Everyday projects: The rise of 12-month missions

Setting yourself a new challenge? Why not do it for a year and get a blog – or even a book deal – out of it?

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The Independent Online

Henrik Dahle was cycling home one night when he suddenly decided to climb a tree. The next day he did it again. And again. A year later and the 36-year-old film writer and environmental activist from Southampton had climbed 365 trees, from ash to pine, even conducting interviews while in the branches. Now he hopes to publish a book, aptly named Uptrees, on his unusual endeavour.

"I just decided on a personal challenge," he explains. "A year is a long-haul project and there's discipline involved. There's a scale to it – you have to persevere."

He wouldn't be the first person to embark on a year-long challenge of a curious nature. As Dahle's admits, "it's becoming a bit of a thing".

Take the woman who baked a Victoria sponge every day for a year. Dubbed the "sponge-cake Samaritan", Cath Webb made, then gave away, a daily cake after a friend was diagnosed with breast cancer. Nicer yet (if that was even possible) is the woman who did a good deed for every day of 2012. Judith O'Reilly, whose book A Year of Doing Good was published last December, took on the challenge in the hope of changing herself and the world "one deed at a time".

However, not everyone sets themselves such outwardly utilitarian tasks to complete. Writer Paul Miller just completed a punishing year without the internet. He thought it was corrupting his soul, but after his daily routine settled into new offline vices he was forced to admit in an essay for The Verge: "I was wrong." Equally self-flagellating (depending on your choice of fashion) is musician Amanda Schmidt's effort to wear Abercrombie & Fitch clothing for an entire annum. Her Tumblr account (abercrombieandfitchfierce.tumblr.com) is an endless stream of Schmidt looking artfully miserable.

Others use the year-long challenge format as a protest. Journalist Hattie Garlick decided that 2013 would be the year that she doesn't spend a penny on her son, to demonstrate that parents don't need to be dependent on flashy toys and the products of big corporations to keep their offspring happy. Her blog freeourkids.co.uk is encouraging others to do the same.

But many of these challenges emerge from a similar mindset. "There are some underlying similarities," says Professor Karen Pine, a developmental psychologist behind the "Do Something Different" approach, which helps people replace unwanted behaviour with new ones.

"It might seem a bit obsessive or cranky, but they hope they're going to bring about a life change. Sometimes people are stuck in an environment that keeps on pulling them back to the same habits. They can need an earthquake moment to break out of it."

As for Dahle, the Uptrees challenge has spawned many ideas, from planting trees to offset a lifetime's carbon footprint to coming up with forest-style designs for city streets. "Am I a project junkie…?" he muses. "Maybe, maybe that's what I am."

To sponsor Dahl's book 'The Art of Climbing Trees', click here