12-Week Challenge

I’m back, and again preparing for some sort of mental challenge. This time it will be easier though, in a sense, cause I’m not stuffing myself up with a lot of things to do. So what is the 12-week challenge all about this time? Simple – the goal I set at the start of the year: to write 3 hours every day. 

External Motivation

I’ve learnt my lesson from the miserably failed Self-Discipline Challenge so as well as being easier, I’m making sure I’m being more motivated with this challenge by giving myself external rewards to strive for. How do I do this? By adding some carrots to different milestones along the way, thus also splitting the larger goal into smaller goals.

That’s one thing I definitely didn’t give for myself in terms of Self-Discipline Challenge. There wasn’t a clear reward to follow for sticking to the insane schedule I had designed myself, so it was no wonder I ended up failing. I also didn’t probably at any point fully believe I could achieve my goal of total adherence to the schedule, as it was a too big of a pill to swallow at once. Now not only will I start completing my goal day and a week at a time, I also have clear reward to strive for in the end, and even in the different parts of the way.

Rewarding Myself

So I’ve established I’m set to write 3 hours (of fiction) every day for the next 12 weeks. How I’m going to reward myself for all of this? I always believed stuff like this should be something that you just do out of internal motivation, but looking back at almost everything “great” (your mileage may vary) I’ve achieved in the past, it has almost always come through external pressure/motivation. Let’s go through some of those, it’s an amusing exercise to say the least:

  • I juice-fasted (max 400 cal/day) for 5½ days in 2011. External motivation: Competition against my sister. I won.
  • I watched all Simpsons episodes (about 450 at the time) in one month in 2010. External motivation: Just to be able to say that… though in hindsight its something I never bragged about, watching 10 hours a day of terrible episodes towards the back end of it isn’t that cool…
  • I completed a march of about 50 km with full battle gear and having to stay hidden. External motivation: Well it was in the army.
  • I did a complex skill practice challenge regarding football, requiring certain minimums every day for over two months (in total I practiced for over 400 days in a row). External motivation: I promised to buy myself a Javier Zanetti (my favorite player) jersey as a reward… and I did – that said if anything on my list is also internally motivated its this – I wouldn’t have done 400 days in a row without that.
  • I worked hard and completed my first niche site in early 2012. External motivation: I needed money for Malaysia trip. Ironically the site started bringing money much later.
  • I worked hard and completed my first Kindle ebook in late 2012. External motivation: I needed money for the Japan trip. Ironically I only received my first cheque after the trip, even if it immediately started making sales.

Well, I’d think you get the point. I’d say in the end most of the things we do are somehow externally motivated, so my previous paradigm of kind of resenting it was very flawed indeed. Whatever gets you moving should be used, especially when you want to create the life you want. I mean lets face it, I’m not doing 3 hours of writing for whatever rewards I set for myself. I’m doing it to change my life for the better, to engrain the professional attitude towards writing into me, to write a lot more than I’m currently writing, and to get a lot of shit done that ultimately will lead to a better life.

Your Brain Needs to Actually Believe It

So why can’t you just say: “Okay, I’m gonna write 3 hours every day to improve my life.” Shouldn’t that be easily sufficient motivation? Well anyone who has tried to just adopt a habit like that knows it doesn’t quite work that way. Your brain can’t grasp after completing few days how it’s going to change your life. It’s not seeing any change. So you rationalize and eventually fall off the habit. So you have to set another perk for it to complete the desired task. Think of your brain as a different entity to you altogether. Kind of like a dog to train. I mean that’s what your brain ultimately still is – you’re just an animal capable of thinking. That brain is still very primal and primitive. So you gotta treat it that way.

Set tangible rewards, for goals it actually believes it can achieve. I’m going to set my rewards here and provide a little bit of explanation for it all.

Day 1

Reward: Night of gaming various games.

After completing the day 1 and starting my challenge on the right path, I’m going to start training the animal that is my brain with a gaming session. As you might know I’m a recovering video game addict, that said I’ve managed to wean off of that lately so I’m not worried of a relapse if I use games as a reward after completing my daily quota.

Week 1

Reward: Get myself a mini ball.

One week in and the challenge will be off to a promising start. The first few days are among the hardest to slog out, but the first tangible reward will be only a few days away. I’ve needed a mini ball for a while, for something that you can easily carry with you anywhere and do some skill practice if you have some downtime. Would be awesome, so should keep me very motivated for first week – for these to be real rewards, I can’t get one if I don’t succeed in this.

Week 2

Reward: As I can’t come up with anything, I’ll let my gf come up with something.

Now the challenge will be starting to gain momentum, yet during the second week the brain will easily start to rationalize – no letting it do such things, as the eyes will be firmly on the second reward.

Week 4

Reward: A new mp3 player.

One third in and since we are near the month mark, the animal that is my brain is slowly starting to get used to writing 3 hours a day. Its time to reward it big time. My bit over year-old iPod Nano go busted recently and while I never really needed nor wanted an mp3 player (got mine for Christmas), I kinda got used to it during the year I had it. So if I make it to the four week mark, I’ll get myself a new one – probably will not go Apple way, since the new Nano sucks for what I use it for and rest of the iPods have excessive features (and price) for what I need.

Week 8

Reward: Will figure it out later.

Two thirds completed and I’m nearing the end of the challenge. This is the final intermediate goal needed as momentum and seeing final reward within my grasp should see me through.

Week 12 – The Completion

Reward: Return to Malaysia + Bungee Jumping

I’ve won the challenge, and earnt the ultimate reward. I ignore whatever the financial constraints I have and just reward myself with a return to Malaysia. My finances at that point will determine if I can stay for extended period or if it will just be another short-term visit, but regardless to further amp myself up for the trip I’ve decided I’ll do reward myself with a bungee jump.

Now that might seem cruel and unusual punishment to most of you, so how come I’m using it as a reward? Well, the idea excites me, so it just might be the kind of thing that will push me through resistance when I am having hard time. Time will tell if it is a good potential reward.

This is the first time I use external rewards in such structured manner. Will see how this goes. My life has been slowly recovering after horrible start of the year (nothing bad has happened – I’ve just been out of whack and having completely lost my productivity) and I’m certain this challenge will go better than Self-Discipline Challenge.

Now if you will excuse me, I’ll go play games after having just finished my first three-hours of daily writing!

If this post invoked any thoughts, share them in the comments!

2 Responses to “12-Week Challenge”

  1. Carlie Hamilton June 25, 2013 at 9:18 am #

    Sergio sent me here, I’m probably going to stick around – I’m a writer too, and love metal :) Plus I see you’ve gone to Japan, and Japan will always have a special place in my heart. I can’t wait to watch your videos.

    Anyway, let me tell you, NO ONE can do anything based on will power alone. Will power is a lie. We all need some kind of external motivation, or else the consequences of not doing it need to be greater.

    So bribe yourself, and follow through with punishments (such as blogging on here that you have failed for the day. Do whatever it takes! Eventually, hopefully, things become habit.

    See you around!

    • Jarkko Helenius June 25, 2013 at 5:47 pm #

      Thanks Carlie. Guess the fact that I’m a hopeless idealist at heart makes me have an idealized notion of willpower as well. I always labeled using rewards as “bad”, failing to see that most of my achievements came from chasing something external. This was further emphasized by reading people like Leo Babauta praise goalless living which basically teaches that you should do stuff not by making goals artificially – but discussing that would merit a whole another post.

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