Tuesday, February 17, 2015

What is a 30-Day Challenge?

Forming a new habit can be difficult, as it requires you to make both physical and mental changes, and sometimes these changes aren't easy. This seems to be especially true when you're trying to do something that's "good for you."

image credit - dreamstime.com


Trying your new habit out for 30 days (a 30-day challenge) can be a great way to test drive your new habit, without having to commit to it forever.

What is a 30-day Challenge?

This isn't rocket science - it's pretty easy. Challenge yourself to do something, or to quit doing something, for 30 days. Every single day, no matter what, for 30 days. The challenge gives you an opportunity to:
  • Give something new a try. A new task / habit / change can seem daunting. By giving yourself a 30-day time frame you're able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It's that whole "I can do anything for 30 days" mentality, where you're more willing to endure some difficulty because you know it's not permanent. This makes it much easier to start a new task - both mentally and emotionally.
  • 30 days isn't a long time in the grand scheme of things, but it is long enough to effect changes to your body and mind.
    • Work out really hard for 30 days, and you'll see and feel the difference in your body.
    • Cut your calories drastically for 30 days, and you'll lose a lot of weight.
    • Changes to your diet will have enough time to impact your digestion, sleep patterns, and energy level. Do you feel better after cutting sugar (or alcohol, or gluten) from your diet?
    • Changes to your daily routine will have enough time for you to see the fruits of your labor. Have you made progress on a hobby because you're watching less TV, or because you're waking up 20 minutes earlier in the mornings?
  • Try something you might have been afraid to try on a more permanent basis. There may be things you would be afraid of failing on, but you'd love to give them a try if it's temporary.
  • Determine what parts of the new habit you liked best, and what parts weren't meant for your long-term life. You can then continue to make that new habit part of your life in whichever way works best for you.

How to make a 30-day Challenge work for you.

Try doing something you've wanted to do, and see how you like it. Commit to it - give it everything you've got - for 30 days. Keep a journal, or at the very least be cognizant about how you feel during the process. Did you lose weight, or get stronger, or get more flexible? Are you sleeping better? Do you have more energy? Enjoy the accomplishment, and take stock about what you gained from the process.

After the 30 days are over, you can decide whether to make that new habit a permanent part of your lifestyle, and on what terms. Maybe you're only going to do it 3 days per week instead of every day..?

Smaller is better

You can't run a marathon every day, but you can run (or walk) a mile. Doing something every single day - rain or shine, weekday or weekend, even when you're sick or tired - is hard enough. Make that new something a Herculean task and you're doomed before you even begin. Keep it simple - you can always modify and expand on it as time goes on.

Examples of good 30-day Challenges

Good 30-day challenges shouldn't take a lot of time, and they should be easy to track. When you're going to bed at night, there shouldn't be any doubt about whether or not you were successful. (and the answer better be that you were successful!)
  • Run 1 mile every day.
  • Remove something from your diet - soda, sugary drinks, desserts, wheat (gluten), alcohol.
    • Changes to diet can have a big impact on other parts of your well-being, so pay close attention to how you feel, how you sleep, and your overall energy levels.
  • Counting calories - give yourself a daily calorie budget and stick to it.
  • Limiting your time spent on Facebook and/or social media. (or eliminating it altogether.)
  • Stretching / Yoga
  • Stand up from your desk and do jumping jacks for 30-60 seconds, 3-4 times per day.
  • Exercise during TV commercials. push-ups, shadow boxing, 100-ups, mountain climbers, and squats work great for this.
  • Drink 8 glasses of water per day.
  • 30-day challenges don't have to be fitness related either; they can work on all areas of your life.
    • Limiting your time spent watching TV.
    • Reading for 15 minutes every day.
    • Say hello to a stranger / smile at somebody.
    • Learning a foreign language for 15 minutes a day.
    • Learning to play a musical instrument for 15 minutes each day.
    • Writing a couple hundred words in your novel, or your blog.
    • Meditate

Tracking your 30-day Challenge

I like to print out a 30-day worksheet and cross off a Big Red X for each successful task/day. (see my post "Don't Break the Chain"). I keep the worksheet at my desk at work, and it motivates me to continue my forward progress. Here are some worksheets you can print and use. (if the jpg files don't print great for you, shoot me an email and I can send you a pdf version.) I always start on a Monday, which is the beginning of a new week for me, so my tracking schedules start on Mondays...

once per day


twice per day


three times per day


four times per day


eight times per day


a Few of My Personal Challenges

I've taken on a number of 30-day challenges over the years, and sometimes the results have surprised me.
  • 1 Mile per day - some days this was planned as part of a workout, while other days I took a long walk during lunch. And there were a few times where I was getting ready for bed and said "Oh S***! Honey, I'll be back in 10 minutes.." before running out the door! When the challenge was over, I had decided that running wasn't so bad, and I've run a large number of miles since then.
  • Giving up soda - soda has been my vice as far back as I can remember. I've flip-flopped between diet and regular, and I've tried limiting my intake, but it's always difficult. So I made a concerted effort for a 30-day challenge. (I ended up turning this into a 60-day challenge, but that's beside the point.) I was sort of expecting a great cleansing feeling from doing this, but surprisingly it didn't have any impact on my energy, sleep, digestion, or otherwise. So, when the trial was over, I decided to re-introduce soda back into my diet (sugar only - not diet because I don't trust the long-term effects of artificial sweeteners), and I'm using my weight and calories to help determine if and how much I can consume. (because at 150 calories per can it can add up to trouble quickly.) If my weight and eating have been good, I get to indulge.
  • Facebook holiday - I removed Facebook from my phone for 30 days, and realized I really didn't miss it all that much. When the challenge was over I added it back to my phone, but even today - 2 years later - I still don't use it nearly as much as I used to.
  • Being "there" with my kids - this was my favorite challenge I've done, and I liked the results so much I've continued with it ever since then. Instead of being near my kids while doing my own thing (working, or being on my phone, or watching a game on TV, or whatever), I try to be actively engaged with my kids - all that other stuff can wait. My relationship with both boys has become stronger because of this.

In the end, a 30-day challenge is nothing more than an easy way to tempt you into trying something you either wouldn't have tried at all, or that you'd try and then give up on too soon. That being said, a 30-day challenge is also extremely effective and can have long-term, life-changing benefits.

I recommend keeping the 30-day challenge as a tool in your health and fitness arsenal, and using it anytime you're not sure whether a new habit might be right for you.

- Chris Butterworth


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