If you’re a regular reader of my blog, and you follow me on Facebook, you know I’m almost at the end of a 30 days challenge. It’s called the #5words challenge and, as the name implies, it consists mainly in writing down each day 5 words which are defining my current day and then posting them on Facebook and Twitter. But, as you may also guess, it consists in much more than that, otherwise I wouldn’t spend 30 days with such a simple exercise.
And that gets me down to the topic of this article. What is a 30 days challenge? What is it good for? Why and how you should start a 30 days challenge?
I started 30 days challenges about 6 years ago, while reading Steve Pavlina’s blog. He was – and still is – kinda big on 30 days challenges. And I don’t know if he “invented” them, but for sure he is one of the most fervent promoters of them as a personal development tool. I had 30 days challenges for starting a raw food diet, for starting to run, for writing books, you name it. And, at the end of them, things were always looking better, generally speaking, than at the beginning of them.
Aim and Definitions
A 30 days challenge is, simply put, an activity you commit to perform regularly for 30 days in a row. The objective is to understand exactly what the activity may bring to you, in terms of benefits, and how the activity will impact your current routine, in terms of resources. The benefits may be: losing weight, gaining more money, getting healthier. The resources may be: time, physical effort, intellectual effort, emotional strain.
As you may see, these challenges are in fact self-improvement tools. As such, it is not advisable to do a 30 days challenge “just for the sake of it”. If you don’t set up a specific goal you want to reach at the end of the challenge, then it will be just waisted time. And that brings me to the specific set up I use every time I start a 30 days challenge.
First of all, there is the trigger.
Then, there is the action, or the set of actions.
After that comes the “how”: am I going to do it alone? Am I going to involve other people in it? Am I going to share the results? Not all my 30 days challenges are public.
And then, at the end of it, after the 30 days, it’s the evaluation. Usually, the evaluation means one of three things:
- I continue the set of actions, transforming them into a habit
- I decide it was a good call and that the benefits are already in place (and stop the actions)
- I stop the actions because, although the benefits are ok, the resources may be too much of a strain for the moment.
Let’s take them one at a time.
Most of the time, the trigger for a 30 days challenge is curiosity. Sometimes it may be just some sudden crisis that I want to overcome, but, most of the times, it’s just curiosity.
For instance, I was very curious how a raw food diet will feel like. So, I started a 30 days challenge to try it out. Also, I was curious to know if I am able to run again (like in becoming a regular runner). Also, at some point I was curious if I can write an iOS app in just 30 days.
A few words about the trigger. It must be something achievable. Something that you may perceive as doable within your own means at the moment. Difficult, but achievable. For instance, I wouldn’t start a 30 days challenge for climbing the Everest. That would be far more difficult.
Also, it must be something that I can easily define. The goal, the objective of the challenge shouldn’t be fuzzy. If I want to understand the benefits and pitfalls of a raw food diet, than I should put it down like this: I want to understand, in 30 days, what are the benefits and pitfalls of a raw food diet. If I would put something like: I want to become part of a higher vibrational community of people who are in touch with their cleansed bodies, well, that would be a little bit fuzzy.
When I set up the actions for a 30 days challenge, I always set them up strictly. Very strictly. If I want to undergo running as a habit, then I make a schedule for my runs and stick to it. No matter what. It helps to know that at the end of it, if the effort of maintaining that schedule was too hard, I can drop it or make adjustments.
Also, I don’t modify the actions during the challenge. Unless there is a major injury or some other big problem, I always stick to the plan. For instance, when I started to eat raw a few years ago, during the first 2-3 weeks I was very low, physically speaking. The detox process was really powerful and I felt like I was having a serious cold pretty much the entire day. But I stick to the plan, and, sometimes after the third week, the detox effects faded away and I started to enjoy the benefits.
Again, the actions should be manageable. If there is something that will affect your daily routine really hard, or your social habits, be prepared. For instance, running wasn’t such a big deal, because it took only 1 hour maximum each day. But eating raw was a big change in my social routine, because I couldn’t go out in the same places, I had to eat more often and so on and so forth.
This is actually the body of the challenge. Almost always, the “how” implies some sort of monitoring. Usually, it’s journaling or blogging. I keep a log of what’s happening, once a day. And then it just boils down to actually performing those actions. Like eating raw, running, writing code, etc.
Sometimes it pays off to add other people to my challenges. They may be friends, who are just as curious as I am about a certain topic, and we can form some sort of a team. They may also be social media buddies, people who are committed to follow up on my updates or even take on the same challenge, using some social media tool to track the progress, like a hashtag. Actually, the #5words challenge was picked up by a number of my social friends recently.
An important part of the “how” is the public part of the results. Am I really going to share the results on my blog? Most of the times I undertake challenges that are meant to be inspiring. That other people may also benefit from them. That are making some sort of a contribution. But it’s not always like this. Some challenges are very private and they are meant to be like this. The point here is that I’m not doing it because “somebody is watching” and I have to report at the end of the month, but because I know there will be real benefits at the end of it.
Well, here I am, at the end of the 30 days, ready to see how everything felt into places. That’s the most important part of the challenge. It’s the part where I realize if the effort paid off, or if not. In fact, it always pays off. Even if I’m going to drop the habit, the simple fact that I tried it out it’s a big success. Now I can “cross it off” of my list. I tried this, didn’t worked, moving on.
More often than not, a 30 days challenge ends up with the incorporation of a new habit or activity in my life. It was the case with the raw food diet challenge. I stayed raw for 9 months. I still keep an important part of my meals raw these days, but I’m omnivorous now. And no, I don’t eat raw meat :). Also, I became a runner, with 2 marathons finished so far, just after a 30 days challenge about running, started 2 years ago.
But some of the 30 days challenges don’t end up with a habit. Some of them are meant just to “burn out” illusions or to uncover some hidden potential that will be used later on. A couple of years ago I even had 12 30 days challenges in a row, just to clean up my internal garbage. That was an interesting year…
The evaluation always leaves something very useful behind. Being it the fact that I now have a new healthy habit, or just the fact that I’m over some illusions that were just occupying precious real estate in my mind.
Well, that was it. As you can see, it’s not rocket science. But it’s not deadly simple, either. It takes a bit of an effort, but it pays off.
Running For My Life - from zero to ultramarathoner
The spooky thing about depression is that it sneaks in. There aren’t really trumpets and loud voices announcing: “Hail, hail, this is depression entering the room, all rise!” Nope. It’s slow, silent, creepy. It doesn’t even look like depression. It starts with small isolation thoughts like: “Maybe I shouldn’t get out today, I just don’t feel like going out”. And then it does the same next day. And then the day after that and so on. And then it starts to whisper louder and louder in your ears: “Why would you go outside, you loser? Didn’t have enough yet? Want more people to make fun of how much of a big, fat loser you are?”
And then you start to breath in guilt and shame, instead of air. Every breathe you take is putting more dark thoughts into your body.
Until you get stuck. You can’t move anymore. At all.
If you want to know how I got out of this space, eventually, check out my latest book on Amazon and Kindle.