked blood sugar levels. And if you want to get into animal rights – non-organic palm oil comes at the cost of cutting down forests and killing orangutangs.
For a month, read the label when you shop. If it contains something “fake,” don’t buy it. Luckily, products in stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s usually does not contain the fake stuff.
Also, try to change your grains to whole grains only by buying wholegrain bread, pasta, rice and cereal—and remember to check if any sugar has been added!
I know meditation can sound as appealing as rain on a windy day, but it does clear your mind. It gives you perspective. It might very well give you a newfound sense of peace and way to deal with your troubles.
For five minutes every day (or ten: five in the morning, five at night), sit down, close your eyes, take deep, slow, breaths through your nose and concentrate on the sounds around you. If you like, you can choose to chant a word. Make sure it’s a word like love, peace, happiness, truth, understanding, etc. that grounds you in a positive energy. I’ve found love encompasses most other things. If there is love, there is peace, understanding, truth and wisdom.
As a bonus, you can try a guided meditation once a week. I like some of Deepak and Oprah’s ones (the ones they do together), but find what suits you. They’re great to listen to if you are taking a train, plane, or bus somewhere—just don’t try it whilst you are driving!
8. Step Out of Your Comfort Zone
We all have things we dread. Personally, I hate doing my taxes just as I hate any admin job. It actually stresses me out—until I do it and realize I didn’t die. The same goes for most things; they aren’t as oppressive as they may appear. Our fear is grounded in something other than reality.
The thing is that our dreams often lie beyond our comfort zone. What I mean by that is that to achieve anything we care about, we have to overcome our fears or discomforts. We have to get on a plane to see the world, or ask someone to go on a date with us to actually have a chance to date them.
When you overcome your fears or discomforts, you become free.
If you are scared of talking to strangers, make sure to talk to strangers. Ask for help in shops, walk into hotels to have a chat about potentially renting a room, call up shops to ask about something, randomly compliment shops assistants and so on.
If your fear is admin, do some. If you hate organization, start organizing. If social situations freak you out, start attending them. If you fear speaking in public, hold a presentation (after taking a course if that would help). If it’s a habit you know you need to break, but don’t feel comfortable breaking it, break it.
Once a week, do something you’re uncomfortable doing. And take small steps—if you are scared of heights don’t start with Mount Everest.
Tim Ferriss has a great chapter about this in The 4-Hour Workweek and, likewise, Neil Strauss talks about how pick-up artists’ first rule is to overcome their fear of approaching women. Usually, they start by walking up to every girl they see so as to get used to rejection. Once they stop fearing it, they start acting much more relaxed around women. This leads them to their dream of being able to pick-up women. Whether you like pick-up artists or not, they have some serious tips when it comes to socializing.
I know. Someone was likely a bastard once upon a time. They had a lousy childhood, never learnt self-discipline, never worked on themselves and you ended up the receiver of their wounded ego. It stinks. You’d like to hit them, but as I tell my kids: if you hit someone who’s hitting you, they will hit you again. On and on it will go until there’s war. What to do instead? You stop them from hitting you. Then, you find someone else to play with.
You may have suffered for years because of someone else’s stupidity. It will hurt. The important thing is what you choose to do with your life now. Chances are, you understand they only hurt you because they were hurt. Their brains were wired like a big mistake, and somewhere they are suffering because of it, even if they are millionaires and living the swell life.
The more time you spend pondering your enemies, the less time you spend pondering your own life. Forgive the people who don’t know better. Stop them if they abuse you. Then move on. If you find it hard to forgive, read Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom.
10. You Time
Often, life is hectic—at least, if you live a little. The problem is when things get hectic we sometimes lose track of ourselves. Ever been in a relationship where you suddenly realized there was little left of yourself anymore? Or worked so hard on your business that you forgot about yourself? Or maybe you gave so much of yourself to friends and family that you forgot to take care of yourself?
For the next month, once a week, take at least two hours to do something by yourself and turn off your phone and social media. Whether you choose to go for a walk by the sea, go shopping, lie in the bath or have a massage, it’s you and you alone.
Also, note how you look after yourself in your everyday life. Do you sit down to eat your lunch? In the shower, do you take time to give your body a good scrub and afterwards massage some body lotion into your tired limbs? Do you meditate? Exercise? Take time to get dressed properly in the morning so you meet the day looking your best? Believe me, I know it’s hard, because often there is little time. That’s why this is a challenge for a month.
While most people claim to love their beds, few seem to use it correctly (and I’m not talking about their love lives here).
Did you know that if you don’t go to bed roughly the same time every day your body ends up jet lagged? You need your beauty sleep or your immune system takes a hit.
Everyone has different sleep rhythms. Some prefer to go to bed at twelve, others at nine. Whatever time you choose, make sure you set your bedtime to a certain hour these four weeks and stick with it unless you are going out to an event.
It might sound silly, but your energy levels and immune system will thank you. And, when your body is happy, so are you.
12. That Thing You Always Dreamt of Doing
You know that thing—the dream. The idea that one day you will paint your own paintings. Or one day you will travel to Paris. Or maybe one day you will run your own business.
I don’t know what it is you want to do. Maybe it’s as simple as spending more time with your family. One thing is for sure: unless you start working towards it, it will never happen. So, for one month, spend 25 minutes a day working on it. Even if you have to get up 25 minutes earlier in the morning, or spend part of your lunch break doing it.
You will see that miracles can happen once you start taking action.
Next year, repeat and add new things if you’ve already mastered some of these.