Tag: challenges

My 40-Day Challenge

Am I the only one to notice this trend of challenges? Whether it’s a 21-day no sugar challenge or a 30-day clean eating challenge or my own 30 days focusing on gratitude challenge, it seems like challenges are everywhere. I recently finished a 40-day challenge.

I purposely left what type of challenge it was out of the title. I wanted to draw readers in before they said, “Whatever.”

It’s based around the book DRAW THE CIRCLE by Mark Batterson, and I was skeptical about it at first.

After all, forty days seemed to echo Lent to me. And I’m neither Catholic nor Protestant, so I’m always leery of investing in “programs” designed by these mega groups.

But it was a prayer challenge, so I suppose those large religious groups might have a bit of expertise in that area. Or they should.

Why This Challenge?

I kept a prayer journal for several years, but about two years ago, I went through something difficult. It seemed like every prayer got a big negative answer from the Lord.

It discouraged me. I didn’t feel like praying to a God who wouldn’t honor my “promise prayers.” Yes, I was praying prmosies and verses and asking the Lord to perform them in my situation.

But He didn’t. Because He wanted me to move out of that situation (but we like our comfort zones, don’t we?) and that was the only way it would happen.

I’d been becoming more spiritually restless, too. When my passion for writing – my gifted calling from God – disappeared, I decided I needed Him more than ever. And I was the one who had moved away. I had stopped praying faithfully.

So when I saw this title, I decided it was time. To go along with my gratitude focus of thirty days in November, I would do this prayer challenge for forty days. I already know it will continue long after I finish the “guide” that goes along with it.

I’m not giving up on those circles I’ve drawn. I’m going to circle those requests in prayer until the Lord answers.

Why Now?

This answer is two-fold:

  • I need it now and
  • Finishing the year with something new is a good way to find my word for the next year

I love November. I love coming up with reasons to be grateful every day. The more obscure or unlikely these things are, the happier they make me.

And I was drowning in disillusionment. I’m Peter whose walk on water was interrupted with sudden sinking.

“Save me, Lord!”

And prayer is the only way I could call out to Him. He gladly grasped my flailing hand. Although I haven’t seen other answers to my specific requests, I’ve changed.

Prayer changes the person who prays. That’s the biggest and best reason to take up a prayer challenge. It doesn’t have to be this long. Even a seven-day challenge could return you to the center of God’s will.

What I Learned?

On the fifth day, I made a crazy specific request and “circled it” in prayer for the next three days. It had an expiration date: November 8. The answer to my prayer was a resounding, “NO!” Caps and exclamation point intentional.

The next day, I wondered what I was even doing. I wrote out the answer beside the circle with the original request, and I was pretty mopey.

About twelve days into this thing, I thought, “I can’t come up with forty different prayer requests. They’re already starting to sound the same?”

Which drove me to this request, “Turn my focus to others.” It shames me a bit to admit this. I’m supposed to be interceding for others regularly. Many of those first days’ requests were for family members.

By twenty two days in, I realize God was stretching my faith. Different characters and verses were echoed everywhere I went, and because I was listening, I heard them.

Now that the challenge is over, I’m back on track. I’m continuing with the circles I drew in the journal and adding new ones daily as I’m burdened. I’m out of my box, checking in with people to see if God has answered my prayers for them.

And I’m writing again. But I’m still in need of rest. And what I learned the most during this challenge is to LISTEN as much as a pray. God has something to tell me, and it begins by a narrowed view of my future. He’s shown me my “next step” for writing. After that? I don’t know.

I’ll try to keep you posted right here on this blog.

What sort of challenges have you seen? Have you participated in any of them? Do you think they’re good or just another type of “New Year’s resolution” that’s sure to be broken?

Setting Goals You Can Reach

Last week, I wrote about how small goals got me published. And I talked about the three-step process I used to attain that goal. But does that help you set goals you can reach?

Because if you can’t set reachable goals, you’re never going to move from where you are now to where you want to be.

During this month, I’ve been working through a weekly course by Kimberly Job. It’s helping me plan my writing and personal goals for 2017.

2017 is the year…

  • I sign a traditional publishing contract for a novel
  • I pitch my nonfiction book proposal at a conference
  • I get my first 1000 subscribers to my mailing list
  • I publish my third Bible study book

And all of these things are going to happen because I’m working step-by-step plans for each and every one of them.

These aren’t small goals. My post last week suggested starting small, so if you’re new to the whole “reaching goals” mentality, please read that post.

Starting small will keep you from giving up. I promise.

But if you’re ready to tackle something bigger, read on.

Evaluation

This is the most important step in setting goals.

Unfortunately, it’s also the one people tend to rush or ignore.

No wonder they aren’t reaching their goals.

Kimberly Job of Sublime Reflection spurred me to evaluate myself more deeply than I have in other years. She offered a free four-week course and the first week was all about this step.

You can check out that course here.

Here are the categories she uses in this process:

  • Memories and accomplishments
  • Self and relationships
  • Struggles and challenges
  • Lessons learned

Before you set out to make any goals, take time to journal through 2016 in each of these areas. You might be surprised what you discover about your successes.

Also, this reflection should focus your thoughts on what is possible and what doesn’t work. Both of these things are important to know before you can establish attainable goals.

Brainstorming

The Sublime Reflection course spends the entire second week on brainstorming.

If you’re not a fan of brainstorming, I know you screwed your face into a wrinkle-causing grimace.

Stop!

The way the course breaks your life into ten segments and has you generate ideas specific to those makes the process run smoothly.

My favorite part was coloring the Wheel of Balance. It also showed me which areas of my life needed my attention.

Wouldn’t you like to know where to focus your attention in 2017?

Why set another goal of “exercising more” if that’s really not what you need to do in order to reach the bottom line you want?

And what does “exercise more” even mean? You’ll need to make your goals narrow and specific in order to know if you’ve reached them.

Here are the ten areas of life according to Ms. Job:

  • Marriage/relationship
  • Family & friends
  • Fun
  • Spirituality
  • Finances
  • Giving
  • Personal development
  • Physical environment
  • Health & fitness
  • Career

Can you guess which areas received the lowest rank in my world? What tops your list?

After I discovered my three very weak and two additional not-strong categories, I brainstormed a list of things I would like to accomplish in each area. Job encouraged us to list at least five in every category…and to leave the lid off.

Yes, if there were no constraints, what would you like to do with your career? Or your physical environment?

The thing about letting out the crazy dreams during brainstorming is that sometimes we realize they might not be so crazy after all. Not if we can figure out how to build a series of baby steps to reach them.

Nailing it Down

You can’t do it all.

Thinking you can will lead to failure. Sure, it might give you a false sense of accomplishment for a few weeks or months.

Then the stress will blindside you. And the urge to pack up your pencils and bury yourself beneath the covers will rear up.

This is why I have limited myself to ONE goal in each of the four areas of my life. (These areas are spiritual, physical, relational and career.)

If I set the goal too low, I can always add another goal once the first is reached. But I’ll be able to check off a box.

“I reached that goal this year.”

It feels great to make that mark.

The important thing about your goals is to make them specific.

For example, my career goal is not “sign a publishing contract.” That’s pretty broad.

Instead, it looks like this:

Sign a contract for ELEPHANT IN THE TEAROOM with a major publishing house

If I sell the book to a small press, I won’t have reached this goal. Of course, I might decide that’s a fair compromise and don’t need to consider that a failure.

But setting a specific goal will make me work furiously on the rewrites and edits for this manuscript so I can start querying agencies in February or March. Because it will take six to nine months to get a response once they ask for the full manuscript.

Goals Require Plans

Each one of the goals you set for 2017 requires it’s own plan of action.

People don’t get published on accident.

People don’t lose weight without working at it (unless they’re ill and then that’s not a good thing).

Your life will not get better if you don’t take steps toward making it better.

I talked about creating a plan last week. Check out that post or follow the links to other wise planners below.

4 Tips

Setting Goals

Action 16

What’s the best goal-setting advice you’ve ever received?

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National Novel Writing Month

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Four years ago, a teacher I worked with sent me an announcement for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). His message: “You sound like you might have a novel in you.”

His observation came on the heels of our first ever Open Microphone event in the middle school library. The librarian wanted to encourage students to write, so she offered a forum where they could read aloud a piece of personal writing.

As with everything you hope to see young students do effectively, creative writing and baring your soul to others should be modeled. She asked staff members to voluntarily read some of their writing. In response, I read the opening pages of a story that kept popping into my mind.

I fully intended to write that story. It was going to be the first in a series of a Middle School Mayhem series that would make me famous.

In my defense, I do have two chapters completed and saved in a Scrivener folder. Like so many other writing projects, life got in the way.

If you’ve been following me long, you know that I spent three years completing my bachelor’s degree while working full-time. The idea of writing something creative in addition to all the research papers and term papers made random, fleeting appearances in my mind. Obligations drowned them.

After I was assigned a blog for my nonfiction writing workshop, I decided to attempt to write a thousand words per week to post online. No one would read most of this stuff, but I would get back in the habit of writing, even if it was creative nonfiction.

Fast forward to present day: college degree completed. Now it’s time to pursue my real dream: writing.

I’ve always imagined myself as a novelist. My imagination has taken me to the top of Mt. Everest, to Mars and to realms beyond this reality. I wanted to invite young readers into the alternate universe between the covers of the book.

An admirer of C.S. Lewis (whose Chronicles of Narnia rescued me from the ugliness of domestic abuse and divorce), I didn’t want to just entertain. I wanted my fiction to include a deeper truth. Allegory seemed like the way to accomplish this goal.

Thus, my idea for the Gates of Astrya emerged from my soul into my mind. With a little work and a ton of time, words on a page birthed it into actuality.

During November, my goal is to write the second book in this series (originally, I thought it would be a trilogy, but it’s taking on a life of its own and might require four books to fully resolve).  I’ve already signed up on the NaNoWriMo website.

To ensure I can keep writing to the end, I completed a beat sheet (thanks to Jami Gold) and an extensive setting sketch. I’ve done some research to authenticate the setting I’ve chosen. Major character arcs have been outlined, along with the cast of supporting characters.

Today, I write the first 3,000 words of the novel. Since I want to complete the challenge (to write 50,000 words in 30 days) by November 27, I’m setting my daily word count at this level.

I promise not to bog down my blog with updates and commentary about this event. I have worked feverishly the past two weeks to get most of my posts pre-written so content will continue here without interruption.

Are any of you taking this challenge? What other sorts of challenges have you pursued? What’s the most important advice you have to help someone stay the course when things seem overwhelming?