Twelve 30-Day Challenges for One Year
Willpower is the foundation of most of your achievements. If you want to get something then you just need to work at it until you reach your goal. But, it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master something and that means real exercising to get better results.
For this you need willpower. Fortunately, research has found that willpower is like a muscle, if you train it, it will get stronger. Another study shows that it takes on average 66 days to make a habit automatic, but you get really big increases in the first 30 days.
So I decided to put the two together and selected 12 habits I would like to have and are general enough for others to try. Every 30 days you will start a new willpower challenge. By the end of the 30 day period you will evaluate if you want to continue with the forming of this habit or you will drop it and treat it just as a willpower exercise.
I strongly suggest you select challenges you want to keep. You will be more motivated by that. From the willpower exercise point of view you could just try to avoid saying the word “and”.
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Twelve 30-Day Challenges
Become an early riser
This is really easy for most people. I thought that I was a night person for years but found out that if I go to bed early I wake up early and have amazing energy in the first hours of the day. Read about 10 benefits of rising early from Zenhabits’ Leo Babauta.
What to do? Set your alarm 3 minutes earlier every day. By the end of the 30 days you will be waking up 90 minutes earlier. However you need 7-8 hour of sleep every day so adjust your bedtime accordingly.
If you are able to walk this should be easy for you. If you haven’t moved a muscle in 10 years start with 10 minute walks. Add just one minute every day and you will get to 40 minute walks by the end of the challenge. If you don’t have any grandiose fitness goal this habit should keep you healthy for years to come.
If you have other fitness goals and you are training regularly, add the 40-minute walk to the rest days. This will not mess up your training plan and will help to maintain momentum.
Meditate 5-10 minutes every day. Sit in a comfortable position, close your eyes and concentrate on your breathing. In the beginning you will find it helpful to repeat in your mind in-out-in-out… Your mind will wander off and you must force yourself back to concentrating on the breathing. And again, off you go. Notice and focus on the breathing again. The constant mental effort is weight that strengthens your willpower. Don’t worry about drifting off just get back.
Start with the 5 minute sessions and bring them up to 10 or 15 minutes by the end of the 30-day challenge. After you have mastered that you can dig into more advanced forms of meditation. How to meditate in 10 easy steps.
It is said that it’s a good day at work if you get an 30-minute stretch of uninterrupted time to think on the problems at hand. There are the old emails in your inbox constantly nagging in your subconscious mind, the phone is ringing, IM is demanding attention, you’ve got mail notification, text messages. Shut it all off for 30 days and see what happens. Put the phone in silent mode. This means that you will answer the phone if you don’t have any other important business at hand. Don’t answer a phone when you are talking with someone in person. Disable email notifications, set two or three times in a day that you will work with email, empty email every day, turn off instant messaging or put it in do not disturb mode.
I seems almost impossible but by the end of 30-day challenge you will be more relaxed and get to do the things that really matter.
Distractions make strong arguments less persuasive and weak arguments
more persuasive. ~Petty, Wells & Brock, 1976
Write every day
If you want to leave a mark you will need to tell others about what you do. Give people advice on dog breeding, write a course on art history, write down your version of grand unified theory, or that marketing strategy you promised last week. All this rests on your ability to write.
Every day set aside specific amount of time to write. If you are a beginner set your goal at 1,000 characters per day, this should take you 20-45 minutes (includes time to think). If you have some writing experience then your goal is to increase the volume and consistency. I have to admit that weekends are pretty hard in this case.
When I decided that I needed to develop my writing skills I created a text document named 100-words.doc and made myself write at least 100 words every single day. The topics may vary but by the end of the second week you will have enough material for 1 or 2 blog posts.
I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket. ~Ernest Hemingway
This is probably one of the hardest challenges. Come up with 30 ideas on some topic every day. For the first day it would be a good choice to come up with the topics for the entire challenge. It is a bit easier than the actual ideas themselves and will not make your brain explode, merely hurt. When planning this challenge then consider that even on a good day it will take most of us 1 to 2 hours to come up with 30 ideas on any topic.
Brainstorm the ideas that really matter to you. You will see that everyone knows the first dozen or so ideas, but you may find real gold in the last 5.
Talk to strangers
This may not be for everyone. Rumor has it that there are people who can talk to anybody in any circumstance with ease. For the rest of us this is a great challenge to get rid of that social awkwardness that sometimes holds you back.
To make the challenge easier start with asking for directions or what time it is. But move on from there to more practical/personal stuff. Cashier in the store, fellow commuter in subway, someone you meet at the party or in school, ask attractive members of the opposite sex for phone numbers (from Timothy Ferriss, 4 Hour Work Week). Notice what people are doing and give a specific complement. After 30 days your world will be much bigger and easier to live in.
Say thank you
Say specific thank you to 3 people every day. It doesn’t count if they open a door for you and you mumble thanks. Engage the person and then explain what are you thanking them for in a sentence or two. Thank people who are not directly responsible for your well being. If you direct that salvo of thank-yous at your bosses they might get a wrong idea. Here’s a post from Psychology Today you should read: Giving thanks: The benefits of gratitude.
No negative thoughts
No negative thoughts and complaining about anything. Yes, you will have the urge to swear and go all negative about things that do not turn out as you expected them to. Take a deep breath and find the positive angle. In almost all cases, barring death and illness, things either go your way or you learn something. Turn every failure and mishap around and find the positive at all times.
Make a Pavlov’s dog out of yourself. Every time you catch yourself having a negative thought pinch yourself (hard) in some place you really don’t like it. 30 day should do the trick in this case.
No TV and news
Well, there has to be some easy stuff on this list, too. If you live alone just turn the TV against the wall, this should be deterrent enough. If you live with someone who is not too excited about your new media habits then find other things to do. Read a book, write or fix a Wikipedia article, take an online course to learn a new skill, spend time with your loved ones other than on the couch watching TV.
Americans and Europeans watch about 3 to 4 hours of TV per day. So, this challenge may save you more than 100 hours. Do not replace the TV time with surfing time (no news sites, no checking Facebook every 5 minutes, no aimless surfing), use it for something constructive and you will get the value from the hours and the willpower.
Be grateful for 5 things that are in your life. Take 10 minutes before you go to sleep to write down 5 things that made you happy that day. Maybe you got a raise, you met an old friend, you suddenly remember how great your family is, this tech you are using to read this post is here for less than dozen years, anything that makes you feel good.
Write it down in a short sentence and then reflect on it for a minute or two. Research has shown that acknowledging the good things that happen to you and being grateful will increase your overall happiness and goal achievement. And, of course, this 30-day challenge will leave you with stronger willpower.
This might be best combined with skipping TV. The 100 free hours you get from that is about the same as one university course. You can create a course and run through it in 30 days or you can teach something new every day. You can teach your fiends, kids, neighbors kids, co-workers, girlfriend. Teach seniors how to use a computer. You have something they don’t know and if you make the effort to share the knowledge all of you will be richer for that.
Make a list of your skills and thing who could benefit from them. It can be as simple as teaching children to count or you might want to help your friend out with that quantum teleportation stuff he’s really not getting.
I skipped the eat less, drink less, lose weight, stop smoking goals as these are not willpower exercises but habits that you have to follow for life. Get your willpower in shape and then take on one of these.
A few rules
No months. Yes, the post is titled 12 challenges for one year but it doesn’t mean that you have to start on first day of every month. So, start whenever you like it and keep it up for at least 30 days. The best time to start is… (wait for it)… NOW!
Less than 12 challenges. You don’t have to do them all, pick one or three. You may try the 66 day period that the research suggests and take 5 challenges.
Not only for the 30 days. Pick a challenge that you would really like to become your automatic habit. It will be much more rewarding this way. However after the 30 day period evaluate your progress and make a decision to keep on or move to a new challenge.
Don’t start two challenges at the same time. This is going to set you up for failure. For example research has shown that smokers who are trying to quit and control their weight at the same time, fail much more frequently than the ones taking up only the quitting challenge. Try one challenge for 30 days and if it becomes automatic enough for you then start a new one.
Missing a day. Don’t beat yourself up. This might lead you to what some psychologists call the what-the-hell-effect. You miss a day, you think “what the hell it’s ruined anyway” and drop the challenge. Don’t! One day doesn’t mean much (but don’t make it every other day).
Missing one opportunity to perform the behaviour did not materially affect the habit formation process. With repetition of a behaviour in a consistent context, automaticity increases following an asymptotic curve which can be modelled at the individual level. ~How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. Phillippa Lally et. al.
Illness. If you have health problems during the challenge then put the challenge on hold. It seems that willpower and immune system compete for resources and that’s not something you would want to encourage. Stop the challenge and restart when you get better.
Also published on Medium.