After starting my career, I cemented myself into a weekly routine. Wake up. Grab my morning coffee. Work about 9 to 10 hours each day. Commute home. Order Seamless. Put on Netflix. Rinse and repeat.
Occasionally, I’d break from my usual weekly trance and mix things up with a trip to the gym, a cooking class, a long weekend. But never did I take a step back and reflect on the weekly decisions I made.
Was this a healthy routine? Am I spending my time wisely? Am I happy?
I got so transfixed on my robot-like life that I never took a step back to really truly challenge myself and question the monotonous decisions I made day-to-day, week-to-week, year-to-year. So this year, I decided to start the year off with something different. To challenge myself and break the routine.
A fresh start
Starting January 1, I embarked on a personal 30-day challenge. I gave up alcohol, grains, dairy, added sugar, and processed food. I set a goal of three weekly gym sessions and two weekly yoga classes.
The experience, while challenging but still sometimes dull, led me to question my previous routine and helped me see my life in a new way. It was a period of self-reflection and growth that led me to critically analyze my daily decision-making process. Ultimately, I learned that in just 30 days, I could make a profound, meaningful change in my life.
Because of the restrictive nature of my diet, I started grocery shopping multiple times per week and actually looking at the ingredients in the food I bought and consumed.
I began cooking at home regularly since I couldn’t default to eating out or ordering Seamless. Now, I planned my evening around my meal and ended up taking pleasure in the routine of researching a recipe, finding the ingredients when I grocery shopped, portioning my food, and cooking. I could walk through Whole Foods with a blindfold, and began to understand the basic anatomy of what it took to prepare a wholesome and (somewhat) delicious meal.
Outside of my comfort zone
But beyond the experience of cooking at home, which I understand is the norm for most people around the world, what this experience taught me was to leave my comfort zone, and try to pick up a new skill. (My previous attempts at cooking were tumultuous at best.)
I did learn how to NOT burn chicken to a mountain of dry char, but what this experience really taught me? I shouldn’t default to spending my free time each day after work vegging out on the couch watching Netflix, but instead learning a new skill that I gave me energy.
And beyond cooking, I found the new workout regime to be enlightening as well. Yoga became an escape from my daily pressures. It was a time for myself, to detach from the busy world around me and focus on not only my external, but my internal health. While I was far from the best “yogi,” it helped me understand that there were other ways to de-stress and have time for myself. (Beyond sitting in front of my TV endlessly searching for the next entertainment stimulant.)
Rethinking my free time
When it came to my weekends, I couldn’t enter my default setting of eating out with my friends or going to a bar or club. I had to rethink what I could do with my free time. Until this point, I only thought of my weekends in terms of the next party or trip away. I was blind to all the other things I could do as a young female in New York City, like go to art galleries, museums, or play board games in Central Park with my friends.
There may be many who read this thinking, “Great, you now cook, workout, and you realized there’s more to life than drinking. Here’s a giant round of applause for you!”
Yeah, I get it.
What really matters
But the point of a 30-day challenge isn’t about defaulting to some prescribed way of life. It’s about taking time to change your default settings, and actually stepping back and thinking about what really matters in your life.
You may decide, “I like Netflix, I miss eating out with my friends, and I like a good party.” Or you may realize other activities and routines that make you happier. The point is sometimes it’s useful to hit “pause” in your life, to untie that blindfold, and see if any changes that may be impactful for you.
At the end of the day, a 30-day challenge is anything you want it to be. But you won’t find out until you try it.