Jul 022013

A few weeks ago, I was discussing the pros and cons of a single-minded approach to moving life forward (see Are you fighting on too many fronts?). Some goals lend themselves better to the full-immersion quick fix than others, of course, but the short, hard push has a great deal to recommend it, as is shown here in this 3.5-minute talk about what can be achieved in 30 days:

Matt Cutts: TED Talk

I agree with Matt Cutts that the 30-day commitment can be an excellent way to make things happen, on two levels. Firstly, it’s a useful method for introducing small, sustainable changes, such as taking the stairs instead of the lift. Often, the only obstacles to adopting better habits are inertia and psychological concern about the effort involved. In these cases, trying something for 30 days can be quite enjoyable because it’s different and we can anticipate the satisfaction of achieving a short-term goal. Once we’ve been doing whatever it is for a month, though, our synapses will have changed, we’ll realise it really isn’t such an effort after all and the good habit can stick.

As Matt says, if you really want something badly enough, you can do anything for 30 days. This is true but it’s crucial that we really want it; it’s no good trying this with things you believe you ‘should’ do because, even if you make it to the end of the month, the chances are there will be no long-term advantage. For this reason, I don’t advocate Matt’s idea of negative goals – cutting out sugar, not watching the news – if that’s all they are. As he found himself, Day 31 after no sugar for four weeks was a splurge, which does nobody any good. Subtracting things you like from your life feels like a punishment and is not inspiring. Cutting out whatever it is is never the true goal, so look beyond and identify what it is you want to achieve. For example, instead of “to consume no sugar”, what you really want may be “to have healthy, glowing skin” or “to get into those trousers I love but that have become a bit snug”. Obviously, taking the stairs instead of the lift is not the ultimate goal either – it’s a small change that takes us closer to the big goal of being fit and healthy – but it’s a good mini goal because it’s clear and measurable (unlike “being fit and healthy”) and it’s positive (taking the stairs) rather than negative (stop taking the lift). The latter point may seem semantic but psychologically it’s important.

Secondly, giving ourselves 30 days to complete some discrete project we’ve been meaning to get around to is a great way to focus our mind and get it done. Writing a novel is a good example because it’s so clearly quantifiable but I think the method is also valid for reaching a certain standard in a skill such as a foreign language or a musical instrument. A lot of the benefit comes from simply giving priority to that goal and tightly focusing your attention and energy on it – something you probably wouldn’t be able to sustain over a longer period but which we can all manage for a month.

The rewards for achieving the 30-day goals we set ourselves are big and deep.  I particularly like the two Matt mentions: that his confidence grows as he meets bigger and bigger challenges, and how instead of the months flying by forgotten, time spent working on a challenge is much more memorable. Trying something new for 30 days can help you to expand your comfort zone. Not only that, you will not just be drifting through the routine of your life, you will be living.

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