I Did Everything I Thought I "Hated" For A Month — Here's What Happened

Illustrated By Xaviera Altena.
Refinery29 is teaming up with The Laughing Cow for an #AntiRoutine mission that's all about shifting your perspective to unlock new possibilities. Say goodbye to your monotonous routine and instead, make the choice to switch it up with simple lifestyle changes that will garner lasting, positive effects. Ahead, one writer takes on the challenge.
As I get older, it seems easier than ever to fall into patterns. I have a regular work schedule, I do yoga three times a week, and I’ve lived in the same neighborhood for years. Likewise, I always frequent the same places — from my go-to date bars to my dinner standbys. While sticking to a routine is comfortable, early into the new year, I realized I wasn’t completely myself. Instead of feeling hopeful and motivated by the ability to refresh, I felt turned off and negative — flattened out at the prospect of my days looking exactly like they did the previous year. I knew I needed to do something radical to counteract my worst winter self.
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After mulling my options and enlisting some support from friends, I challenged myself to spend an entire month taking a look at all the things I’d been avoiding in life — activities and actions I assumed I “hated,” when the truth is, I’d never really given them much of a chance at all.
ILLUSTRATED BY XAVIERA ALTENA.
Biking To Work
Let me start by saying this: As a New Yorker, I’ve had a longtime fear of riding a bike in the city. I never quite understood the desire to put yourself smack in the middle of the most car-packed streets in the country — not to mention, alongside its aggressive, honking drivers. It’s safe to say, then, the idea of bike commuting put me in over my head. Yet, after going on a third date with a guy who just happens to be an avid cyclist, I became curious.
We joked about avoiding the nightmare that is the G train by biking to each other’s places instead, and he even suggested a day spent biking around the park. With a fun end goal in place, I set out to prove myself wrong.
The first morning I rode to work, the temperature was a crisp 20 degrees. Preparing myself as if I was about to climb Mount Everest, I packed a water bottle, an extra sweater, and a can-do attitude. When I noticed a green path branded with a bike symbol — a part of the road I had never paid attention to as a pedestrian — it was as though I had discovered some sort of spiritual oasis free from harm. In general, as my crush predicted, the whole biking thing turned out to not be so bad. Aside from the fact that it was refreshing to spend the morning above ground — zipping through traffic with the wind in my face — I learned to appreciate the expansiveness and beauty of NYC in ways I never thought about before. Also, any opportunity to avoid being crammed into a subway car with my face shoved into someone’s armpit is a welcomed one.
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Starting A Budget
The second task to tackle was creating a monthly budget. Usually, the topic of finances ushers in a host of destructive thoughts. And without fail, it ends up becoming a generalization about bigger life problems:
Okay, how much money am I starting with?
Why did I buy all those things?
Why do I have such little self-control?
What am I doing with my life?!
Determined to get myself on track, I bought a book about budgeting for beginners, which predictably triggered my anxiety about how much I spend versus how little I save. Patiently fighting through it (aka calling my parents for pep talks multiple times), I was able to pick up a few strong pointers. For instance, I finally signed up for the 401K plan my employer offers, downloaded a couple of budgeting apps, and carefully divided up my monthly earnings into categories. I also took time to hammer away at my credit-card debt — a super proud moment and an obvious relief.
Did I end up sticking to my budget? Hell no. But I did learn that I was wasting way too much money on things I have absolutely no business buying. Budgeting helped me to stop and ask myself, Seriously, how much do you need this? and observe my spending habits. I used both knowledge and willpower to adjust my budget for the next month, so I would have a better chance at long-term success. Once I put in the work to understand my finances, I felt less afraid to face them.
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Wearing Colorful Clothing
I take my fashion choices very seriously. I try not to walk out of the house in an outfit I don’t like, though there have been numerous times when I’ve had to make exceptions due to either running late or not having the pieces needed to pull my ensembles together. On those occasions, I’ve actually been known to go out and buy various clothing items on my lunch break as a quick fix.
On a typical day, I prefer sticking to black, white, and denim. Neutrals get tossed into the mix, too, but even those are typically reserved for special occasions. So it was definitely an out-of-the-ordinary experience for anyone to see me donning a pink baby tee my roommate had placed to donate.
“Judy! What is this shirt?”
“Um, I’m trying to wear color,” I said, trying to change the conversation.
“It’s pink,” my friend slash shopping buddy Zach said as if I had somehow forgotten what I was wearing.
I ended up taking the shirt off just a few hours later, opting to wear my overalls with a sports bra underneath. Throughout the month, I experienced a few additional failed attempts at wearing various bright-colored pieces with identical results: changing midway before the day ended. On one occasion, I did successfully walk out my door wearing a colorful outfit I liked; I paired wide-legged, plum-colored silk pants with the now infamous donation-pile pink baby tee and white sneakers. To my surprise, I felt kind of cool — like I belonged in an international band — and was in a generally more playful mood.
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Nonetheless, after everything was said and done, the experiment confirmed my distaste for bright-colored clothing. It takes too much time coordinating different shades, and honestly, I don’t have the money to expand my wardrobe to include a broader rainbow spectrum. I also realized I hadn’t just defaulted to a neutral clothing palette, it’s a part of my identity, and that’s perfectly okay.
ILLUSTRATED BY XAVIERA ALTENA.
Hosting Dinner Parties
I love dinner, parties, and intimate group settings separately, so there shouldn’t be much to hate about hosting dinner parties, right? Wrong. First, there’s the trouble of finding a date that works for all my friends. Then, oftentimes, the group texts to coordinate our party go unanswered. Add in the fact that my apartment’s legal capacity is probably all of only three regular-sized humans, and consider the gruesome dinner prep that’s involved... It's all a disaster. Still, a challenge is a challenge, and I especially wanted to see this one through.
The night I chose to host my very own dinner party was a rainy Sunday, which made grocery shopping that much more miserable. Going the simple route, I decided to make fish tacos — a casual dish that practically no one can resist. During checkout, I chatted briefly with a clerk who, aside from helping bag my items, also encouraged me to "think on the bright side." He reminded me that cooking saves money when compared to group dining at a restaurant and that the experience as a whole could very well spark a newfound hobby. Fair enough.
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Due to my apartment’s limited space, a very kind friend of mine offered up her place, and we hosted the soiree there. While she wasn’t thrilled to find out I’d be cooking fish, I appreciated her half-hearted effort to hide her disappointment.
I wound up burning the first batch of taco shells in the oven; however, the dinner itself was a relief. I truly felt appreciative of my friends (plus my new grocery-store pal) for their help and attendance. In the end, I learned the grueling process of setting up my dinner party was worth the hassle — especially when it involves gathering your favorite people and enjoying their company.
Taking Dance Lessons
While dancing has never been my forte, hip-hop dancing in particular is a weak point for me, despite hip-hop music being a favorite of mine. Just like with my dinner party, I desperately rallied my friends to do a month’s worth of dance classes with me. Truthfully, I don’t think I would have stuck out the first few classes alone.
The first class was a choreography class, in which instructors — a girl and guy duo — broke down each step before they played any music. The class description said “all levels welcome” — but shame on the deceiving individual who wrote that. Apart from me and one of my friends, it appeared everyone else had learned this particular choreography already. As we desperately attempted to mask our embarrassment, both of us took turns making eye contact with one another and mouthing “oh my god” in utter shock.
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I did my best to follow the instructors' movements. And by the third class, everything started to get easier. Pulling me aside afterwards, Tyler — one of my instructors who has been dancing practically all his life — gave me a much-needed confidence boost: "No matter what anyone says, including yourself, you're doing great. Keep it up, Judy!"
Regardless of my ability, I kept trying my hardest and sincerely grew to like dancing. The challenge and newness of coordinating my body took so much focus that it became meditative. Moreover, I really connected with the sexy, carefree attitude of the choreography. The most important takeaway: I (kind of) learned how to twerk! Having accomplished something I had truly deemed impossible for myself was incredibly liberating. If I can twerk, anything is possible.
So what’s the verdict? Each challenge was a push and reminder to let go of my pre-determined, stubborn opinions. Too often I let myself expect the worst, and these negative preconceptions spoil any chance for experiences to go well. Purposefully working the muscle to question my judgment may have created the emotional growth I needed to make this year a better year. At the very least, I can say the rest of 2018 is looking significantly more lovable.
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