We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.
Scientists have suggested that, with a little willpower, it takes roughly 30 days for a person to form a new habit. As with mastering anything new, the act of starting and getting beyond the preliminary stage where everything feels awkward is 80% of the battle. This is precisely why it’s important to make small, positive changes every day over the course of at least a 30 day period.
It’s like the old saying: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” The same philosophy holds true for making changes in your life. Trying to bite off more than you can chew will only make you choke. But taking smaller, manageable bites, one at a time – eating a little healthier, exercising a little, creating some simple productive habits, for example – is an amazing way to make positive changes and get excited about life.
And when you start small like this, you won’t need a lot of motivation either. The simple act of getting started and doing something will give you the momentum you need, and soon you’ll find yourself in a positive spiral of changes – one building on the other. When I started doing this in my life, I was so excited about it that I started this blog to share it with the world.
Below you will find 30 challenges to be accomplished over the course of 30 days. If carried out diligently each of them has the potential to create a new positive habit in your life. Yes, there is some slight overlap between a few of them. And no, you don’t have to attempt all at once. Pick 2 to 5 and commit the next 30 days, wholeheartedly, to successfully completing the challenge. Then once you feel comfortable with these habits, challenge yourself with a few more the following month.
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- Use words that encourage happiness. – Typically, when I ask someone “How are you?” they reply, “I’m fine” or “I’m okay.” But one lazy Monday afternoon last month a new colleague of mine replied, “Oh, I am fabulous!” It made me smile, so I asked him what was making him feel so fabulous and he said, “I’m healthy, my family is healthy, and we live in a free country. So I don’t have any reason not to be happy.” The difference was simply his attitude and his choice of words. He wasn’t necessarily any better off than anyone else, but he seemed twenty times happier. Spend the next 30 days using words that encourage a smile.
- Try one new thing every day. – Variety truly is the spice of life. You can see or do something a million times, but you can only see or do it for the first time once. As a result, first time experiences often leave reflective marks in our minds for the rest of our lives. Make an effort to try something new every day for the next 30 days. It can be a whole new activity or just a small experience, such as talking to a stranger. Once you get the ball rolling many of these new experiences will open doors to life changing opportunities.
- Perform one selfless act every day. – In life, you get what you put in. When you make a positive impact in someone else’s life, you also make a positive impact in your own life. Do something that’s greater than you, something that helps someone else be happy or suffer less. I promise, it will be an extremely rewarding experience. One you’ll likely remember forever. Obviously your options here are limitless, but if you’re looking to assist an ordinary person in need without leaving your chair, check out GoFundMe.
- Learn and practice one new skill every day. – Self-reliance is a vital key to living a healthy, productive life. To be self-reliant one must master a basic set of skills, more or less making them a jack of all trades. Contrary to what you may have learned in school, a jack of all trades is far more equipped to deal with life than a specialized master of only one. And besides, learning new skills is fun. Check out this article, this article, and this book.
- Teach someone something new every day. – We all have natural strengths and talents that can dramatically help those around us. What comes easy for you is no doubt challenging for others. We tend to take these gifts for granted, often hardly noticing what we have to offer, and thus we rarely share them with others. Inner happiness and zeal come from using these inherent gifts on a routine basis. What do people thank you for? What do people routinely ask for your help with? Most people’s passions and talents help others in one way or another. Perhaps for you it’s painting, teaching math, cooking a good meal or leading an exercise class. For the next 30 days devote some time each day to sharing your talents and expertise.
- Dedicate an hour a day to something you’re passionate about. – Take part in something you passionately believe in. This could be anything. Some people take an active role in their city council, some find refuge in religious faith, some join social clubs supporting causes they believe in and others find passion in their hobbies. In each case the psychological outcome is the same. They engage themselves in something they strongly believe in. This engagement brings happiness and meaning into their lives. (Angel and I discuss this in detail in the “Passion and Growth” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
- Treat everyone nicely, even those who are rude to you. – Being nice to someone you dislike doesn’t mean you’re fake. It means you’re mature enough to control your emotions. Treat everyone with kindness and respect, even those who are rude to you – not because they’re nice, but because you are. Do this for 30 days and I guarantee you’ll see the rudeness around you dissipate.
- Concentrate on being positive at all times. – The real winners in life cultivate optimism. They have the ability to manufacture their own happiness and drive. No matter what the situation, the successful diva is the chick who will always find a way to put an optimistic spin on it. She knows failure only as an opportunity to grow and learn a new lesson from life. People who think optimistically see the world as a place packed with endless opportunities, especially in trying times. Try to spend the next 30 days looking at the bright side of things.
- Address and acknowledge the lesson in inconvenient situations. – It’s important to remember that everything is a life lesson. Everyone you meet, everything you encounter, etc. They’re all part of the learning experience we call ‘life.’ Never forget to acknowledge the lesson, especially when things don’t go your way. If you don’t get a job you wanted or a relationship doesn’t work, it only means something better is out there waiting. And the lesson you just learned is the first step toward it. Over the next 30 days keep a written log of all the lessons life taught you.
- Pay attention and enjoy your life as it happens. – When I watched the Academy Awards a few months ago I realized that most of the speeches actors and actresses make when they accept an award go something like this: “This means so much so me. My whole life has been leading up to this moment.” But the truth is, our whole lives have been leading up to every moment. Think about that for a second. Every single thing you’ve gone through in life, every high, every low and everything in between, it has led you to this moment right now. Ask yourself this: How much of life are you actually living? If you’re like most people, the answer is likely: “Not enough.” The key is to concentrate on a little less on doing and a little more on being. Remember, right now is the only moment guaranteed to you. Right now is life. Spend the next 30 days living in the now, for real.
- Get rid of one thing a day for 30 days. – We have so much clutter surrounding us at any given moment (at the office, in our cars, in our homes) and we’ve become so accustomed to it that we no longer notice how it affects us. If you start cleaning up some of this external clutter, a lot of internal clutter will disappear as well. Choose one needless item each and every day and get rid of it. It’s that simple. It might be difficult at first, so expect some resistance. But after some time you will begin to learn to let go of your packrat tendencies, and your mind will thank you for your efforts.
- Create something brand new in 30 days or less. – Creation is a process like none other. Putting to use your innovative faculties and constructing something with your own two hands will leave you with an indescribable sense of wholeness. There is no substitute for it. The only caveat is that it must be related to something you actually care about. If you are creating financial plans for clients all day and you hate it, that doesn’t really count. But if you can find something you love, and create something related to it, it will make all the difference in your life. If you haven’t created something in a while just for the sake of creating, do so. Take the next 30 days and let your creativity run wild.
- Don’t tell a single lie for 30 days. – With all the seemingly innocent, white lies that trickle out of us, this is way harder than it sounds. But you can do it. Stop deceiving yourself and others, speak from the heart, speak the whole truth.
- Wake up 30 minutes early every morning. – Get up 30 minutes earlier than usual so you don’t have to rush around like a mad man. That 30 minutes will help you avoid speeding tickets, tardiness and other unnecessary headaches. Give it a legitimate try for 30 days straight and see how it impacts your life.
- Ditch 3 bad habits for 30 days. – Do you eat too much fast food? Do you play too many video games? Do you argue with your siblings? You know some of your bad habits. Pick 3 and quit doing them for 30 days. Period.
- Watch less than 30 minutes of TV every day. – Entertain yourself with real-world experiences. Great memories are the product of interesting life experiences. So turn off the television (or the computer if that’s how you watch your TV programs) and get outdoors. Interact with the world, appreciate nature, take notice of the simple pleasures life has to offer, and just watch as life unfolds in front of you.
- Define one long-term goal and work on it for an hour every day. – Break your goal down into bite-sized pieces and focus on achieving each one piece at a time. It really is all about taking baby steps, and taking the first step is often the hardest. Spend an hour every day for the next 30 days working toward something you’ve always wanted to accomplish. Take a small dream and make it a reality. Read Getting Things Done.
- Read one chapter of a good book every day. – With the Web’s endless stream of informative, easy-to-skim textual snippets and collaborative written works, people are spending more and more time reading online. Nevertheless, the Web cannot replace the authoritative wisdom from certain classic books that have delivered (or will deliver) profound ideas around the globe for generations. Books open doors, in your mind and in your life. Read an online book list and find a good book to grab at the library today. Then spend the next 30 days reading at least one chapter a day until you reach the end. Here’s another book list. And another. And another.
- Every morning, watch or read something that inspires you. – Sometimes all you need is a little pep talk. For the next 30 days, before you eat breakfast, or leave the house, watch a motivational video or read something (quotation, blog post, short story, etc.) that inspires you.
- Do something every day after lunch that makes you laugh. – Watch a funny video clip on YouTube, read your favorite comic strip, or find a good joke online. A good chuckle stimulates the mind and can give you a renewed level on energy. The best time for this laugh is during the lull in the mid-afternoon, when you need it most.
- Go alcohol and drug free for 30 days. – This challenge depends on your individual circumstance. If you are a heavy user of alcohol or a particular drug it is not recommended that you quit cold turkey. You need to see a physician and ease off of the substance slowly. But if you are a casual user, quit right now for 30 days. If you’re looking for a natural energy boosting alternative to a substance, check out 50 Natural Ways To Boost Your Energy.
- Exercise for 30 minutes every day for 30 days. – Your health is your life. Don’t let it go. Eat right, exercise and get an annual physical check-up. The 4-Hour Body is an insightful and entertaining read on this topic.
- Get uncomfortable and face a fear every day. – With a strategy of continuous small steps into uncomfortable territory we are often able to sidestep the biggest barrier to positive change: Fear. Sometimes we’re afraid we’ll fail. Sometimes we’re subconsciously afraid we’ll succeed and then we’d have to deal with all the disruption (growth) and change that follows success. And other times it’s our fear of rejection or simply our fear of looking like a fool. The best way to defeat fear is to stare it down. Connect to your fear, feel it in your body, realize it and steadily address it. Greet it by name if you have to: “Welcome, fear.” Fear can be a guiding friend if you learn how to swallow it, and listen to it only when it serves its true purpose of warning you when you are in danger. Spend an hour every day for the next 30 day’s addressing a fear that is holding you back.
- Cook one brand new, healthy recipe every day. – Cooking is fun, challenges your mind, and if done correctly, provides vital nutrients to your body. Win-Win-Win. How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman is great tool for this challenge. Packed with 900 pages of simple instructions on how to cook everything you could ever dream of eating, it’s pretty much the greatest cookbook ever written. Prepare one new, healthy recipe every day for the next 30 days.
- Spend 10 minutes every evening reflecting on what went well. – For the next 30 days spend 10 minutes every evening pondering the small successes that occurred during the course of the day. This process of positive reflection will remind you of all the tiny blessings in your life, and help you to celebrate your personal growth.
- Have a conversation every day with someone you rarely speak to. – People are interesting creatures, and no two people are exactly alike. Interacting with different people will open your mind to fascinating ideas and perspectives. So for the next 30 days strike up a conversation daily with someone you rarely speak to, or someone you’ve never met before. Find out what makes them tick.
- Pay down debt and don’t create any new debt for 30 days. – Live well below your means. Don’t buy stuff you don’t need. Sleep on big purchases. Create a budget and savings plan and stick to them. For the next 30 days pay for things in cash and micro-manage every cent you make and spend. Read I Will Teach You To Be Rich.
- Let go of one relationship that constantly hurts you. – Keep people in your life who truly love you, motivate you, encourage you, enhance you, and make you happy. If you know people who do none of these things, let them go and make room for new positive relationships. Over the next 30 days, if relevant to your situation, gradually let go of one person in your life who has been continuously hurting you and holding you back.
- Publicly forgive someone who deserves another chance. – Sometimes good relationships end abruptly because of big egos and arguments based on isolated incidents. If there’s someone in your life who truly deserves another chance, give it to them. If you need to apologize too, do it. Over the next 30 days give your story together a new chapter.
- Document every day with one photograph and one paragraph. – For 30 days bring a camera with you wherever you go. Do your best to take one photograph that represents a standout experience from each day. Then, before you go to bed each night, write one paragraph in a notebook or journal that highlights your day. If you do it all digitally you can unite your daily photograph and paragraph in one digital space (like a personal blog), which can be easily reviewed in the future. Many moons from now these old photos and journal entries will ignite your recollection of interesting memories you would have otherwise forgotten.
As you progress through these challenges remember, personal growth is a slow, steady process. It can’t be rushed. You need to work on it gradually every day. There is ample time for you to be who you want to be in life. Don’t settle for less than what you think you deserve, or less than you know you can be. Despite the struggles you’ll face along the way, never give up on yourself. You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, smarter than you think, and twice as capable as you have ever imagined.
Photo by: Andres AZP