30-day Challenges, so hot right now
It seems like there are 30-day challenges for everything. I googled around the other day and came across these.
- squat challenge
- cold shower therapy
- no booze no masturbation challenge
- little black dress challenge
- relationship challenge
- gratitude challenge
I’m sure you’ve tried a few 30-day challenges. Some are successful and some are not so much.
In today’s article, you and I will be chatting about how you can dominate any 30-day challenge you decide to take on. You’ll also be introduced to the first 30-day challenge on the blog.
Well, without too much more rambling, I double-dog dare you to read this 30-day challenge article and take action with it.
See what I did there?
WHAT ARE 30 DAY CHALLENGES? IT’S NOT WHAT YOU THINK
When you hear the words 30-day challenge you probably think of doing something to either help you build a habit or to get quick results.
Am I right or am I wrong?
There are a couple of things wrong here.
1. It often takes longer than 30 day challenges to build a habit
I’m sure you’ve heard the theory that it takes 21 days to establish a habit. Well, I’m about to rain on this parade because that 21 days thing just isn’t true. In fact, it often takes longer than that and it depends greatly on the habit that you’re trying to create.
So where did the 21 days to build a habit business come from?
In the 1950s a plastic surgeon by the name of Maxwell Martz began to notice something interesting with patients he had performed surgery on. It was taking a minimum of 21 days for them to get used to their new face.
He was also noticing that amputee patients that he had performed surgery on were reporting that they would see phantom limbs for a minimum of 21 days post-surgery.
Maltz began to document these reports as well as his own experiences when adjusting to change and came up with the theory that it requires a minimum of 21 days to adjust to any kind of change.
He eventually published a book titled Psycho-Cybernetics, a book that Tony Robbins, Brian Tracy, Zig Zigler, and personal development gurus have used or referenced.
Malta wasn’t entirely wrong. It can take a minimum of 21 days to get used to change or create a habit.
However, what has happened since the 21-day theory was established is that the word “minimum” was forgotten. As a society, we’ve decided that it definitively takes 21 days to build any habit.
More recent research published in the European Journal of Social Psychology has shown that on average it takes around 66 days to establish a new habit.
In this 12 week study, 96 people chose a habit that they wanted to establish and recorded whether they did it each day for the 12 weeks. Along with recording whether they practiced the habit each participant also noted how automatic (effortless) the habit felt each day.
The habits varied in levels of difficulty with some being viewed as easier and others much more difficult.
When the study concluded it was found that it took between 18 and 254 days to build a habit. How quickly a habit is developed can be caused by a number of things.
- the environment
- difficulty of the habit trying to be established
- the person trying to establish the habit.
So while it can take 21 days to create a new habit don’t get fixated on 21 days being definitive. The habit that you’re trying to establish might take longer than that.
2. 30 day challenges should not be viewed as quick fixes
I’m definitely guilty of taking a 30-day challenge with the idea in mind of it being a quick fix. The problem with this is that you never really learn anything from the challenge. For me, the most important part of a 30-day challenge is taking time to reflect on the experience.
- what did you like about the challenge?
- are there some things you did not like about the challenge?
- what would you like to keep from the challenge?
- are there things you would like to not do again from the challenge?
In his short Tedx talk, Matt Cutts discusses how a 30-day challenge is an opportunity to try something new. A way to dedicate some time to experience more life, explore more about yourself, and to learn.
There’s nothing wrong with doing a 30-day challenge just to do one, they’re fun.
But I know you’ll get so much more out of the experience if you really dedicate those 30 days to learning as much as you can over that time.
A 30-day nutrition challenge is a great way to learn what foods your body responds well to or not so well to. Which foods you get energy from, which ones cause fatigue, which ones cause digestive distress, which ones don’t, and which foods change your body aesthetically, and which ones do not so much.
The 30-days of gratitude challenge is a great way to practice one of the most important factors related to happiness. You’ll also learn a lot about yourself, how you view the world, and how you think over the course of a challenge like this.
Tim’s 30 day no booze no masturbation challenge is a great test of delaying instant gratification which is a skill that has been shown to lead to higher SAT scores, lower levels of substance abuse, lower levels of obesity, better stress response, and better social skills (1)
Participating in something like this over 30 days might teach you about ways in which you can increase your willpower. Specific days and times when you’re at your weakest. Or how you respond to various stressors during the day.
When taking on a 30-day challenge don’t just view it as a challenge. View it as an amazing opportunity to learn. An experiment in the laboratory that is YOU, where valuable feedback is going to be provided.
WHY DO 30 DAY CHALLENGES?
Because why not.
- Why not try to practice language learning for 30 minutes every day this month?
- Why not take a clean eating challenge for the next 30 days?
- Maybe run or walk a mile every day for the next 30 days?
- How about meditating for 5 minutes every day for the next 30 days?
- Why not declutter your home by throwing away 5 items every day for the next 30 days?
30 days are going to pass whether you like it or not so you might as well do something with them.
Challenges like this also seem to fit right into that sweet spot of being short enough of a challenge so it doesn’t feel overwhelming. But also long enough to be a challenge.
A sweet spot like this is important. As Professor of Psychology Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi tells us, one of the most important factors for “getting in the zone” and staying motivated is to take on challenges that are aligned with your values and skills.
Taking on a task that is too challenging may create anxiety while taking on a challenge that is too easy may lead to boredom. 30-day challenges allow you a chance to build confidence and build momentum moving forward with a habit that may become a part of your long-term lifestyle.
Challenges like this also allow you to sample something before becoming a lifetime member. Let’s say you’ve been thinking about going keto but are not sure the lifestyle changes make sense for you. You can commit to 30 days, see how you feel, whether you like the changes, and then decide and if want to stick with it.
Let’s say you’ve been looking to cut back on caffeine in the morning and want to use 5 minute cold showers as a way to wake you up and get your mojo going. Committing to 30 days of cold showers is a great way to see if this is really something you want to do.
Because we often view change as being permanent, 30-day challenges are a great way to commit to something but also removing the idea of having to do something forever.
Most importantly, 30-day challenges are a great opportunity to simply explore life. Think about it, over the course of a year you could take on 12 different 30-day challenges that will add real value, personal growth, or just be freaking fun.
- Have you always wanted to learn about wine? Why not take a 30-day challenge to spend 30 minutes every day learning wine.
- Have you always wanted to learn lyrical/contemporary dance? Why not take lessons for the next 30 days?
- A secret dream of becoming a sushi chef? How about dedicating the next 30 days to learning the craft (or maybe watching this documentary over and over again).
Ramit over at I Will Teach You To Be Rich has a save 1,000 in 30 days challenge. Why not try that?
So what are you waiting for? Why not take on a 30-day challenge?
HOW TO DOMINATE 30-DAY CHALLENGES
In the words of Matthew McConaughey, “Alright Alright Alright.” I’m ready to take on a 30-day challenge.
But how the heck can I guarantee that I’ll dominate one?
1. The first week will be the hardest
Awareness and acceptance of this are important. Admit that the first week could be extremely difficult but after that, it just gets easier.
The tougher the challenge the harder it will be to accomplish over the next 30 days and the first week is always the toughest. Especially if you’re trying to break a habit.
Breaking a habit is so tough because synaptic pathways are involved.
Whenever you repeat something (a behavior, action, etc…) cells in the brain communicate. When something specific, like tying your shoe is repeated enough times synaptic pathways or communication channels in your brain get used to being accessed.
And just like how your muscles get used to working out, and it gets easier and you get stronger. Information and signals get easier to recognize along these pathways and it gets easier for you to perform these actions.
Once these pathways have been created they never really go away. This means that breaking old habits will be tough but accessing old good habits might not be as difficult as you think.
2. A 30-day challenge has to mean something. Be hard but also be manageable
While there’s nothing wrong with taking on a challenge for the sheer fun of it, you’re much more likely to follow through on a 30-day challenge if it has some real meaning to you. How is this challenge going to help you, the people closest to you, and why is it important that you achieve it?
When taking on a 30-day challenge it’s important to find your Flow. Referring back to Professor Csikszentmihalyi, the concept of Flow is that moment when you are totally absorbed in what you’re doing that you forget about yourself. What you’re doing seems effortless and natural.
You’ll often hear athletes say they’re not sure how they performed so well, “I was just in the zone.” Musicians often get there and you might hear them say, “I couldn’t even hear the crowd, almost like they weren’t even there.”
Some other ways to describe Flow:
- Lose yourself
- Feeling it
- Zoning out
It almost sounds like a state of unconsciousness. But in reality, it is a heightened state of consciousness where your awareness is such a heightened state that it feels like you are completely on another level.
To find your flow a task should be:
- Require skill
- Be challenging
- Have no ulterior motives
For a more in-depth explanation of Flow visit this article.
3. Use the Seinfeld strategy
Jerry Seinfeld is known for saying that the way to be a better comedian was to create better jokes. The way to create better jokes is to write every day.
Makes sense right? So how can you apply this to your next 30-day challenge?
Grab yourself a calendar and put it somewhere you know you’ll see it often. Every day you complete your challenge put a big X through it. Or draw a smiley face, whatever floats your boat.
The point of this is to create awareness and measure progress. You’ll like seeing that you’ve received an X each day and you won’t want to break any streaks.
I use a big whiteboard that I picked up at Home Depot. I turned it into a monthly calendar and have hung it in my room. When I’m looking to build a habit I write down what it is on the board and cross of the days I do it.
Every morning and night I have to look at that dang calendar. If I’m lacking some X’s it bugs the heck out of me. Next thing I know my consistency game is stepped up a notch.
My goal is to never have two days in a row without an X. If there happens to be a day that I do not earn an X I make it my number one priority to receive one the next day.
You can use this erasable year-long calendar if you’d like.
4. Focus on one thing at a time (maybe two)
I recently read Leo Babauta’s book The Power of Less. In it, he mentions that research has shown that those who focus intensely on changing one thing at a time are 80% more successful and likely to keep up their change than those that try to make multiple changes at once.
Specifically, those that try to make two changes at a time are successful only 35% of the time and those that try to change three things at once are successful only 5% of the time!
It can be really tempting to want to try to build more than one habit or make more than one change at once. But you’re much more likely to be successful by focusing on one thing at a time.
A few years ago I wanted to read 52 books in 52 weeks. The only thing I focused on was reading one book a week every month.
5. Get yourself confident
Before you start your 30-day challenge ask yourself on a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high) how confident you are that you can complete your 30-day challenge.
If you’re not at a 10 ask yourself how you can get there.
One way to do this is to shrink the change a little bit. If you’re trying to eat healthy for 30 days but not at a 10 confident level you could try committing to a healthy breakfast every day for 30 days.
If you’re trying to take 10 minute cold showers every day for the next 30 days but not at a 10 confidence level you could try shrinking the challenge to 5 minutes. Still, feel too long? How about 4, or 3, or 2, or 1 minute.
When I wanted to build a 30-minute meditation habit I only committed to one minute on the first day. If I was successful I upped it to 2 minutes the second day. If I was again successful I would increase it to 3 minutes on the third day. I kept this up until I reached my goal of 30 minutes.
If your goal is a big one think about breaking it down into more manageable daily tasks instead.
6. Go get yourself a friend and some accountability
Grab someone to participate in the challenge with you. I don’t need to tell you that you’re more likely to follow through with a 30-day challenge if you’re doing it with someone, have an accountability partner, and a support system.
Grab a friend, co-worker, family member, or significant other.
Or try using the website Stickk.com. You’ll set it up a commitment contract and establish your goal, the stakes, pick a referee (someone who monitors you), and find supporters.
7. Forget motivation for 30-days and practice intention instead
I’ve mentioned it before but I’m going to do it again.
Motivation is a fleeting emotion. It comes and it goes and there are some things you can do to influence but the fact is you will not always feel motivated.
Instead of worrying about getting motivated practice intention instead. Hat tip to James Clear, there are many studies showing how successful practicing intention is.
Before starting your 30-day challenge get very specific about when, where, what time, and how you will be participating in the challenge.
For example, if exercising every day for 30 days for 10 minutes is the challenge that you’ve decided on you can try this.
- When: Every day
- Where: At home
- What time: 5:30 am
- How: Using these 10-minute workout examples.
- If/Then Promise: If I miss a day I promise myself that I will not miss two days in a row. I will jump right back into my challenge.
WHAT DO I DO IF I MESS UP DURING MY 30 DAY CHALLENGE?
But Perfection can consume you and feel overwhelming and while that is the goal over a 30-day challenge there’s a chance you may miss a day or mess up in some way. So what can you do if you miss a day, slip up, or make a mistake?
As mentioned earlier, promise yourself that you will not miss more than one day in a row. You will not allow yourself to have two spaces with no Xs on your calendar.
Habits are strengthened through repetition so the more consistent you can be the more likely you are to establish a habit. Missing too many days in a row will lessen the chances of successfully establishing the habit you’re trying to create.
WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN THE NEXT 30 DAYS?
What do you have planned over the next 30 days?
- Why the heck not take on a challenge?
- What’s something that you’ve been putting off?
- Is there something that you’ve always wanted to learn?
- What’s something you’ve been telling people you’ve always wanted to do but have yet to get started?
- Get started with a 30-day challenge.
On a side note, I’m going to be starting a series of 30-day challenges on a separate blog of mine. I’ve been brainstorming challenges over the past few months and will be announcing them in the coming weeks.
Most of them will be based on things I have always wanted to learn, experience, or that I feel will make my life better. If any of them resonate with you I’d love to share the experience with you.
I’ll be announcing the challenges on the site and track my progress using the Lift or Way of Life Apps, as well as my personal calendar in my room.
Details on these challenges are to come soon!
So again, what are you doing with Yo Bad Self over the next 30 days?
Photo credit: Vincnenzo di Giorgi