A few years ago, I decided I really wanted to learn photography to take better photos. I was at a loggerheads, though, because I didn’t think I could learn to be really good with the point and shoot camera I had at the time, but I also didn’t think I had the skills to justify a nice DSLR camera.
My point and shoot camera wasn’t bad, it did have some manual settings, so I decided I’d do a photo project, where I’d take a photo every day for one year, to learn how the manual settings work and practice composition and things like that. At the end of the year, I figured I’d have learned enough to justify buying the nice camera, if I still wanted it, and I would continue to learn with that.
So I set about taking photos every day for a whole year. Most days I took many more than one photo, because I was playing with settings, learning how things worked, or still taking just awful photographs. Other days were busy and I just snapped a quick pic of whatever I was doing that day. Some days, I definitely forgot.
At the end of the year, I didn’t end up buying the camera, but I did eventually get one a year or two later. I’m still not that great a photography, but my yearlong challenge taught me a lot, and I don’t think I ever would have gotten as far as I did if I was just trying to pick knowledge up here and there on weekends.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but these photo challenges are quite popular, as are fitness challenges, cleaning challenges, and so on. Take a quick look at Pinterest and you’ll see all kinds of monthly or yearly challenges, already broken down for you.
Based on my own experience, I highly recommend doing some sort of yearlong challenge. Whether it’s a photo challenge like mine, a running challenge, or even a challenge to compliment someone every day, there are so many benefits to something like this.
One of the most obvious benefits is that a yearlong, daily challenge can help you learn a new skill or develop an existing one. Make a commitment to practice French for five minutes a day every day for a year, and by the time the 12 months are up, you’re going to be so much closer to being fluent than if you’d just fit in an hour or two here and there.
We all have things we’d love to learn or do–speak a new language, read more books, declutter our homes, finally make a photo album–deciding to focus on those things a little bit every day for a year is a great way to finally make real headway on those goals. There’s so much you can accomplish in just a little bit of time each day over the course of that many weeks.
Another positive effect I noticed from my challenge was how much it helped me develop willpower. I always have a lot of goals and I love planning how I’m going to accomplish them. But when it comes to the actual doing of something, I don’t always have the willpower to take action and stick with something. Committing to taking a photo everyday was difficult for me. And like I said, there were definitely days when I forgot. But having the promise of a new toy to play with at the end of my year made me more willing to push myself, and find time to practice photography even on days when I was super busy or didn’t want to. It made me evaluate my time and how I was spending it. And it made me realize that having goals and wanting to learn new things is all well and good, but when it comes down to it, if I always choose watching one more episode on Netflix over practicing the skill, I’ll never get anywhere.
Plus, it just feels so good to have done the damn thing! Committing to anything for one whole year is a big deal. There are few things we actually do every single day, and they’re all requirements for keeping alive, like eating and sleeping. We don’t go to work every day, we don’t spend time with our friends every day. So deciding to do something every day is a huge commitment. Having finished it, even if you accidentally skip a day, feels so good. After doing something for 365 days, it might have become a habit you love and you’ll stick with forever. Or you might decide you like it, and you want to find time for it more often, but don’t need to do it every day. Or you might decide you hate it and never want to think about it again. Either way, you accomplished the goal you set out to do, and that really is amazing.
I haven’t done another yearly challenge since I took my 300-something photos, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot and I’m trying to decide what to do next. A few suggestions I’m considering:
- Write something, even one sentence, every day for a year
- Plank for 1 minute every day for a year
- Save an increasing amount of money every day or month for a year
- Drink 60 ounces of water every day for a year
- Read for at least 20 minutes every day for a year
- Take five minutes of silence every day for a year
- Do one thing that is just for fun every day for a year
- Take one small step towards any of my existing goals every day for a year
What do you think? What challenge would you take on for 365 days?
Bridget Thoreson is a writer and editor in New York City. Her interests vary widely, but she lives for traveling, snacking, reading, daydreaming, and making lists.