When starting a new challenge, we are usually at the top of our motivation, completely pumped some would say. And with this motivation, a sense of extra energy kicks in as we start our new challenge, and thus we try to push ourselves hoping this will give us an edge for the rest of our challenge.
A few days in our challenge we face our first difficulty: we are tired from a difficult workday, a bad night’s sleep, or sick… you name it. In addition, our motivation from day one isn’t as strong as it was. As a combo, when the time comes to do our daily challenge, we just don’t feel like doing it, skip the day, and tell ourselves we’ll do better tomorrow.
What to avoid
There are a few typical mistakes in this approach. And a good way to visualize it is to imagine you are a runner. You are doing a long race, similar to a marathon, which will last several weeks and even hopefully several months. Similarly to a marathon, starting your challenge in a sprint will wear out, tire you fast, and you will not be able to finish the race.
In a similar manner, you could imagine yourself starting writing your first book. The first day you are super motivated. Your ideas are clear. And you start writing down as much and detailed as possible so you can move on to the next parts. You spend hours on the first day. The following few days you try to remember what you already wrote and you start getting tired of all those hours of writing you are not used to. So you figure being an author is maybe not for you.
What to do instead
But if you start your first day actually without writing anything for your book. But working on the structure and organizing your ideas. And you take several days to really understand the structure that will be your book. Then you will actually start writing your book a few days later than expected. But you have a lot more chances to write it until the end.
Starting at a slower pace allows you to get comfortable with your new effort and to judge how you feel over a few days. This allows your brain to label your challenge to something easy to do, so that you are more likely to get back to even on difficult days. And similar to a beginner starting a marathon, whatever you consider being easy now: start with even half of that. If you are planning doing 10 push-ups, start with only 5. If you want to run or meditate for 20 minutes, start with 10 minutes.
Start with 1
You can also do to the extreme with this and starting with one: one minute, one push-up, one sentence per day. The point here is to create the habit of starting that activity every day. So that whatever happens, you know you can get back to your challenge and that it’s going to be easy.
Similarly, if you miss a day because on that specific day it was too difficult to find time or energy to do your challenge and hope to do more the next day to catch up, is just putting more stress on yourself without really encouraging you to do better. Imagine you are in the same marathon, if you were slow in the previous kilometer, you are unlikely going to be able to catch up on your time on your next kilometer. That time is just gone.
Its ok, keep going at your pace
And in many ways that is ok. You can still finish the race; it’s just going to take you a bit longer than expected. Learn from your experience and understand what happened. Did you overestimate your skills? Were you not properly prepared? Or were you simply sick that day? In any case, it is ok. Just look at what you already accomplished and readjust your goal accordingly. And if you are working with others, let them know.
One way to deal with this is to extend the time of your challenge and add the missing day at the end of your challenge. Thus your 30-day challenge becomes a 31-day challenge with 30 effective days. If you compare it to the race, if you take a break in the middle of the race, when you get back to it, you still have the same amount of kilometers to run as before you took the break.
We all have ups and downs in our lives, and if you are prepared for it, they are a lot easier to deal with.