A little while ago, I was sitting at dinner with my friends when one mentioned his recent discovery of the 30-day challenge. Every month, he picks something he’s always wanted to learn or try and consistently keeps it up for 30 days straight. The conversation switched gears quickly, but I was deeply inspired.
Little did I know at the time that this challenge would actually change my life – it would bolster my self-confidence and boost my productivity beyond proportion.
I am an incredibly “interested” person, to say the least. I sincerely dream of pursuing countless hobbies, taking a wide range of online courses, and acquiring various skills. However, I often get way too ahead of myself; I stretch myself too thin, and rather than mastering ten new skills, I’ve realistically mastered a fraction of one. I mean, come on, pursuing multitudes of interests simultaneously as an overworked Northwestern student is truly not realistic.
It wasn’t until I sat at dinner one night that I realized my issue wasn’t laziness, or a lack of patience, or a curbed dedication – my issue was purely a skewed perception of proficiency. I would mindlessly hop from honing my guitar skills to practicing calligraphy to reading a classic novel to listening to an entrepreneurial podcast to formatting a bullet journal, hoping that one of these days, my skills in these areas would magically reach my self-imposed standards. I turned a blind eye to the inevitable reality that if I merely just skipped around from hobby to hobby – without any structured consistency – minimal progress would ever be made in one area, let alone all five.
Subsequent research of the 30-day challenge prompted a dramatic wake up call. I realized that if I wanted to achieve the self-fulfilment that I yearned for, my approach would have to endure a complete 180-degree turnaround. Accomplishing all of the small objectives that I assigned to myself was going to take time, and the process had to be incremental.
So I wiped my slate of self-induced expectations clean and embarked on my first 30-day challenge: meditation.
I had previously dabbled in the practice of meditation with intermittent frequency, but I could never sustain a consistent habit. Meditating existed in a cyclical space in which I would engage in the exercise one day, forget about it the next, self-deprecate about my lack of regularity, and then avoid the practice all together to prevent future disappointment.
As I now reflect on this unrewarding pattern, I am realizing that my issue was largely that I did not hold myself accountable for my occasional forgetfulness. I didn’t realize at the time that this issue had such a simple fix: writing out the numbers 1-30 on a piece of paper. The physical action of crossing out a number each day that I practiced meditation was incredibly satisfying; even just a simple stroke of a pen was so rewarding, and I could actually observe my daily progress.
Today marks my 38th day meditating on Headspace. Yes, I’ve exceeded the 30 days, but I noticed such a dramatic positive impact during the challenge that meditating every day no longer seems like an obligation – it’s a privilege. In only the span of a month, I have already seen significant reductions in my stress levels and an overall deep appreciation for mindfulness – results that occasional meditation never sparked.
I am now in the midst of a second 30-day challenge in which I listen to the Wall Street Journal’s “What News?” podcast every day. As a busy college student, I felt so out of tune with the world outside of the Evanston bubble. With the simple action of listening to a single 10 minute podcast as I walk to class every day, I now feel more educated about current events than ever. Being in accordance with the external world is quite fulfilling and certainly has boosted my self-confidence.
Some more ideas I have for future 30-day challenges are: reading 10 pages, practicing guitar for 10 minutes, listing things I’m grateful for, and sketching a picture of something that happened during my day.
I can now say that I have acquired two new habits or skills that I’ve always wanted to add to my daily routine – two more than I would have ever tangibly acquired in years.
If you have always wanted to pursue a new passion, try out a new hobby, learn a new subject, or acquire a new skill, just dedicate 30 days and watch the magic unfold.
Here is my list of tips for 30-day challenge success:
- For your first challenge, choose something realistic. Choose something that you can easily add to your daily routine. If you are learning a new skill or trying out a new hobby, just 10-20 minutes a day is optimal! Reasonability during your challenge is super important to maintain consistency.
- Write out the numbers 1-30 on your first day. Cross one off each day to track your progress.
- Tell your friends about it! Having some cheerleaders will provide you all the motivation you need for completing the challenge.
- Try to exceed the 30 days. 30 days is not a limit…it’s just a recommended time frame for fine-tuning a skill or ingraining something into your daily routine! You will likely see such benefits throughout the challenge that you will be excited to continue into day 31 and beyond.
Check out Matt Cutts’ Ted Talk about the 30-day challenge.
Devon Spungin is an English Literature and Cognitive Science sophomore at Northwestern, and a non-tech aide at The Garage. She’s from Los Angeles, California.