30 Day Challenge to Accomplish Anything. In order to achieve massive goals, you need to make massive changes. That’s what we’ve always assumed, anyway. Important people did amazing things because they had more: more energy, more time, more dedication. But in reality, what most important or influential people actually have is patience. They have the ability to make small, deliberate changes and wait for the results to show themselves. Here’s to quick examples of how small changes mean big consequences (good and bad), and then we’ll dive into how to leverage this insight in your career.
Let’s say you’re playing a game of Dungeons & Dragons. Weird place to start I know, but trust me. Your objective is to get from where you are in a village to the dungeon of some big evil monster you’re meant to slay. That dungeon is thirty miles away, but you think “No big deal, I’ve got a good sense of direction. This is true north, I’ll just go north until I run into the dungeon.”
The only problem is, you’re slightly off in your idea of what true north is. Just one foot, that’s pretty good actually. Many people can’t find true north at all. So you set out, for every foot, you travel you’re one little foot off to the right of your destination.
Twenty-four miles later and you’re three miles off. Two more days of travel like that and you’re eight miles off. In an ancient world without GPS or towns, every few miles where you can stop and ask for directions eight miles off is hopelessly lost. All this because of a slight miscalculation, a relatively mild, small change.
Back to the real world, but another relatively mild, small change. There’s a history of heart disease in your family. What’s worse is you stress-ate for a few years to cope with some difficult problems or family members that moved a little too close for comfort. So you’re not feeling the best but you know you don’t have time or energy to go and hit the weight room or run a few miles every day. The best you can do is a small change, you go on a fifteen-minute walk in the morning before you shower and head to work. Your likelihood of experiencing a cardiovascular event drops by 32%. Not only that but your risk of dying dropped by 32%.
Small Changes Lead to Massive Changes
Small positive changes create momentum, which leads to further and further growth which results in the final result that you’ve always hoped for. It doesn’t matter what the goal is: if you want to become a famous guitar player, run a marathon, lose fifty pounds, buy a new car, whatever. Setting a small goal and meeting it regularly will do more for you than some big effort you try to take that lasts for four days and then you forget about it until six months later when you come across that notebook you were going to use to keep track of things.
Mark Manson has an entire course about this idea, about baby steps. “Whenever we want to change our lives, we come up with some pithy goal … The problem is that these are just big actions. And anyone with some willpower can half-ass their way through a certain number of big actions. Real change comes from a change in your habits. And a change in habits comes from a long, sustained alteration of small actions.”
Human brains are fantastic at creating habits. The reason that is important is that everything about how we feel, what we want, what we do, all of it is driven by our habits. Plenty of us wants to fight certain habits, like eating unhealthy food or to start habits we know are healthy, like being the sort of person who runs marathons regularly. And, like Manson said, with sufficient willpower you can pull it off. For a while.
This is why it is so vitally important to take these small steps in order to achieve the big goals we have.
30 Day Challenge to Accomplish Anything
Pick a goal that you want to achieve, anything at all. Famous guitar player, a promotion at work, anything. Get your calendar, mark out today as the first day you start working to achieve that goal. Then mark down whatever day it is 30 days from now as the end of this period.
What is in the way of you achieving this goal? Think about it like it is your job to get this to happen for someone else. What problems are preventing you from making this work? If you’re aiming for the promotion, why haven’t you already gotten it? If it is because you haven’t been as proactive as the last few people to get promoted, that a great place to start. If you’re aiming for the famous guitar player, there are two aspects to look at. Do you already play guitar exceptionally well? No? Then you’ve got your first pick. You do? Then how can you get yourself in front of people who want to see good guitar playing?
Whatever your goal is, the obstacles you need to find should have practical solutions. But I don’t know what my problem is, you say. Hmm. If only there were some sort of informational super highway with free-to-access guides on literally everything from How to Make Ramen into a Dope Stir Fry to How to Dismantle a Nuclear Warhead. If you don’t know what’s stopping you from your dream, you are the only thing in the way. Get on the internet and start researching how to get to where you want to go.
Royale Scuderi suggests some fantastic individual goals if your overall goal is to achieve a healthier body. “Set a mini-goal of losing 5 pounds each month, rather than a goal of 60 pounds in a year. Swap out one unhealthy snack for a piece of fruit, or eat one vegetarian meal a week, and replace one soda or cappuccino with a glass of water. When we try to eliminate all sugar, or soda, or junk food from our diets, we usually fall off the bandwagon within the first week or two. That’s not a very good success rate. Train to run a 5K, then a 10K, then a half marathon rather than training for a full marathon all at once. This advice holds true even when tackling the full marathon as well: many successful long-distance runners say that they don’t run 26 miles, they run 1 mile 26 times.”
If you’re aiming for that promotion, a great way to reach that is to absorb more responsibility slowly. Take on one extra task at work and work hard on it until it is completed, then ask for another one. Get one new certification that’s relevant to your job. Find one conference or online seminar you can attend and integrate what you’ve learned into your work.
Writer Kathryn Sandford engaged in this exact practice in order to figure out what she wanted from her career path, and the 30-day challenge was paradigm shifting. “Achieving these 3 goals gave me the confidence and self-belief to keep going. I knew that if I did nothing, then I would have to accept a life of disquiet, unhappiness, sadness, and no hope. There was no way that was going to happen.”
So you’ve got your goal, you’ve got the obstacles. Now find a way to spend just fifteen minutes a day working toward the overcoming of that obstacle. Just fifteen minutes. Not thirty, not an hour. Fifteen minutes, you know, the amount of time some people spend in the bathroom.
Use Your Calendar & Reward Yourself
It is easy to say “Okay I will read for fifteen minutes a day” after reading an inspiring blog or article about how much better your brain performs when you do that. But it is easier to forget about that entirely five days later unless you put those fifteen-minute blocks in your calendar.
Find space in your actual calendar to mark down the fifteen-minute bursts of effort toward your goal. Make real space for it, after lunch, before you go to work, whenever you’ll be most motivated to get it done. And then when you finish that fifteen minutes, reward yourself somehow. After finishing this article I plan to finish a candy bar that’s sitting on my counter and play video games for forty-five minutes.
This might seem like an excuse for more sugar, but in reality, this is gaming the brain’s reward-habit system. If every time you finish that fifteen-minute burst of effort you get sugar or an activity you greatly enjoy, your brain builds a positive association with performing that task. In this way even if it’s something that is unpleasant by itself (eating healthy, jogging), attaching a separate positive reward you get as a result of doing it creates a dopamine response in your brain that increases the likelihood of it turning into a habit. And remember habits are how the famous and important people do all the amazing things, they’ve gotten good by doing small sustainable efforts and letting the momentum build.
Another great tool in hitting those fifteen-minute markers and achieving your goals is to set up a structure of accountability. The calendar is one form of accountability, but that’s only as powerful as your current relationship to your calendar. A great way to create accountability is to use a person you know and trust, especially if you see them every day or nearly every day.
Spouses can work great for this if your relationship is healthy. It can be especially effective if your goal is also something they want for you, as it creates investment in them for your success. If you’ve got a friend who is already running marathons and gets up to run every morning, ask them to run with you for fifteen minutes before they go on their big nine-mile run of the day.
Having someone who can check in with you about your goal is incredibly effective, even if they aren’t checking daily. How often and what manner the checking takes is up to you, your accountability partner, and the tasks you’re engaged in. The running friend example doesn’t have to ask if you run today, because they ran with you. But a business mentor can check in on how you’re progressing in the online-course they suggested you take to broaden your resume a little.
Observe Your Progress
An important part of the Scrum development strategy is the regrouping period where the team compares the progress they achieved with the goals they had set at the start of the scrum. The team examines the discrepancy between the progress and the goal and asks questions about why they did or did not achieve their goal. One important thing for the scrum master to look for is obstacles that the team members bring up. If there’s an organizational quirk that needlessly slows progress, they can spend the time before their next period of work trying to remove sed obstacle.
This is a good strategy to implement when engaging in baby steps habit formation. At the end of the 30-day challenge compare where you are to where you started. If you achieved your goal, relish in that satisfaction and set another goal. If you didn’t succeed, figure out why. Did your accountability structure not hold up? Did you set a task for yourself in those fifteen minute periods that were too difficult, or did you not reward yourself adequately for completing them? Lastly, were your expectations outpacing your reality, did you expect to lose 50 pounds in a month instead of five? Remember that good and long-lasting change takes time.
This process never ends. Once you’ve got your information on how things went, you now have 30 more days to beat the next obstacle in your way.