I've signed up for a lot of challenges - 10-day, 30-day, 60-day challenges. I've also created many of my own. Years ago, I overcame my fear of watercolors by committing to paint every single day for 30 days. I once spent a summer doing push ups every morning. In 2011, I launched a year-long fearless love project, and in 2017, I hosted an online version of my 30-day Find Your Awesome challenge. I'm writing this post on Day 50 of #the100DayProject, an annual art challenge during which people all over the world commit to exploring their creativity every day for 100 days.
Obviously, I'm a believer in challenges, and I especially like the ones that center around creative goals. Whether you're learning a whole new art form, trying a new technique, or simply creating a daily art habit, couching the goal within the structure of a personal challenge is one of the best ways to move forward. Not only does it get you heading in the desired direction, it has, built into it, the energetic momentum of a streak. Humans love streaks.
The downside, of course, is that challenges are hard to stick to. In the beginning, before you've formed anything resembling a habit, it's easy to forget your're doing a challenge. Later, when life starts to get in the way of your good intentions, it's easy to miss a day, and then two, and then three, and pretty soon, all that enthusiasm and excitement you had at the beginning gets replaced by guilt and self-flagellation.
But I'm a true believer. I've accomplished many things that started out as challenges (including my first-ever adult coloring book, which began as a personal challenge to draw thirty different ink illustrations... that led, ultimately, to more books and a publisher.) So, in the interest of encouraging you to give it a try, here's my list of five ways to make a creative challenge work for you.
1. Pick the right challenge.
Build your challenge around something you really, really want to accomplish. Don't pick something you feel you should do; that rarely works. Pick a goal that excites you. For #The100DayProject, I chose "expanding my portfolio with the kind of art I most want to do this year and beyond." I was careful not to choose ahead of time what form the art would take in terms of the medium or the finished product. I simply required it to be the art "I most want to do." Needless to say, I look forward to this part of every day.
2. Make it something you can do in 10-15 minutes/day.
Life ALWAYS gets in the way, so choose something that can be done in 10-15 minutes. You can always devote more time if you have it, but make the daily goal infinitely achievable. If your project is complicated, make sure it can be broken down into daily pieces. Avoid any project that requires a lot of set-up or tear-down time. For #The100DayProject, I didn't set a goal of completing an art piece every day, just working on one. That works whether I have 15 minutes or 2 hours. The overall goal can be lofty, but the daily goals need to be, first and foremost, achievable.
3. Embrace the streak.
There's some very good dopamine-fueled science for why streak psychology works, but for our purposes, let's acknowledge it does, and use that to our advantage. Keeping a visible record of your project's daily count is motivating. Whether you get a habit-tracking app or simply X out days on a calendar, the visual reminder of your commitment in the form of an unbroken chain provides a positive feedback loop. Every day, it becomes harder and harder to imagine intentionally breaking the streak, and each day's success launches you into the next.
4. Define "streak."
This is going to sound like cheating, but it's not. It's survival, and self-care, and real-world pragmatism all wrapped into one. Do not freak out if you miss a day. I used to spend time beating myself up about my inevitable slip-ups, but at some point, I realized that's counterproductive. So far, in the first 50 days of #The100DayProject, I've missed four days due to travel, and I don't care. Compared to the amount of time I've spent engaged with my art - learning, playing, experimenting - four days is nothing.
5. Make your own rules.
I decided during #The100DayProject, I wouldn't count any work I did for clients. That has forced me to make time to create art I love simply because I love it - something I don't do nearly enough. It's also allowed me to focus the project entirely on my portfolio, where I now have nine new pieces and counting! The point is, whether you're creating your own challenge or joining an existing one, adopt (or make up entirely) the rules that best suit your life and aspirations. Then - and this is important - spend exactly ZERO minutes thinking about what anyone else is doing.