I Tried a 30-day Challenge and This Is What Happened


For the month of June, I challenged myself to make art every day for 30 days.


What is a 30-day challenge

A couple of years ago, I discovered personal 30-day challenges.  I had backed a Kickstarter campaign by Kate Matsudaira for the Spark Planner. It’s an analog agenda and what I liked about it was it also had a bigger picture section with guided prompts for you to think about what you want out of the year.

Each month, it also included a page on the next 30-day challenge with space to write out your “why” and a tracker too.

These 30-day challenges can be to read 10 minutes every day or to wake up at 6 am every day.  The idea was to do something different to 1) push you out of your routineI’m and 2) create new habits.

Why do a 30-day challenge

I enjoy these challenges because they give me a sense of accomplishment when I’m done.  I’m also a goal-oriented person.  So it’s hard to motivate myself to do something “just because”.  But if there is a concrete measure of completeness, then it’s much easier for me.  I use the challenges to complete projects, to try new things, to push myself.

Recently, I had noticed that I was scrolling a lot when I got home from work.  I used it to de-stress.  So I’d scroll Instagram, then Facebook, then Twitter.  I was probably scrolling 2-3 hours a night.  Not only was it unproductive, but I also noticed that my attention span had shrunk. I found myself flitting from one topic to another, channel surfing, social media surfing.

All the while feeling vague… dissatisfied.

I figured I’d find a fun way to train myself to concentrate back on one thing at a time.

Set Yourself up for Success

Many people are too hard on themselves and some of us even self-sabotage (another article topic for another day).  These challenges aren’t meant to be super serious so no need to pile on the pressure.

Still, I try to make things as smooth for myself.  So just before I started the challenge, I took a 2-hour workshop on learning how to sketch and watercolour.  It was at a local art supply store, very informal.  Everyone was a novice and we had a good laugh at some of our first creations!  The workshop also taught me a couple of techniques so I can practice at home.

How did this set me up? I figured that my most likely obstacle would be a lack of confidence.  It’s hard to look at something you created and not like it or not think it was aesthetically pleasing. Like a resume, you end up feeling like your worth/skill/creativity is represented in this 2 dimensions page and .. it kinda sucks. But the workshop showed me that others were in the same boat and it provided tools & skills that I could work on instead of floundering.

So if you are embarking on something that feels out of your comfort zone, get some resources to help mitigate your obstacles.

Benefits from the Exercise

  1. Something to Look forward to:

Because the challenge was an activity I enjoyed, I looked forward to the day where I could fit it in.  Sometimes it was at lunch.  Sometimes it had to wait until I got home from work.  It was a little highlight I could count on, even if work was stressful or people were annoying me.

Instead of heading to the mall to decompress or look for something to cheer me up, I knew I could turn to 20-30 minutes of art to provide the self-soothing that I needed.  Let’s face it, I might have bought lipsticks in the past to make myself feel better, but I didn’t actually feel any better.  I just convinced myself that I did.

2. Mediative

As I had hoped, I did train myself to settle down and concentrate on the task at hand.  I only spent maybe 30 minutes a day on the activity, it was 30 minutes where my mind wasn’t racing with all the things I “should” be doing.  I was never really good with the “sit still” version of mediation.  Instead, I’d opt for the rhymic breathing I practiced from running.  During runs, I couldn’t really focus on more than 1 thought at a time, and I found that drawing and painting had the same effect.

3. Pride and Connection

To keep myself accountable, during the 30 days, I posted the finished works on my social media feed.  Either I thought the work was good or bad, I posted it.  Even in things that I didn’t think were very good, my friends were able to find some aspect that they liked.  I had a sense of pride in showing them my progress too.  And another unexpected benefit was that several of my friends whom I’d not spoke to in a long time reached out to me.

Lessons I Took Away

  1. The more you look, the more you see.

I wasn’t someone that can draw from things I imagine in my head.  I’m more of a copier.  I see something and I try to recreate it.  In order to do that, I have to look for vignettes I’d like to recreate.

So I would try to find the beauty in everyday scenes.  On my commute.  While walking past a heritage building.  And when I stopped to look, I would see more and more details that enriched the whole.  The perspective made me appreciate the little things and cultivated gratitude even during everyday annoyances.

2. You Can Recover From Mistakes

Do you remember Bob Ross?  I loved watching him as a kid on public television.  His voice was just so soothing.  I still watch him on Netflix when I need a dose of calm.  He used to say that there are no mistakes, just happy accidents. He was very encouraging.

Over the month, I made many happy accidents.  Paints that didn’t go where I expected them.  Proportions that weren’t quite right.  Colours that didn’t translate well.  During those times, I just made adjustments to compensate.  Little tweaks here and there.

And you know what?

I was the only one that noticed in the end.

A lot of women tell me they are afraid of investing themselves because they are afraid of making a mistake.  What this month taught me is that mistakes are inevitable.  What’s more, few are so catastrophic that we can’t make adjustments along the way.

3. Leave White Space

Ok, I’ll get philosophical here.  During the week, I made 10 pieces.  I noticed that for many of them, I was tempted to fill the page with everything. Fill up every millimetre with colour, with lines. But most pictures looked better when there was more white space.  Kinda like our calendars. We fill every slot in our calendars and we stress ourselves out.

The time I gave myself to make art was just white space in my calendar.  That time was for me to just experiment, try new things.  Time to be with my thoughts.  Because I didn’t give myself a task that I had to finish anything during that time, that was when I was most productive and creative.

The Next 30 Days

This wasn’t the first 30-day challenge I’ve done.   I’ve done fun ones like try something new for 30-days.  I’ve done serious ones like 30-days to get my finances in order (usually in January). Each time I do it, I’m motivated to keep going.

First is to decide on which goal you’d like to pursue.  Pair that with the seasons too.  Walking 30 minutes a day might be easier in the summer than in the winter.  Meal prepping might be more useful during back to school than in the summertime.

Next is to set yourself up for success.  I took a workshop to give me tools & skills so I wouldn’t get discouraged.  If your challenge is to meal prep, then make sure you have containers to store everything in your fridge.

Finally, start with something that you enjoy.  Sure you can start with the hardest tasks you’ve been putting off.  However, I don’t think you’ll get momentum behind that.  If you start with something you like doing but don’t do it enough, you’ll get a lot of positive feedback to keep going.  And once you start getting out of your comfort zone, it’s easier to stay out there.  Momentum is your friend!

So what is your 30-day challenge?

Tell me in the comments below!

2 thoughts on “I Tried a 30-day Challenge and This Is What Happened”

  1. I will start my morning with 7 sun salutations every day for the next 30 days. I did this while on a mini “lay”-cay (lay around the pools at Harbin Hot Springs for a day and a half). I was amazed at how my body felt completely different when I was done. I was more focused and calm but also invigorated.
    I truly appreciate your mention of the importance of white space.
    Thanks for a good read!

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