Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due


The Wall Street Journal had a story today about the popularity of 30 day challenges. These challenges range from exercising every day, to cutting out sugar, to writing a novel.

The story notes that there are more than 200 smartphone apps for Apple’s iOS that have “30 day challenge” in the title, 10 times the number available in 2014.

The article indicates that what inspired many people to attempt these 30-day challenges was a three and a half minute TED talk by Google engineer Matt Cutts (worth watching). In the talk, Cutts credits Morgan Spurlock with the motivation to try something new for 30 days.

Spurlock had a TV series titled 30 Days that ran from June 2005 to  July 2008. in each episode, Spurlock, or some other person or group of people, would spend 30 days immersing themselves in a particular lifestyle with which they are unfamiliar (e.g. working for minimum wage, being in prison, a Christian living as a Muslim, etc.), while discussing related social issues.

While I have not seen any of the episodes, I think it is worth pointing out that I had heard about the idea for 30-day challenges before Spurlock’s show came on the air.

Steve Pavlina, personal development guru, wrote a blog post about 30-day challenges in April, 2005, a couple of months before Spurlock’s show debuted. Pavlina says the idea came to him from the shareware industry that offered its suers 30 days to try out new software before you made a purchase decision. It was Pavlina’s blog post that made me such a fan of 30-day challenges, and so I wanted to make sure that he was acknowledged for his contribution to the idea of 30 day challenges.

I have done several over the past few years, with the most recent, and relevant, one being the 31 Day Write and Run challenge in January 2015, which got me started on my blog writing, which has continued on since that initial challenge.

I think that’s the hope many people have when they undertake such challenges, to turn some behavior into a habit. I wrote a little bit about this last year, and I want to include some of that post here, since it applies.

While many people have indicated that it takes 21 days, or 30 days to establish a habit, recent research has shown that it takes, on average, 66 days to establish a habit.  And it’s no surprise that how long it takes a new habit to form can vary widely depending on the behavior, the person, and the circumstances. In the research study, it took anywhere from 18 days to 254 days for people to form a new habit.

But before you look at those numbers of 66 days or 254 days, and think that seems way too long, there are some helpful takeaways from the research.

  • “First, there is no reason to get down on yourself if you try something for a few weeks and it doesn’t become a habit. It’s supposed to take longer than that! There is no need to judge yourself if you can’t master a behavior in 21 short days. Embrace the long, slow walk to greatness and focus on putting in your reps.”
  • “Second, you don’t have to be perfect. Making a mistake once or twice has no measurable impact on your long-term habits. This is why you should treat failure like a scientist, give yourself permission to make mistakes, and develop strategies for getting back on track quickly.”
  • “And third, embracing longer timelines can help us realize that habits are a process and not an event. All of the “21 Days” hype can make it really easy to think, “Oh, I’ll just do this and it’ll be done.” But habits never work that way. You have to embrace the process. You have to commit to the system.”

So perhaps you made some commitments to yourself with the start of the new year, or just today you started trying to do something during the season of Lent, another popular time to try to make behavioral changes. The odds are high that you will stumble (or perhaps already have), but that’s no reason to give up. Just remember why you started the challenge in the first place, and realize that tomorrow is a brand new day, and a chance to start all over again with a clean slate.

Remember, it’s the process that’s important, not how long it takes to establish a habit.

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