The 30-day challenge - Week 1

April 2, a week ago, I started what I decided to call The 30-day challenge. The reasons are multiple but it all boils down to one thing: competence fosters confidence. I’m in a period of my life where I feel like I can do better, I can be better. Continuous self-improvement has always been one of my core values but I had never attempted at being consistent with it. By consistent I mean that my effort becomes measurable and can, therefore, be improved.

If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. (Peter Drucker)

The “challenge” consists of finding a way to cram 3 (three) hours of deliberate practice of 3 skills I would like to acquire for a total of 30 days with only one day of the week (Saturday or Sunday) to rest.

I chose the following skills to cover the 3 most important areas of one’s life (physical, intellectual and emotional/spiritual):

  • Get really fit (i.e. strength training 3 hours a week and cardio 3 more hours a week, other than stop eating crappy food).
  • Get better at problem solving (i.e. study algorithms and data structures and later practice coding challenges 1 hour a day).
  • Playing the guitar (i.e. practice for 1 hour a day).

This is a review of how the past week went.

All hours are equal but some are more equal than others

First of all let me say: saving 3 hours a day can be a struggle. I usually sleep 7-8 hours every night, that leaves me with 16 hours, 7-8 (including lunch break) are for work and that means I have a total of 8 hours every day that I can use for whatever activity I want. Spending 3 freaking hours on something that I consider important should be a breeze, right?

Wrong.

When you literally start “counting the hours” you quickly realize there is no such thing as “I’ll spend 1 hour on X, 1 on Y and 1 on Z and that means I’ll have spent 3 hours”. Obviously there is some sort of overhead to keep into account. Thankfully where I live now (Las Palmas de Gran Canaria) I don’t have to commute, anywhere, ever.

The place I always have breakfast in the morning is literally next to my place, the coworking space I attend is 200m away, there’s plenty of great restaurants all around and the gym is 100m from my apartment. If I decide to go to the gym at 6 I can be doing my first pullup at 6:20 no matter where I am.

Even considering such overhead the amount of hours needed for the challenge would be 4, maybe 5. Alright, let’s make it 6 hours, leaving ~2 hours for the occasional social event. How hard can it be to practice for 3 hours within an interval of 6?

Very hard.

It turns out that the major obstacle is not time, it’s energy. Aside from scheduling the activities so that I get to the gym right after work, then practice guitar and then get back to my laptop to practice coding, seems like all these things feed off the same source. Intuitively a 1-hour workout is supposed to eliminate stress, make you regain some mental focus and make you feel more energized for whatever you want to do after. And, in a sense, it does.

But over the course of a week I really struggled with motivating myself to stick to the schedule. Sometimes I would get back home from the gym, take a shower and feel like eating something and watching some Netflix even though I was mentally very much ready for any kind of intellectual work. My mind could have handled a couple of chapters of some nice tutorial on graphs, the rest of myself would cringe just thinking about it. Aligning your brain and your guts is tougher than I thought.

Where’s everyone?

Another major issue with this kind of activities is the complete lack of social interactions. Even though I regularly attend lunches and dinners with friends, crazy karaoke nights, group workouts and the like I still miss interacting with people while I practice any of the aforementioned things. I already thought about replacing one of the activities with a dance course or some other group activity I would like picking up but that would mean having to give up on something and, well, choosing what is definitely not easy.

Where am I right now?

So, all in all I love that I’m making every day count and I go to bed thinking to myself “man, I learned so much today!”, on the other hand I’m not sure this whole idea is sustainable, in the long run. If by the end of the last week things have improved I will definitely start a new challenge, maybe switching one or more skills with something different, likely more social.

Written on April 9, 2018