By my very nature, I am a lazy, lazy man. I have a part of myself — let’s call him Lazy Joe — who likes to overindulge in life’s pleasures. If that guy had his way, I’d smoke weed, eat cookies, play video games, and generally never get out of my recliner again.
Thankfully, there’s another part of me that can’t stand that kind of decadence and he strives to push things forward in all possible cases. I’ll call him Better Joe. This guy likes making things. He likes working out. He likes pushing projects along as far as they can go, and when he hits a wall, he grabs a hammer and begins taking the wall apart to push projects along further. He’s the guy who wrote three books in a year while working a full-time job and rehabbing a house. He’s the guy who convinced me to quit my day job and focus on writing full-time. He’s truly a force to be reckoned with.
The problem is, Better Joe is not better than Lazy Joe by default. In fact, the longer it’s been since he’s been in charge, the more he resembles puny Steve Rogers, full of heart and courage but lacking in the physical power it takes to push the lumpy, lazy, ever-growing Lazy Joe out of the damn way.
Lazy Joe is a tough fucker to move. It’s not because he’s the better fighter. Hell, he doesn’t even bother fighting back. He knows exactly how hard it is to move dead weight, and he weighs a LOT (and more with every day that Better Joe doesn’t make me work out and eat right). Lazy Joe wins by default, because he doesn’t have to work to win. He wins every time Better Joe takes a break, phones it in, or stops paying strict attention for longer than a day. And as hard as it is to dethrone Lazy Joe, it’s worse when his friends are hanging around. He’s best buds with self-doubt, depression, and sadness, and he calls those guys over for scotch and blunts all the damn time.
The odds are stacked against Better Joe. Lazy Joe can fuck around, screw up, and miss any shot he takes at beating Better Joe. Better Joe can’t miss even once.
Over the years, I’ve come up with a number of ways to help Better Joe get a leg up and take the the controls from Lazy Joe. By far, the most useful, productive, and effective tool in my arsenal is the 90 Day Challenge.
Simply put, it’s a 90 day span where I work on a goal every single day, without fail. No breaks. No off days. Every single day, progress must be made, or the 90 day counter starts over.
In a previous post, I shared some of what my former 90 Day Challenge partners and I have done — Joseph Rhodes (AKA Joey The Mad Scientist) released an original, made-from-scratch musical track a day for 90 days (some of these ended up being the groundwork for the Marlowe Kana Volume 1 Soundtrack). My friend Justin McElderry (AKA IF//ELSE) recorded a new beat every day for 90 days. Jason Covert drew a sketch a day for 90 days, and also recorded new guitar tracks every day for 90 days (some of which also went into the MK V1 soundtrack). And each of the three Marlowe Kana volumes published last year were the result of 90 day challenges.
90 Day Challenges can be literally anything:
Eat right for 90 days straight
Work out for 90 days (you need to incorporate rest days, but they’re part of the program so they count)
Write for 90 days
Publish a new short story every day for 90 days
Write a chapter in a novel every day for 90 days
Do 10 push-ups every day for 90 days
Learn something new about car maintenance, krav maga, cross-stitch, or whatever the hell else you want for 90 days
See? Literally anything. The only rule is that you have to make demonstrable progress every single day. If your goal is, say, write a chapter in a novel every day for 90 days, that means writing a complete chapter. It’s not done until the final punctuation mark on the final sentence. If you say you’ll practice guitar for one hour every day for 90 days, that means 60 full minutes of guitar practice — not 59 minutes and 59 seconds. So make sure your daily goal is attainable.
On the flip side, it does no good whatsoever to “challenge” yourself to something so easy you aren’t pushed to make it happen. “Put on socks every day for 90 days” is certainly a goal, yes. But does it push anything forward? Does it help you achieve a goal? If so, then I say go for it, but some part of me thinks that’s probably some bullshit.
In the course of your 90 Day Challenge, you will want to quit. That’s the point of making it 90 days. Anyone can do almost anything for 30 days straight. 60 days… that’s an effort. But 90 straight full days of work? That’s a challenge. And it is hard — but it is entirely doable.
Have you ever ever started a new job and accidentally driven to the old one? You’re lost in the tunes on the radio, or deep in thought, or sleepy and forgot your coffee, and your body drives you to the new job without even thinking about it. But did you even stop to think about how to crank the car, or apply the gas or brakes, or when to turn on a turn signal? Did you have to recall all the rules of the road or obsess over how to make the car turn left or right?
By the time you get to that point, driving becomes muscle memory, and your brain is more focused on building the new habit. The mechanics and technical aspects are engrained. The same goes with the 90 Day Challenge.
Here’s the general flow of things:
Spirits stay high and excitement drives you for the first, oh, five to seven days.
Sometime around day ten, you start asking yourself if you can really do it.
By day 30, you’ll feel like you’ve done something pretty awesome, and why do I have to keep going? I’ve already proven my point.
By day 45, you’ll wonder how the hell you made it this far, only to look at the calendar and realize you have that far to go yet still. You’ll probably sigh and grit your teeth and get to work.
By day 60, magic starts happening. True magic. Stuff you never in a million years thought could come out of you starts to, either artistically or physically (or both). The discipline has taken hold, and the habit has been formed, and now you’re completely over the mechanics of simply doing the movements involved in making stuff or working out or eating right and your brain is free to expand and explore the space.
By day 90, you’ve proven quite a few things:
There’s stuff in you you had no idea was there.
You are capable of doing far, far more than you realized.
You are better — measurably better — than you were 90 days ago.
You are unstoppable with enough momentum.
I’ve been in a new 90 Day Challenge for a little while now. Three of them, in fact. And they are going pretty well. At Day 7, my body is sore (in a great way), my diet has improved, and Volume 4 is making huge headway. I’ll post again at days 30, 60, and 90 to report in and hold myself accountable.
Lazy Joe hates the 90 Day Challenge. It has been so successful in my life that, at this point, if I decide to do one, he doesn’t even bother signing and complaining. He gets up and leaves on his own. It’s an eviction notice to the worst part of my character. I will let him come back once the rent is paid and I don’t have to worry that he’ll break the place… But for now, work has to get done and he’s not helping, so he gots to go.
I hope that if you try one for yourself, you’ll let me know how it’s going and keep me posted. Accountability is a HUGE leg up — if you have a friend (or a few) who you can pair up with and keep each other abreast of how your 90 Day Challenges are going, it’ll help.
Support my full-time writing on Patreon! Get free books, exclusive posts, and much more!