And Your Week 3 Challenges Are...
...better than a boot up the chuff, as my grandfather would say.
It’s week 3 of this, so I’m guessing you know the drill.
(And yesterday I explained why these challenges are so important for building a habit of curiosity. Go read that if you haven’t yet done so.)
In a nutshell:
I ask you to pick one or more of these (currently lockdown-appropriate) challenges and have a go over the coming week.
Finito. No punishments or medals if you do or don’t do - but if you have a crack at something here, you’ll enjoy fun, meaningful benefits over time, in the most random and unpredictable ways, I promise you.
Oh, and if there’s someone else you’d love to rope into all this madness, use the button below to lasso them:
Right then. Here’s the week 3 lineup.
1) Take A Virtual Journey
Welcome to my favourite lockdown hobby.
Yep, a virtual journey is nowhere near as thrilling as the real thing - and I suspect this’ll still be true when we’re all wearing Virtual Reality headgear. (Take the ever-changing cocktail of smells wafting in through the cracked-open window of a train carriage. How would you ever simulate that?)
But the next best thing is still surprisingly good. It’s also incredibly relaxing. I have been using virtual train journeys to tamp down my anxiety on particularly nervous & jittery days, and it has worked beautifully.
So, over the coming week, commit some serious time - at least a couple of hours - to one or more of these.
(a) A train ride. YouTube is absolutely chock-full of entire journeys filmed from the driver’s cab in HD. Try the 2-hour journey from St Moritz to Tirano (Switzerland), over the Bernina Pass - or, less relaxingly, the spectacular 10-minute, 1500-foot Gelmerbahn funicular descent. Or this gorgeous trip through the mountains in Montenegro, filmed in 4K. There are hundreds more, maybe thousands. Go find yours.
(b) A walk along the streets of a city. This site is the best I’ve seen (h/t to my friend Reine), that comes with the bustling noises of normal city life, but I’m sure you’ll find others. It’s a booming creative industry right now, for understandable reasons.
(c) An opened window in another country. WindowSwap is recorded footage of the view outside someone’s house in another country (interspersed with a few adverts, it looks like). It’s an evolution of that world-webcam thing that used to be all the rage a decade ago. And it’s even more chilled out. Go boil up a beverage and sit with a different view for a while, letting your thoughts drift to entirely new places.
2) Plant Something Outside (And Create A Prompt To Return To It)
One day a few years ago, while living in Costa Rica, I noticed my vegetable rack contained a wizened old sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas). It didn't look very appetizing, so, inspired by Andy Weir's The Martian, I chopped it into pieces and planted them in a corner of the garden.
A few months later, thanks to the incredible fertility of the soil there, I had a tiny forest of large, ground-hugging leaves.
A month later I pulled some of them up to find a wee crop of tiny potatolets. I felt very proud of myself, even though the potatoes had done all the work. Yes! I was going to survive until Earth sent a rescue mission!
Now I regret it. I should have left them a bit longer. Or - well, forever. Yes, food gardening is delightful, but the fun for me was having helped something grow. Adding something to the biosphere for a change. But also, beyond such environmental concerns, that profound, quiet satisfaction of making, of nurturing and supporting another life.
Maybe I'll return to that house in a few decades and find they've spread over the whole valley, destroying coffee plantations and bringing the Costa Rican economy to its knees. (I hope everyone there remembers my intentions were good ones.)
These last couple of years, I’ve been renting my way around Europe - but wherever I’ve gone, I’ve tasked myself with leaving some kind of plant (a houseplant or something on the property) in better shape than when I arrived. It’s a deeply satisfying little ritual to maintain when so much else in my life is movement and upheaval.
Planting something and watching it grow is good for your soul. It's leaving a living mark upon the world, doing a tiny bit towards making it a more beautiful place with cleaner air - and it's something you can return to at a later date, to tally your own progress against, and think, "Yay for teamwork!"
This week, I challenge you to do this with something longer-lasting than potatoes - say, a tree - but do it outside your own garden.
You could pick a corner of a bit of local wasteland that hasn’t been tended for decades. You could find a special place in a local wood, or at the banks of a stream or river (watch for signs of flooding - that’s probably not a great place for newborns to grow).
Or you could plant something on a piece of public but neglected land - somewhere where it won't be in the way if it flourishes, but somewhere where it will be appreciated when it does.
If you do this, you will be joining the ranks of guerilla gardeners worldwide, helping beautify land that desperately needs it.
You'll also need to make a note of the exact spot where you do your planting, so you can leave a note for your future self - or use this free service to send an email 5 years into the future.
This could be the start of the most meaningful non-human relationship you’ll ever have.
3) Reread Something You Loved Or Hated
…because rereading is a dying art.
If you look at all the reading challenges online (eg. Goodreads), you’ll see they're implicitly or outspokenly focused on new books. The problem here is the way our brains work. For an idea to really, truly sink in, we need to be exposed to it multiple times.
(This is a big thing in internet marketing.)
So sometimes - just sometimes - for a book to work its full magic upon us, and for a story to really get under our skin and write all its important lessons on our hearts, we need to go through it more than once.
I suggest both "loved" and "hated" because both of these are strong emotional reactions, which are usually a sign you're having your ideas challenged in some way.
(The second time I forced myself through Dan Brown's excruciating Da Vinci Code, I learned a lot more about how I didn't want to write. That kind of thing.)
What's your favourite book? And when was the last time you read it? Who were you, back then, compared to who you are now? (If a lot’s happened since that time, maybe you’ll have a richer, deeper or at least different reading experience if you had a go at it now?)
What's a book you really loathed? When exactly was that?
What’s the very first book you ever read? Or the second, or third? (Family members might be able to help you here.)
4) Remove “But” and “No” From Your Vocabulary
For one week, you cannot use either of these words in conversation with another human being.
The most common use of the word "but" is when you're trying to justify why you can't do something:
"I'd love to paint but I just don't have the time."
"I'd love to learn the guitar but I’m not musical enough."
"I'd love to go for a walk but it’s raining."
Used in this way, "but" closes doors. In fact, it slams them shut and locks them. Anyone on the receiving end of your "but" might walk away thinking you're negative, overworked, inaccessible or entirely lacking in adventurous fun.
But when it's you you're using your "but" on, that's even worse. You get used to coming up with reasons to not attempt things. The language you use kills your ability to think about it - with depressingly predictable results.
So, hold your "but", as it were. Every time you need to use that word, stop yourself and reword your reply. A good place to start is replacing it with "and" or "why":
"I'd love to paint and I just don't have the time. Why? Hm…."
This forces you to keep talking around the problem - hopefully long enough to find solutions, the kind of solutions that "but" prevents you from seeing.
(Bonus points awarded if you carry a tiny notebook, and make a note every time you replaced "but" with something more productive. )
Maybe you saw the film Yes Man with Jim Carrey? It's actually based on a bestselling book by English writer Danny Wallace. He spent a year saying Yes to absolutely everything and everyone. From the book cover:
"Danny Wallace lived as if the word NO didn't exist. He won $45,000, met the world's only hypnotic dog, earned a nursing degree, and travelled the globe."
Maybe travelling the globe is out right now, but what about other things? What craziness could you recklessly commit yourself to, because you’re temporarily incapable of saying No to it?
The rules are: you have to say YES to everyone, and you can't tell them you have to say YES (that's cheating and it ruins the spirit of it all).
Are you ready to agree to anything?
(Hint: the answer isn't "No".)
5) Become A Digital Self-Archaeologist
It's been years since you started using the internet. Possibly decades. Can you remember how it all started?
My first year on the internet was mainly spent in chat-rooms, marvelling at how I could talk to people in other countries - in real time. I used ICQ, IRC and e-mail to make lots of new friends, and I was so sure we'd be friends for life that I wrote their e-mail addresses down in a notebook, which I recently rediscovered...
Even after 18 years, I was able to track a few of them down - and we swapped stories about our earliest days surfing the Web. It was truly incredible what I'd forgotten about those early times.
You'll have forgotten too. You may think you remember, but wow - nope. The gaps are so big you don't even see them anymore.
So it's time to dig up your digital past and find out who you were back then.
1. Pick your favourite online platform. Is it Facebook? Is it Twitter? How about e-mail? Do you have a blog? Go back to your earliest entry and start reading around.
2. Talk to your friends from back then. They'll remember stories that haven't entered your head in years (and vice versa).
3. Excavate your storage spaces. If you've got into the habit of backing up data externally and between old and new computers as you buy them, that data will tell a story. Go unravel it, using every document, every picture, every trace of your digital movements down the last decade or more.
4. Dig up old hardware. If your parents are the ones who owned your very first computer, they'll probably have it kicking around somewhere, gathering dust in a closet or in the loft-space (this is what parents do with computers). And maybe you won’t be able to transfer data off that computer, since most 5.14-inch floppy disks have gone the way of the Dodo, thanks to bit rot) - but you may be able to have a read of what's on that ancient hard-drive. Maybe. Who knows? Worth a shot.
Get digging. There’s a whole lifetime to uncover down there.
A word on kicking your own backside:
If you really want to sign up to this, click through to the Web version of this article and leave a comment, right now, saying which challenge you’re doing over the coming week.
Go on. I’ll wait.
Or if that’s not enough accountability for you, leap onto your favourite social media platform and publicly announce you’re doing it, maybe with a link to the Web version of this post so everyone knows it’s all my fault and not yours.
But however you do it, if you tell at least one other person, it will vastly increase your chances of nailing your challenge. Or more accurately, your chances of not backing out of it.