Did you make big, audacious New Year’s Resolutions this year?
First, congratulations on taking the time to self-reflect and commit to a change!
Now—are you overwhelmed, disillusioned, or discouraged yet? If so, you’re in good company.
Mid-January is a time when that fresh resolve that This is the year! starts to flag for many people, as we jump back into all of the responsibilities and to-dos and habits that are still waiting right where we left them at then end of December.
There’s nothing wrong with having a big goal. In fact, a strong link to a big picture is crucial when it comes to maintaining the consistent commitment to action that real change takes.
Without breaking that goal into little, clearly defined steps, though, it’s hard to get any momentum toward the big picture—or know whether you’re making any progress. When you make huge, vague resolutions, you increase your chances at success tremendously by breaking down those resolutions very specifically.
If you’ve already fallen down on your New Year’s Resolutions, here’s one way to make progress on your bigger goals and create real change: Forgive yourself and recommit by participating in your own personal 30-day Challenge!
Simply put, a 30-Day challenge involves choosing one specific, measurable, reasonable action that you 100% commit to taking every day for 30 days.
Here’s an example from my own life:
For years before I started blogging, I’d been wanting to push myself to write. For the longest time I’d had ideas swirling in my head, along with the knowledge that writing would be a way for the powerful work I do with my clients to reach more people. Despite this desire, it was so hard to get past my own fears, inertia, overwhelm, and other blocks!
One day, though, I was determined to stop thinking about writing and start doing it.
Knowing I’d need to light a little bit of a fire under myself and add some structure to this open-ended goal, I embarked on a 30-day challenge to kick myself into gear. (I was inspired in part by a client who participated in NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month—a challenge in which participants write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days.) I decided that for 30 days, I would write a blog post every single day. You don’t have to post it, I told myself. You’re just going to write it.
It is truly amazing how committing to just one very specific action, every day, for 30 days, can make a huge impact.
Why did the challenge work?
1. The 30-day challenge gives you just one manageable, specific step that moves you forward on what may feel like a big, scary, overwhelming goal.
If I had tried to decide to write a blog post every day forever, or for even a year, I would have been completely overwhelmed before I even began—and some strong resistance would have kicked up. But 30 days? I can do almost anything for 30 days! I started immediately, and 30 days later, I had 30 blog posts written. Some were very rough; others I actually liked—but I now had a whole body of writing to choose from, tweak, and share.
2. The different stages of the 30-day challenge give you different kinds of energy that you can harness.
The excitement gets you started—in the first week, the novelty helped me stay in action. Then, with a week of success under my belt, a bit of confidence, a touch of pride, and a solid dose of stubbornness kicked in.
Once I started, I didn’t want to break my “winning streak.” There was one night I pulled myself out of bed (yes, inwardly kicking and screaming!) because I realized I had forgotten to write that day! After about two weeks, I noticed habit start to kick in—it became much more automatic (and way less scary) to sit down at the computer.
While there is some disagreement on how long it takes to create a new habit, 30 days is enough to fully form some habits and, at least, to put you well on the road to forming others. Consistently taking one small, specific action will move you forward in the direction of a big goal more than inconsistently trying to generally “do better” or do something “more.”
3. The 30-day challenge takes all the day-to-day decision-making out of it.
There’s no such thing as “Will I or won’t I?” or “Should I do it today or tomorrow?” (Yes, you will! You’ve already decided. Today, and tomorrow, yes!) It is easier to follow through when there is absolutely no question about it.
4. Success with one 30-day challenge gives you positive momentum after the challenge, too.
The day after I finished my 30-day writing challenge, I automatically thought: what next? I felt so powerful having achieved my goal (not to mention pleased with having the material to show for it!), and I knew: if I can do that for 30 days, surely I can do anything for 30 days! (I’ll reveal in my next blog entry the next goal that I picked—totally different from the writing challenge, in some ways much easier, in some ways much harder—and just as successful!)
Are you ready to get started with your own 30-day Challenge?
When we set goals, we often want to start next week or next month. Start now—the day you read this article—before your brain has time to set up all the excuses!
Here are some tips in setting yourself up for a successful 30-day challenge:
1. Choose something small enough—and reasonable, given everything you have going on—that you can confidently commit 100% to doing it every day.
This is key! All the standard excuse opportunities will arise: I’m tired; I’m busy; something unexpected came up. Set yourself up by success by choosing an action that you can do no matter what happens. (Of course, be self-compassionate; if a true emergency should arise, that’s another story.)
2. Choose something that connects to a bigger goal—one that’s really important to you.
The challenge is only really meaningful if you know and can articulate (to yourself) why you’re doing it. The very same action could be chosen by two different people for two different purposes. (For example, two people may choose to take a walk every day; one may be working toward a larger goal of getting more exercise to improve physical health, whereas the second may aim to spend time outside to contribute to mental, spiritual, or emotional balance.) Or, of course, you may choose a single action that will get at multiple goals you have for yourself.
3. Choose something that is specific and measurable and, if applicable, time-oriented.
It should be crystal clear whether you have or haven’t done your challenge action every day. Could you literally check it off a list with certainty? If not, it’s not specific enough. If you are going to clean, stretch, or study, how many minutes will you spend cleaning, stretching, or studying each day?
4. Frame the action as a “do” rather than a “don’t.”
The power of positive language has been proven again and again. Even if your 30-day challenge involves some kind of abstention, articulate it as positive action. So instead of “not eat candy,” commit to “choose only non-candy snacks.” Instead of “no TV at night,” choose to “turn off and leave off the TV after 6pm.” It may seem like semantics, but there’s evidence that framing goals positively can make a big difference.
5. Consider sharing your challenge with at least one other person.
This builds in some extra personal accountability—and you may even inspire that person to try his or her own 30-day Challenge! (And remember, if you are really ready to share, post your challenge in a comment and inspire others in this reading community.)
Some ideas for your 30-day Challenge:
- write a blog post (it can be done!)
- take a walk
- write a letter/card/thank-you note
- clean ___
- cook dinner at home
- meet someone new
- read a finance article
- study Spanish
- take a meaningful or beautiful photograph
- write in a journal (possibly a gratitude journal)
- do a good deed
- get rid of one object in your home
- read a children’s book
- thank someone for something they did in the past or are doing continually
- drink your coffee or tea sugar-free
- do nothing for ___ minutes
- play with your pet for ___ minutes
- draw or paint a picture
- play music
- go to the park
- be outside for ___ minutes
- keep the TV off
- use the internet/email only at designated times
- be vegetarian/vegan
- drink only non-alcoholic beverages
- send someone a message on Match, OKCupid, or another dating website
- write down everything you spend
- drink water instead of buying and drinking juice/soft drinks/etc.
- add one minute each day to your run
- call a friend or family member
- try a new recipe
- shop only locally
- your own idea!
Choose your challenge, share it with us below, and inspire friends and family to join you in their 30-day Challenges by emailing or posting this article! I can’t wait to hear how you plan to challenge yourself for the next 30 days.