Week One Complete

One of my favorite movies growing up was the comedy Airplane!, a silly take on 70’s disaster movies that may hold the record for in-your-face jokes per minute.

One of the famous recurring bits in the movie is when Lloyd Bridges’ air traffic control character responds to the increasing problems thrown his way by lamenting giving up an increasingly harmful group of addictions.

While I thankfully don’t share this character’s addictions, I can empathize with him after what the first week of January has thrown at us.

First, we watched as my wife’s home country of Kazakhstan experienced unrest like never before, with protests against corruption that have been a long time coming, apparent infiltration of peaceful protestors by violent actors of unknown origin, the firing and arrest of top levels of the Kazakh government, shootings and bombs and burning of government buildings, days of internet outages preventing us from contacting friends and family, and capped off by the president of Kazakhstan making the unprecedented move of inviting foreign soldiers to come help restore order.

Second, our son came home from school on Thursday and by Thursday night he had a fever in the 100’s and then a rough night of sleep. The next morning I tried in vain to secure an appointment to get him tested for COVID, and so we ended up sitting in a local urgent care for a few hours. And just liked we hoped wouldn’t happen, the results came back that he’d tested positive. So, after successfully dodging the virus since it first went wild in China back in January 2020, it finally caught us two years later. What a big surprise, considering how so many people in the U.S. seem to have thrown in the towel and accepted that it’ll just burn through the population. So now we have our eight-year-old isolated in our bedroom upstairs and we’re doing our best to not catch it ourselves.

And the icing on the cake? Since I’ve now been directly exposed to the virus, I won’t be able to start my new job on Monday teaching English to immigrants and refugees at our local community college. This really bums me out, because I’ve really been looking forward to starting that new role.

Of course we’re thankful that Noah’s experience with COVID has been mild so far, but that plus our concerns for Kazakhstan make me think…


But I’m pressing on, and I’ve done better with some of the challenges than I have with others. If you’re interested, you can read on as I unpack both.

As a reminder, during the month of January I chose to observe Dry January for my health, a thirty day challenge for finances, expressing my creativity by drawing a new creature each day during Creatuanary, and observing 31 Days of Mindfulness for my spirit.

Things I Did Better

The best success I’ve had so far is the thing that I thought would be the hardest, and that’s Dry January. I’d developed a nightly nightcap habit prior to the start of the challenge, and it’s a whole lot easier to not do something for a month than to try and do something new for a month.

So, while I’ve had a couple of times where my stress level has insisted that a drink would help, Dry January has been a good encouragement to opt for a cup of herbal tea instead. Also, it’s been nice to wake up feeling awful because I’m getting older and not because I had a glass too many of something the night before.

I’ve also had some success in re-examining my finances. Mostly realizing that I needed to be more intentional in planning for the not-as-far-away-as-I’d-like-it-to-be retirement years. I’ve also looked into some good high interest online savings accounts for our emergency fund as well as a good Roth IRA for retirement. I would encourage anyone who doesn’t have a good grip on their finances to go through a financial challenge like the one I’m doing.

Things I Can Do Better

I originally wrote that I’d had successes and failures with these challenges, but as I started to write about my “failures” I realized that I was approaching these challenges the wrong way. After all, these are all things I’m doing to better myself or to be a better version of myself. If I do one consistently and another with less frequency, it doesn’t mean I’ve failed. It just means that I’m doing the best that I can and it’s an encouragement to re-examine how I’m approaching the challenge. I’m cool with that.

The other two challenges have been more challenging to me, even if I have had a degree of success with them.

First, I’ve had trouble consistently carving out time for the mindfulness challenge even though I’ve enjoyed it when I’ve done it. The point of the mindfulness, which I appreciate, is to learn how to slow down and live in the moment, and that is something that is worth my continuing to try and do.

Second, the Creatuanary drawing challenge has been surprisingly difficult. I think it is because I started searching for other people’s work, and most of the people posting their work with this challenge seem to be professional artists, or at least they could be. Me? I am – at best – a novice cartoonist, and my drawings reflect that level of artistry. And so the dreaded beast of comparison breaks down the door, growls at me, and then gobbles down my enthusiasm to continue. I’m working to convince myself that I’m approaching it the wrong way – that it doesn’t matter how great my drawings are, the point is to just draw.

Just draw.

An important point is starting to emerge with regards to this and future creative challenges, and that is to remember that I’m not doing this for professional pride or with hopes of starting a new career. I’m doing it so that I have an avenue of self-expression that I ordinarily wouldn’t have. I’m being creative in a medium that I haven’t been creative in since I was a kid, back when I didn’t care if I drew as well as a professional artist in another city. Back then I drew for the joy of drawing, and that’s what I need to bring back to this drawing challenge and any other creative challenge that I might tackle during the next 51 weeks.

I’ve enjoyed hearing from folks this week, here on the blog, on my social media, and on Reddit where I’ve been posting about Dry January and Creatuanary in the subreddits there. That’s a big thing that I’m learning – the importance of going through challenges with other people. It’s great to do something like this in community!

So don’t forget about me as you go through your own challenges! And to remind you, I leave you with a new favorite cover of an old favorite song, a bluegrass version of Simple Minds “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” by Supper Break. Enjoy a little taste of the music of western North Carolina.


Onward!
Nate

Day 4 • A Short Report

The challenges continue to go well.

I’m wrapping up day 4 of Dry January, and I’m encouraged that it’s not been so hard. Alcohol was my go-to relaxation at the end of the day, so I’m working at finding healthier and less expensive ways to relax. I’ve had decaf tea these past two nights and played Xbox, and while this combo doesn’t get the same result as a glass of Elijah Craig, I’ve enjoyed it so far.

For my second challenge, I had a good exercise in mindfulness today, which included a meditation session, which made me feel (for lack of a less cliche’d word) centered. But this is the value of mindfulness: it helps you be in the moment, to pause and breathe and think about the fact that you’re breathing, to take a moment to think about the cup of coffee you’re about to sip, to pay attention to the sounds around you. I appreciate this daily reminder that I need to practice being present.

My financial health challenge continues, with a deep dive into how we’re setting things up for retirement. The organization that I work for doesn’t offer any sort of IRAs, so we’ve always invested through a financial advisor at our bank. My focus today looked at the value of having some diversification in your retirement, so I started looking into Roth IRAs.

Finally, my creature challenge today was unusual in that it was an animal that actually exists: the narwhal. So, I decided to do something completely shocking and drop my narwhals into a galaxy far, far away.

I liked the narwhals, but wasn’t so happy with the light sabers. But that said, it’s been fun to sit and draw after not doing it for so long!

Onward!
Nate

Dry January

The first challenge I chose for my 365 Days of Thirty Day Challenges project was pretty easy to choose, if perhaps not so easy to do.

Dry January.

Dry January is a challenge that started in the UK nine years ago, led by Alcohol Change UK, an organization that exists to reduce the harm done by alcohol. Its first challenge in 2013 saw 4,000 participants. This year, organizers report that over 130,000 people are improving their lives by reducing their alcohol intake for the month of January.

The purpose of the challenge is to help people get a handle on potential problematic drinking. The really cool thing is that, according to their website, scientific studies support the value of taking a month off this particular vice.

New research from Royal Free Hospital backs up just how good a month off the booze is for the body; improvements in concentration and sleep patterns, as well as positive impact on blood sugar levels, blood pressure and the liver.

alcoholchange.org.uk

Furthermore, independent research by the University of Sussex backs up the value of the challenge, reporting that among participants of Dry January,

There was a significant weakening of drinking motives, and significant reductions in drinking at 6-month follow-up… and participants reported improvements in their general health, sleep quality, concentration, energy levels, and skin. Many also reported losing weight.

Richard de Visser, PhD, Nina Lockwood, PhD – School of Psychology
University of Sussex

You may be wondering why I, in particular, chose this specific challenge, and it’s a fair question. Confession time… I’ve been using alcohol as a coping mechanism for quite a while now. Not just during the pandemic (although the last three years have certainly exasperated things), but also due to other stresses in life. Add all of that to the over-reliance of alcohol consumption in the international expatriate community, where too many people use alcohol to manage the stress of being a foreigner dealing with learning new cultures, languages, jobs, and mindsets.

All of this brought me to the point where I recognized that I need to back off. I’m hopeful that Dry January will give me an organized excuse as well as an online support community that will help me do what needs to be done to improve this area of my life.

It helps that the organizers of Dry January have some great support materials available. On their website, you can sign up for daily emails to encourage you along the way. They’ve also developed the Try Dry app, a free app that tracks your progress throughout the month. For added incentives, the app lets you know how much money and calories you’ve saved by not drinking. It’s good to have both of those facts displayed!

I might come back to my personal motivations for participating in this challenge later in the month, but for now I’ll just say that I’m really glad to be participating. If you’d like to do a reset with your own alcohol consumption, please join me! Drop me an email at info@thimblerigsark.com and we can talk about supporting each other during the month.

Other Challenge Updates

I’m glad to report that I was able to complete my daily challenges in all four of the challenges in which I’m engaged on this, the first day.

Finances

For my financial challenge, I spent a bit of time writing out all my fixed expenditures and all of my assets, as well as examining if we’re saving properly for retirement. It was good to have it all laid out in front of me, and it will be the baseline moving forward in the month.

One chart which I found to be very helpful, and may be helpful to any of you who might be on the younger side, dealt with compound interest.

https://www.nytimes.com/guides/business/saving-money-for-retirement

Essentially, this means that the earlier you start investing the better off you’ll be when you retire. It makes sense, but the difference made by starting ten years earlier really blew me away.

Spiritual

For my spiritual challenge, I chose to start with a month of mindfulness. My first challenge was short and easy: to sit quietly for two minutes and focus on sounds. I sat out on my front porch, and realized a couple of things: First, a stiff breeze rustling the leaves is one of the most pleasant sounds you can hear.

Second, tinnitus really sucks.

I also had a separate positive experience for my soul. My wife and I hiked to a nearby scenic overlook, and it was incredibly restorative to be out in nature for a couple of hours.

Creativity

I’ve struggled with being creative these past couple of years, so to help ease back in, I decided to participate in #Creatuanary, a drawing challenge where participants create a new creature each day based on a given prompt. Today, I was challenged to draw a piranha dog. Here’s my final sketch.

Day 1 down. 364 to go.

Onward!
Nate

365 Days of 30 Day Challenges… And So It Begins…

I really don’t know how I decided to do this.

I vaguely remember the idea occurring to me when I was sitting and having a cup of coffee. Or maybe I was walking the path at our local park. Or, it might have been when I was taking a shower.

Like most things over the last couple years, it’s fairly hazy.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is nano-shield-logo-web-2.png


I do know it started with National Novel Writing Month, a writing challenge in November in which I’ve participated for several years. My son, who is an artist, had also participated in Inktober, and one day while I was sipping a coffee or walking the trail or rinsing some suds, I thought – would it be crazy to do Inktober in October then follow that up with Nanowrimo in November?

What 30 day challenges are in December? What about January?

Then, it just snowballed.

And now I find myself on December 31, 2021, preparing to attempt to spend the next twelve months participating in several monthly challenges each month.

To be honest, I think something may have snapped in me because of the pandemic, but I figure it’s better to do something like this as a result of the snapping rather than being videotaped yelling at a stranger in public, as so many snapped people have done.

I can imagine what some people might think of this idea… that it is just another attempt to make resolutions, and everyone knows that resolutions typically fail, and this one is destined to fail spectacularly.

But don’t most resolutions fail because they’re so open-ended?

“In 2022, I want to lose weight.”
“I want to learn to play the violin.”
“I want to do 20 pushups a day.”

Doing something for only 30 days is imminently possible. And maybe along the way I will find something I want to do for more than 30 days. Or maybe some aspect of my life will improve because I took the time to try.

I think it’s worth the shot.

So, here’s the challenge I’m proposing for myself.

Each month, I’m going to pick four(ish) challenges. I will do my best to pick months that are chosen specifically for the month (like Inktober or Nanowrimo), but they may not always be. I’m also going to try to focus on four areas each month… health, finances, creativity, and spirituality. Then I’m going to write about how the 30 days are going on this newly formed blog as some kind of public accountability.

For example, during the month of January, I’ve chosen to observe Dry January for my health (as I said, the last two years have been rough), a thirty day challenge for finances, expressing my creativity by drawing a new creature each day during Creatuanary, and observing 31 Days of Mindfulness for my spirit.

Y’all, I do realize how insane this sounds. It’s hard enough to do one extra thing a day for a month, let alone four. But we’ll see how it goes. Honestly? Maybe I’ll burn out by April and be done with the whole project. Maybe by March I’ll realize that I bit off too much and take it down to one challenge a month. Or, maybe I’ll find my life improving in some ways as a result of this insane sounding idea, and I’ll actually do it for the full 365.

Time will tell. But, I invite you to join me in this ride by subscribing to this blog and following my year. And if you know of any good free monthly challenges for the upcoming months, let me know, because I’ve started assembling a database of monthly challenges, and I’ll be looking for interesting things to do for 30 days. This includes fund-raising challenges. It would be cool if this project could help raise some money for some good causes, too.

Finally, if you’d like to join me on any of my challenges, let me know. I’d love some company! I’ll do my best to post them about a week before the following month begins so folks can prepare.

So, I’ve got one more day until the challenges begin. Wish me luck, and here’s hoping The Rescues are right about next year.