Neil Macy

Annual Challenges

For a few years I've set myself a reading challenge. Usually something like "read 20 books a year". And I've read a lot more this way than I otherwise would, as I proved to myself last year when I didn't set a challenge and hardly read anything. So I've set one again this year and I expect I'll do it for the foreseeable future.

I've also been feeling lately that I don't listen to enough music any more, and wanted to change that. So I've also set myself a music challenge.

And I've fallen out of running in the last six months or so, mostly because a new baby really takes over your life. As the baby gets older, I want to run again, but that's a challenge to start working at later in the year, so the number is set deliberately low.

My challenges for 2023

  • 📚 Read 20 books. (I've beaten this number every year since 2015, except for last year when I didn't set a challenge.)
  • 🎧 Listen to at least 1 album every month. (Not a high bar, as I'll come on to later.)
  • 🏃 Run at least 1 time every month. (On average, since I think it'll be loaded towards the latter half of the year. But 12 runs this year feels like a nice round number, and while it sounds low, I've not ran since last September, and only twice since the start of June.)

My daily challenges

  • 🇫🇷 Practice French every day.
  • 📓 Write in my diary every day.
  • ✍️ Write something every day. (This can be a blog post on this site, or some progress towards the novel or the short story I'm working on.)


  • Gola is how I'm tracking my annual challenges. It's great, you should download it if you're going to try this approach
  • Awesome Habits is how I track my daily challenges. There are plenty of alternatives in this space, like Streaks or Productive, which I've also used over the years. I really like the UI of Awesome Habits, especially the iOS widget.
  • I use Duolingo to practice French, and have had a streak going for over a year at this point.
  • Day One is a great diary app, and I now have an archive going back almost a decade.

It's a hack

Annual challenges are a little hack that work for me. I think it triggers the reward part of my brain - I feel like I've achieved something, however arbitrary it is. And if I set the target low, and complete it early, I don't stop there; I find it even more rewarding to keep going and smash past the original target.

It's a silly hack, considering these are things that I want to do, and shouldn't need to trick myself into doing. But it does work, because it makes me spend at least some of my time doing that thing instead of browsing social media or playing a quick mobile game.

What about resolutions?

New Year's resolutions are a terrible idea. The resolution version of these would be something like "listen to more music", "read more", "learn French". Vague ideas that are impossible to measure, and therefore hard to achieve.

The ultimate aim here is to listen to more music, read more, learn French. But leaving it at that is setting yourself up for failure.

My challenges are designed to be easily measurable, so that I can really clearly see my progress. And I've found that they build into habits over time (part of the marketing of Awesome Habits, in fact). I've been writing in my diary for years, and practicing French every day for a year. I've been writing a lot more in the last couple of months too.

And something else that I think is important: I'm very forgiving with myself, because a) I don't want these things to become a chore, and b) any progress counts towards building a habit. Some days I'll do lots, some days I'll barely have time for anything. Doing more of something I want to do is a good thing, however much I'm actually doing. The challenges are a prompt for change, not important in themselves.

Published on 31 January 2023