Change Your Behavior With A 30-Day Challenge

All of us, at one time or another, have a specific behavior we want to adopt or to change. One of the best ways to do this in a short amount of time is with a 30-Day Challenge. You’ve probably heard of the concept of a 30-day challenge and maybe you’ve even tried one. The 30-day challenge is the kind of tool that everyone should have in their toolbox. If you haven’t heard of it or need a refresher, here’s an introduction and some suggestions for using them effectively.

30-Day Challenge Basic Concept:

  • Choose a behavior, habit, routine or even a mental pattern that you would like to change, remove or adjust.
  • Determine the way in which you want it to change.
  • For 30 days, exercise or practice the change that you would like to make permanent or simply try out.

Rules, Structure, and Fudge-Factor

Some challenges will be pretty simple and won’t really require any detailed rules or rigmarole to follow.  For instance if you started a challenge where you would only drink water for 30 days, it’s clear enough what to do and what not to do. You drink only water for 30 days. If you drink anything but water, you broke the challenge and have to start over.

If your challenge is to quit cursing, you might need to create a list of marginal words that are acceptable to you that you don’t count as curse words or phrases. For example, you may allow yourself to say any harsh words that are allowed on public television and radio. These may not seem like curse words to you and if you use any of them, you haven’t cheated.

On the other hand, a 30-day challenge can be as complex as you think it needs to be. Say, for example, you want to exercise for 30 days in a row. You might create a 30-day challenge for exercise. But that’s pretty vague because exercise can be as simple as walking or as involved as cardio, weight training, yoga or even playing table tennis. So before you begin, you’re going to need to define what you consider to be exercise.

You may decide that anything that causes you to exert yourself and raises your heart rate is exercise. Here’s where the fudge-factor comes in. Under these rules, a good, healthy, bowl movement may constitute exercise. Think about it. You exerted yourself…your heart rate jumped up, heck, you may have even sweated. So does it count toward your 30 days of exercise? This may seem like an unlikely example, but sooner or later, you may find yourself thinking, “Hmmm, does this count as exercise?”

Here’s a couple more examples. You’ve just spent the last 4 hours helping your brother move furniture, which included plenty of exertion and a racing heartbeat from time to time. Does it count? How about if you spent the last hour mowing the grass or pulling weeds in the garden? Both elevated your heart rate and you definitely exerted yourself.

The Three Parts of Every Challenge

There are three things that must be included in every challenge. 1) A specific goal or challenge. When making a challenge, just make sure you’re clear on what it is that you really want to get out of the challenge. Write it down on paper and hang it somewhere that you’ll see it every day.  2) A start date. While you can get away without a start date, it helps to set a psychological boundary around the challenge and give it more meaning and weight. 3) A finish date. Every race has a definite finish line. Choose yours and honor it. If you fall off the wagon and miss a day of your challenge, don’t just arbitrarily extend your challenge by one day. Slipping up means starting over because a 30-day challenge means 30 days in a row.

What’s Missing

You may be wondering if you should include things like accountability, consequences, or rewards. These are completely optional. It’s up to you whether you include them. But I consider 30-day challenges to be informal goals that are propelled by your self-motivation. When you are internally motivated (known as intrinsic motivation), you don’t usually need external motivations like accountability, consequences or rewards. I suggest you save those for more critical goals, but you can use them. However, most people can crank up enough will-power to achieve a short-term 30-day challenge without resorting to deeper strategies. Rewards and consequences are notoriously difficult to pin down. That’s why so many people only make it a week or two on the more critical goals that may need external (or extrinsic) motivation. If your consequence is too severe, you’ll ignore it anyway. Likewise, if the reward isn’t just right, it simply isn’t going to motivate you beyond a few days or maybe a week, if you’re lucky.

Really big, life-changing goals take far more planning. Also, there’s a lot of trial and error associated with very meaningful goals. If it’s important enough to you, you’ll keep at it and work at finding the right consequences, the right rewards, and the proper supports that will eventually lead to the specific outcome you’re striving for. So I suggest that you treat the 30-day challenges less formally.

Have Fun, Y’all

30-day challenges can be really great for helping yourself develop new skills in short order, help remove a bad habit, or change any other behavior. And even though the challenges are…well…challenging, that doesn’t mean they can’t be fun. So the best attitude to have is to treat it as a game. Remember being with a friend and trying to hold your breath longer? It was a challenge…just to see if you could do it. The reward was automatic. If you held your breath longer, you were excited because you won the game. So I suggest that you make 30-day challenge goals something that you really want to see if you can succeed at. You can make a 30-day challenge out of anything. Here are a few examples:

  • Quit drinking coffee, sodas, energy drinks, (or even sewer water for that matter).
  • Drive the speed limit.
  • Don’t curse.
  • Morning walk.
  • Practice piano, guitar, or other instrument.
  • 15 minutes of daily reading.
  • Morning push-ups.
  • 10 minutes of meditation per day.
  • Putting dirty clothes directly in the laundry basket.
  • Turning off lights or conserving energy.
  • Parking far from the entrance.
  • 30 minutes of practice speaking Spanish, English, or another non-native language.
  • Multiplication Skills.
  • Quit eating sugar.
  • Walking 10,000 steps per day.
  • Eat 5 servings of vegetables per day.
  • Inspirational morning reading.
  • Daily journaling (gratitude journal, food journal, observational journal of some kind).

Your Intention

It’s better to have a very specific goal, such as doing 50 push-ups per day rather than “exercise for 30 days”. Some goals may need a specific duration every day so you know if you’ve met the specifics of the  challenge. Other challenges may not need to be very specific. It’s up to you. Also, you don’t have to stick to a 30-day time frame. You may decide to use a 15-day time frame or even just 7 days. It depends on the goal and what you think would be most effective and challenging without being too difficult to stick to. In general, you have a better chance of adopting a new behavior permanently if you try it for 30-days because by then it’s becoming a new habit or a daily routine like washing your face or brushing your teeth.

Try a challenge. If it doesn’t work out, try again or tweak it then start over. Also, keep in mind that you can fail a challenge and still succeed. For instance, if your challenge was to quit eating sugar for 30 days and on your 30th day, it’s your birthday and you decided to have a little cake, you may still feel like you’ve accomplished something that so few people have the guts to attempt, even though you only made it 29 days. It all depends on your intention and the purpose you had in mind when you started.

Using 30-day challenges can be an incredible way to change your behavior. No matter how you use a 30-day challenge, try to have fun with it. You never know how your life can change in only 30 days!

What 30-day challenge have you tried or are thinking about trying?

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