If there’s one thing that has helped me form new strong habits, achieve my goals and grow my business fast – it has been by doing 30-day challenges. Really, 30-day challenges are awesome. In fact, at the point of writing this blogpost, I’m on day 28 of my 30-day blogging challenge (in which I write 1 blogpost per day). Unfortunately, at the point of writing this post, I’m also sick.
The powerful thing about doing a 30-day challenge like this one is that I still write my blogpost, despite not feeling like it at all. I want to complete my 30-day challenge and not fail 3 days before the end, so I simply do it. But normally, when I wouldn’t be in a 30-day challenge, I definitely wouldn’t write a blogpost on a day like this. And that’s why 30-day challenges work so well. They gamify the process of achieving your goals, building new habits or growing your business. They make sure you are consistent for at least 30 days in a row, which is enough time to get a lot of highly valuable work done.
You can decide to do a 30-day content production challenge (like blogging, video recording or social media posts) in order to grow your business.
You can decide to do a 30-day no procrastination challenge in order to break the habit of procrastination.
Or maybe you decide to do a 30-day challenge around crushing your to-do list every single day.
Whatever habit you want to implement or goal you want to achieve, you can build a 30-day challenge around the topic in order to get the job done.
The Power of 30-Day Challenges
There’s something about a challenge that triggers our competitive and playful instincts, which is incredibly useful when it comes to building new habits. Personally, I’ve experienced that 30-day challenges have been the key to successfully building strong new habits in my day-to-day life.
And this is because of 6 specific reasons:
- It Takes At Least 21 Days To Build A New Habit
- Challenges Are Fun
- There’s a Psychological Pull Towards Completing A Challenge
- Challenges Measure Your Progress
- Challenges Activate Your Competitive Instincts
- Challenges Have A Clear Start and End-Point
Reason #1: It Takes At Least 21-Days To Form A New Habit
The primary reason why 30-day challenges are awesome when it comes to forming new habits (and making them stick) is that it takes at least 21 days to form a new habit. And since we’re talking about 30-day challenges here, it means that we’ve covered those crucial initial 21 days of starting our new habit.
In fact, it means that when our challenge is completed, the new habit has had enough time to be completely ingrained in our behaviour and the neural pathways of our brain. A truly strong habit has been formed after these 30-days.
Unfortunately, research is still divided on this topic and there’s no single specific timeframe that’s shown to be the tipping point when it comes to making a habit truly internal in our system. However, the general view is that it takes at least 21 days to build a new habit successfully.
It’s much harder to successfully go through the initial phase of 21 days when you don’t have a clear goal or challenge set for yourself. Therefore, many people fail within the first week of starting their new habit, as they have to rely on willpower and discipline alone, which are limited resources.
However, when you have a clear endpoint in the form of a 30-day challenge, actually sticking with it and successfully completing every single day is much more likely! All because of the reasons that follow next.
Reason #2: Challenges Are Fun
As soon as we decide to form a challenge around building a new habit, we’ve made it into a game. And games are fun. Much more fun compared to just disciplining and forcing yourself every single day. The desire to complete our ‘game’ is what makes the whole process a lot more pleasurable and fun to continue with. Our playful and competitive instincts will start to kick in and we view the challenge as something we truly want to complete.
Personally, I believe the key to success in any endeavour – whether it’s business, health or habits – is to make it as fun as possible. The more fun you’ll have, the easier it’ll be to put in the effort and overcome obstacles along the way. As soon as the fun is gone, your results will go down as well.
Reason #3: There’s A Psychological Pull Towards Completing A Challenge
There are 2 main psychological reasons why challenges are awesome:
- The Zeigarnik Effect
- Dopamine Release
First of all the Zeigarnik Effect, which has been discovered by the Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik in the 1920’s. If you’re not familiar with the term, it’s the psychological effect that suggests that not finishing a task (or a 30-day challenge) creates mental tension, which keeps it at the forefront of our memory. In other words, we’ll be thinking about it A LOT because it’s an active ‘task’ that hasn’t been completed yet. The only thing that will relieve this tension? Closure brought on by completion of the task (or challenge in our case)
We tend to remember what we don’t complete – and therefore we’ll try much harder to actually complete it fully. This way, it doesn’t have to be at the forefront of our mind anymore. In essence, we are using psychology to our advantage (as an extra motivator) to build a solid foundation for forming the new habit.
Two examples of how the Zeigarnik Effect is used in business
Second of all, dopamine release. Because each time you cross off a successful day of your 30-day challenge, dopamine is released by our brain. And essentially, dopamine is the ‘reward’ hormone that makes you feel good and motivated after doing a certain activity.
When we feel the effects of dopamine, we’re eager to repeat the actions that resulted in the dopamine release in the first place (neuroscientists refer to this as self-directed learning).
In other words, we’ll feel a psychological pull towards completing the next day of our challenge because our brain anticipates that it’ll feel good after completion of the habit activity, as new dopamine will be released.
Again, we are using psychology to our advantage in order to actually complete our 30-day challenge. How cool is that!
Reason #4: Challenges Measure Your Progress
It has been said that ‘that what’s measured will be improved’, and I believe this to be very true. When most people start a new habit, they forget to measure or track their progress. They have an abstract view of their success or failure rate, thereby tricking themselves into feeling either overly optimistic about their progress or feeling overly pessimistic. Both lead to the fact that the new habit doesn’t have enough consistency behind it to make it an internal part of their behaviour.
When doing a 30-day challenge, however, your progress is very clearly measured. You can instantly see if you’re on track or if you need to step it up and maybe even restart your challenge if necessary. This way, you get real data and feedback about your actions and this is what’ll lead to actual improvement and making sure the habit will stick.
Reason #5: Challenges Activate Your Competitive Instincts
As humans, we all have a degree of competitiveness within us. Challenges are a sure way to get those instincts out and use them to our advantage of building a new habit.
When we’ve set a challenge for ourselves, we are more driven, motivated and determined to accomplish it. We don’t want to embarrass ourselves or let ourselves down, and we especially don’t want to lose face in front of others.
You’ll notice that as soon as you’ve set a challenge for yourself (and especially when done with multiple different people), you’ll feel more driven than before. Use this internal power to your advantage to complete the 30-day challenge, which forms a strong foundation for your new habit to fully develop in your internal system.
Reason #6: Challenges Have A Clear Start- And End-Point
Compare this to many people’s new year’s’ resolutions, which have no endpoint at all. This is a sure way to failure. When you have no endpoint in sight, you don’t make use of the Zeigarnik effect, as there is nothing to ‘complete’.
Second of all, when there is no clear endpoint in sight, the likelihood of giving up is a LOT higher. When we have no endpoint to work towards, we’re much more likely to quit after we’ve missed a few days of doing our habit activity. We feel frustrated and bad about ourselves and we simply go on with our lives as normal.
However, when we have a clear endpoint to work towards, we’re much more motivated to continue and actually accomplish the 30 days, even if we missed one or two days. Giving up on our challenge is a much more conscious and painful decision than simply letting our ‘wish’ of building a new habit fade slowly away.
Now you may think ‘I want this habit to be in my life forever, so I’m not looking for an endpoint at all’. And that’s a very good way of thinking about your habits. However, the challenge with most new habits is that the initial phase is the hardest phase of all. This is where it’ll be determined if your habit will stick successfully or if you’ll fail.
But as soon as you’re through the first 30 days of doing the habit activity day in day out, it’ll be an internal part of your system. You’ll be so used to it that it’ll become a lot easier and more effortless compared to the beginning. It’ll be a part of your lifestyle that you don’t even want to let go – and you won’t.
So essentially, by creating an ‘endpoint’ for your challenge, you’re making sure that there is, in fact, no endpoint to your habit.. does that make sense?
The 4 Steps To Build The Perfect 30-Day Challenge
I hope you’re excited and inspired to start a 30-day challenge as soon as possible! But before you do so, I want to share 4 easy steps that helped me create the ‘perfect’ 30-day challenge with the highest success rate, so you can start the right way.
Step 1: Make Your Challenge Visual
It’s absolutely essential to make your challenge visual and to visually be confronted with your progress multiple times per day. What I like to do is grab a sheet of paper, write the numbers 1 – 30 on it (kind of like a calendar) and I check off every single day where I’ve successfully done my habit activity (and put a cross through it if I failed that day). I make sure it hangs or lays in a spot where I’ll be confronted with it multiple times per day.
This is the simple visual format I use to keep the challenge on the forefront of my mind.
This’ll really help you put the challenge at the forefront of your mind even more. I’ve had a few times where I didn’t make my challenge visual, and I found myself forgetting about the challenge or thinking about it too late in the day, which resulted in either stress or even the failure to accomplish that activity that day.
So, therefore, create a visual overview of your 30-day challenge to massively increase your success rate.
Ps. The power of having visual goal- or success reminders in your work- or living-space is so real that I’ve started a business around this, Elevation Prints
Step 2: Get One or More Accountability Partners
Like Jordan Peterson wrote in his must-read book, 12 Rules of Life, we’re much more likely to take care for other people and make sure they follow through on their goals – than we do for ourselves. Therefore, we need accountability partners in our life if we want to increase our odds of success at all.
This also means that in order to successfully complete the 30-day challenge, you need at least 1 person who holds you accountable. This person will be checking in on your progress every day, and you’re gonna have to explain in detail why you didn’t follow through if you didn’t.
Humans are funny creatures. When it comes to our social life, we’d do anything in order to preserve and increase our status, and protect the image that other people have of us. The psychological pain of losing face in front of someone else is simply too painful and therefore we’d try anything to avoid it.
I experienced this myself with my girlfriend a while ago. When I did my 30-day video recording challenge, I definitely would’ve skipped a day or two when it wasn’t for my girlfriend being my accountability partner. Where I could’ve talked myself out of it with a weak excuse on a sunny Sunday evening right after the world cup final, I simply couldn’t do it knowing that my girlfriend was there to hold me accountable. How could I possibly explain my weak excuses to her, without losing face?
So the solution was very simple. I just did it. I didn’t want to experience the psychological ‘pain’ of losing face to my accountability partner, so I just did it. This is the power of having an accountability partner (or multiple) by your side that check your progress daily. It’ll make sure you complete the 30-day challenge on those days where you feel like it the least.
Step 3: Set Some Stakes & Rewards
A strong 30-day challenge has a reward attached to its completion and something at stake in case you think about quitting. Where stakes are more like an extra ‘insurance policy’, rewards are the extra incentive to make sure you’ll complete the 30-day challenge.
So, set a reward for yourself that you’ll get after completing the 30-day challenge. This’ll make the whole process and experience even more fun and exciting, which increases your success rate. Maybe you’ll go out for a nice dinner at a good restaurant, go to a game of your favourite sports team (in my case, Ajax), spend some days in nature, buy a new video game, have an epic cheat meal or anything else that feels like a real reward for your efforts.
On the other hand, you should also have something at stake in case you don’t finish or fully accomplish your 30-day challenge. It’s something that you dislike which you’ll have to do when you don’t make it to the end. For example, donating $100 to a political party you strongly dislike or anything else you can think of that you absolutely don’t want to do.
Rewards and stakes are both external motivators that can be very useful when it comes to increasing your success rate in your 30-day challenge. They’re little ‘extras’ that can keep you going on the moments you least feel like it.
Step 4: Create Leverage On Yourself
The concept of creating leverage on yourself is something I’ve learned from Tony Robbins’ Ultimate Edge programme – and I believe it’s one of the biggest keys in staying motivated for any goal or challenge you’ve set.
What ‘creating leverage’ essentially means is that you’ll gather enough reasons and incentives on why you want to achieve your goal, which serves as the motivation you need in order to continue.
So, write down a clear ‘why’ for your 30-day challenge. Write down all the reasons you can think of why you want to complete this challenge. How will your life look like after the 30 days? How will your life be better? How will you feel about yourself? What will happen to your body / mind / finances / relationships after this 30-day challenge? Write down every single ‘why’ you can think of.
Then, write down every single downside of not completing your 30-day challenge. How will your life be worse if you don’t follow through? How will you feel about yourself? Will your body / mind / finances / relationships still be in bad shape? How will it affect your own business if you don’t follow through?
Write down every single negative thing that you can think of that will happen if you won’t complete your 30-day challenge. Avoiding these downsides will be a strong enough motivation (in the form of fear – which can be a VERY good motivator) for you to follow through on your 30-day challenge.
Write down your ‘leverage’ on a piece of paper and read it every single day, one time in the morning as part of your morning routine, and one time right before you go to bed. This way, you’ll be highly motivated every single day.
What Challenge Will You Start?
Since you’ve made it this far, I hope you are inspired to start a challenge as soon as possible (maybe even today) in order to build a strong new habit in your life. If you are, please let me know in the comments what new habit you are building and how your challenge will look like! Or shoot me a message on social media (YouTube, or Instagram) and let me know!
To Your Personal Growth,
Founder Personal Growth Lab
Ps. Want to make 2019 your best year yet? Resolve to learn how to STOP procrastinating and wasting time. This has been by far my biggest point of personal growth in 2018 and it has helped me massively in taking PGL off the ground. Learn exactly how to STOP procrastinating by checking out my free guide ‘7 Strategies To Stop Procrastinating‘