Challenge yourself

It’s daunting to start out the new year by telling ourselves that from this day forward, we will do this instead of that, and be this way and not that way. Instead, I’d like to try approaching my resolutions as personal challenges. Personal challenges are great because they don’t have to be for a year if you don’t want them to be, so they’re more manageable. Plus, saying that you’re taking on a challenge sounds like you’re doing something brave or fun, whereas saying you’ve made a “resolution” seems like the preamble to feeling bad two months later for not making it to the end of the year. Let’s set ourselves up for success from the very beginning. Challenges await!

I came up with the list below as I was amassing ideas for challenges I could take on in 2015. These challenges can be monthly, or every weekend, or however it works best for you. By no means do I believe that this is a comprehensive list, nor will it be at all relevant to some people. But if you’re looking to take on some personal challenges for the new year, this list might at least serve as a starting point in your thinking. Where you go from there is up to you.


  • One life drawing a day, either in a class, a drop-in session, or using yourself as model
  • Create an art postcard a day (another month, you could collect addresses from friends and family and write and send one art postcard a day)
  • Spend November doing NaNoWriMo (write a novel in a month!)
  • Keep an art journal, using prompt ideas from the internet (which are plentiful) or your own ideas
  • Read or write a poem a day
  • Pick a creative individual or movement to inspire your creativity for the month (for example, if you’re an artist you could pick Art Nouveau or Marina Abramovic, a musician might pick Brahms or Delta Blues, etc.)


  • Drink eight glasses of water every day
  • Figure out what time you should be turning off your lights in order to get 8 hours of sleep every night, and do it
  • Turn off your screens at least an hour before you go to bed every night
  • Yoga or stretching every day
  • Spend five minutes each day focusing on your breath
  • Get outside every day, whether it’s walking, hiking, climbing, gardening, playing Frisbee, or whatever (clearly more of a summer months challenge)
  • Cut processed foods from your diet for a month
  • One big hike/other outdoor activity per month or weekend

Personal Edification

  • Learn to play an instrument
  • Learn to dance (or if you already know how, learn a new dance)
  • Learn a new word every day. Use the word in a sentence by the end of the month
  • Learn a new language 
  • Teach something to someone else (this could be every day for smaller things, or a challenge for a full month or more if you’re doing something like teaching someone basic woodworking)
  • Do Lumosity every day for a month
  • Keep a regular journal or a dream journal
  • Perform one act of kindness a day
  • No social media/news/TV shows or movies (whichever is your biggest distraction)


  • Give a compliment a day. Even better if it’s to a different person every time.
  • Daily positive affirmation. If you want to work on one thing throughout the month, go for it. Or you could do a new affirmation every day
  • At the end of each day, write down:

- One thing a day that made you really laugh, or
- One positive thought you had, or
- One good thing that happened, or
- One thing you’re grateful for, or
- One way in which you felt inspired

  • Be less cynical: avoid negativity about yourself or others
  • Be less gossipy: if it’s not your story to share or discuss, don’t
  • If you have a partner: write down something you appreciate about them every day and give it all to them at the end of the month


  • Get rid of 30 things in 30 days
  • Don’t buy anything new for a month
  • Eat in for a month (bring lunches and coffee/breakfast from home every day, too)
  • One in, one out: For any new thing you bring into your home, you must get rid of one similar, pre-existing item
  • If you’re not used to budgeting, track all of your expenditures for 30 days just so you can see what you’re spending your money on. If anything seems excessive, try another month, this time cutting back on frivolities

Just for fun

  • Wear a different outfit every day. Delve deep into your closet and have fun with it. You can wear a piece of clothing more than once, but you can’t pair it with the same items you last wore it with. At the end of the month, get rid of whatever totally didn’t work for you.
  • Write loads of ideas for fun/silly things to do, put them in a jar, and pull one out every day and do it
  • Do a photo challenge, Instagram or otherwise
  • If you’re doing a physical challenge for the month, take a picture a day of yourself in the same lighting/outfit, and review your improvement at the end of the challenge. You’ll probably be pretty amazed at the positive changes you can bring about in just one month
  • See a live performance of some sort every month (or week, if you are a social person with decent cash flow)
  • Do something outside your comfort zone on a regular basis
  • Speak to someone new every at a social gathering you attend
  • An old high school acquaintance of mine seems to have set a goal of hitting every national park in the United States. I don’t know if she’s set a time limit on it, but at any rate it seems like a fun goal and she managed to make it to quite a few last year. You could do the same, or something different like amusement parks, winter resorts, wildlife refuges, etc.
  • On a smaller scale but same theme as above, you could make it a goal to explore your own city and get to know it from a different angle. Visit a new neighborhood every weekend (this is easy for me to say because there are 95 neighborhoods in Portland), visit all of the museums or parks in your city/town, go on art walks, check out farmer’s markets

I’m interested to hear how others are challenging themselves this year, so please free to post your own ideas in the comments, if you like.

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