Why 30-Day Challenges Help Your Habits Stick

Why 30-Day Challenges Help Your Habits Stick

Here’s a staggering statistic: 43% of everyday actions are the result of habits.

That finding comes from University of Southern California psychology researcher Dr. Wendy Wood, who has spent decades studying how and why people fall into (and out of) habits. It’s the reason why change can be so difficult. 

And as hard as it may seem, breaking or building a habit is doable. There are many ways to make them stick, but you may find it’s a sprint that works best. A 30-day challenge can be the path to a healthier lifestyle, making a routine or even decluttering your life. Whatever you want to do, there seems to be a short-term goal that will help you make the most out of a limited amount of time.

30-day challenges are helpful because they force you to take a serious look at your goal and act mindfully each day — that’s something we can have trouble with when it comes to change.

“We think we do most things because we make decisions or we’re asserting willpower, but instead our research shows that a lot of human behavior is repeated often enough in the same context to form habits,” Wood said in an American Psychological Association interview. 

So why a sprint? 

For one, it works!

“Although pursuit of long-term goals is primarily motivated by the desire to receive delayed rewards, we find consistent evidence that immediate rewards are stronger predictors of persistence in goal related activities,” writes University of Chicago Booth School of Business researchers Ayelet Fishbach and Kaitlin Woolley.

In short, you’re more likely to achieve a short-term goal because you know the reward is near. That can be helpful in establishing long-term goals too.

“Maximizing the presence of immediate rewards when pursuing long-term goals, rather than relying on the importance of the goal to carry him through, should increase goal persistence,” the duo said.

There are a few ways to make that easier as you embark on a 30-day challenge, whether you create it yourself or you follow something already set.

Stack your challenge habits

Experts say that the best way to form a new habit is to build on what you already have. That may mean increasing reps during a workout, adding number of pages read in a day or time spent (or not spent) doing a particular activity. Find ways to grow each day.

Prioritize consistency over huge leaps

Habits take anywhere from 18 to 254 days to form, according to some research, but the median time is about 66 days. The trick is to keep it up! If you practice your goal everyday, you’ll eventually get there. Don’t skip a day, and keep a routine as much as possible. If you add an event to your schedule or to-do list, it’s more likely you’ll get it done.

Eye on the prize

Just like the University of Chicago researchers said, rewards are important. While your goal may be enough to keep you going for 30 days, remember that a reward can push you when things seem tough. 

You can pick whatever kind of reward will be most meaningful to you. It doesn't have to look like anyone else's reward. What is most important is that it be something that can motivate when in a moment when you're on the fence about sticking with your new habit or not.

Track your progress

Tracking your progress becomes a bit easier when a 30-day challenge is in play, because it’s essentially all pre-determined. Even so, keep track of other aspects of the challenge, like how you’re feeling and whether it’s getting easier. 

The most common 30-day challenge you’ve probably seen are workout challenges. 30 days of ab workouts or 30 days of squatting. They’re appealing because they have structure! Even so, it’s good to keep perspective in mind, especially if you’re wanting to achieve something physical. 

“It takes about 3 to 4 weeks for people to start feeling really good while exercising so if you can get over that first 3-week hump of physical adaptation things get a lot more fun and pleasant, which increases likelihood of sticking with it,” Mike Siemens, Corporate Exercise Physiology Director at Canyon Ranch, told NBCNews.

For other goals, however, a 30-day challenge can make a really big difference. Think about decluttering your home or sticking to a budget. You’ll see real, tangible results in that short amount of time.

FREE 30-day challenge examples and worksheets

Here are a few 30-day challenges that you can easily adopt, adapt or mimic: 

New York Times 30-Day Well Challenge: Tara Parker-Pope, founding editor of Well, an award-winning consumer health website, created the Well Challenge with science in mind! “I wanted to create a wellness program that was simple, easy-to-do and, yes, fun,” she said. Each new day comes with a new way to nourish the body and mind, from short workouts to meditations, you’ll sure to get to know yourself a little better along this journey.

30 Days to Save: The creators of You Need a Budget will help you save $1,000 in one month. It seems impossible, but the “all-out sprint to stash cash” is the real deal. You’ll track every dollar you spend, set a goal and only buy what you need. Signing up is easy, they’ll help you with the rest. Want to save more? Less? Whatever your goal is, this challenge can get you there.

Shira Gill’s 30-Day Home Organization Challenge: Clutter is a big stressor! But just 15 minutes a day for 30 days can fix that. Shira Gill’s 30-day challenge helps you organize and clean your home without being too overwhelming. The key here is baby steps. This challenge  also makes you feel more motivated and accomplished, so a win-win! Just mark off the days as you go. You’ll be surprised how much better you feel at the end of it.

30-Day Gratitude Challenge: There are a whole bunch of benefits that come along with a gratitude practice (like boosting self esteem and even a better night’s rest), but busy schedules can make it a habit that’s hard to stick to. The University of Rochester has a simple challenge to set the tone for a more regular practice. Many of the days are abstract ideas, which gives you the freedom to make it work for you!
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