Are you taking the easy path in life, relaxing in your comfort zone?
Or are you living a life of experiment and excitement?
Perhaps you have certain goals that are never accomplished…
You know that you need to take action but get overwhelmed by the enormity of the task and are unsure what to test first.
Now you don’t have to be a mad scientist, running life experiments like a human guinea pig…
But that’s the very beauty of 30-day challenges.
Let’s face it; to achieve anything worthwhile, you have to be comfortable with the concept of experimentation.
And inevitably it’s corollary…failure.
In this article, we’ll take a look at how you can embrace the experimental life through 30-day challenges, but first, let’s look at what they are and why they’re great.
What Are 30-Day Challenges?
30-day challenges involve choosing an area of your life you’re struggling with or want to improve and designing an experiment to adopt the preferred behaviour for 30 sequential days.
It could involve anything, from a pushup challenge to an art challenge.
Why Are 30-Day Challenges Useful?
Whereas most resolutions and lifestyle changes can seem daunting, 30-day challenges are far less intimidating.
Much like breaking a big task down into more manageable chunks, performing an activity for 30 days straight is far more achievable.
There’s an end in sight. If you don’t like the activity after 30 days, the worst case scenario is that you’ve learnt something important about yourself.
But if they’re so useful, why are so many us afraid to commit to trying new lifestyle experiments?
Starting at the Finish Line
Most of the time we’re determined to know the solution before we begin a project.
So, what do we do?
Delve down the research rabbit hole, consuming information like an addict. Sadly though, we seldom get the answers we need.
You see, research can be helpful in moderation, but it frequently opposes meaningful action.
Sure, if you want to know how to plaster a wall, it makes sense to watch a couple of YouTube videos before diving in, but most online research is merely procrastination in disguise.
Research is never a substitute for concerted action and the learning that comes with it.
Knowing When Research Makes Sense
For more technical skills, it’s true that you need a baseline.
If you want to know how to code a website but have no computer experience, research will be an inevitable part of your learning process.
But like a fine wine, it should always be paired appropriately.
In this case, with action.
Fortunately, for learning such complex skills we no longer need to go to school or university. Indeed we live in a veritable information utopia, where we can pretty much learn anything for free.
Education isn’t reserved for the privileged few and is now accessible to anyone with an Internet connection and enough desire.
No, access to information isn’t the problem. The real skill has actually become sifting through the material to find what you need to start experimenting and run your own 30-day challenge.
There’s so much noise in the world, that you have to learn how to accrue just enough information to get going, before focusing attention on the actual work.
When Research Gets in the Way
Often we use research as an artificial shield against our fear of taking action and potential failure.
If we can just gather more information, we think we’ll improve our performance and results.
But over-researching denies us the very room to collect the data points we need to inform future discoveries. Only when we’ve collected feedback can we iterate our approach and progress.
Sure, you want to do your best to set out your 30-day challenges with a concrete plan, but don’t delay in getting started and collecting data.
There’s a time when hypothesising has to stop and the messy work has to begin.
Why We’re Unwilling to Experiment
Perhaps the biggest reason for not undertaking more life experiments or 30-day challenges is that we’ve been inoculated against failure.
Partly our parents are to blame for discouraging us from taking the scary options, as they seek to protect us from the psychological bumps and bruises of life.
No one likes to see a blabbering child after all.
But the effects of developing an aversion for taking the hard path are far-reaching.
If we’re taught from a young age that challenges and potential failure are bad, we’ll never develop the risk-taking skills necessary to test our limits.
Just as a plant grows to the size of its pot, by constructing artificial walls around our growth, we won’t know our true capabilities.
The Failure of Education
Education also plays a crucial role in limiting our will to experiment.
We’re herded down the funnel of academic achievement without ever being given the psychological room to fail. With standardised testing the main way of rating our abilities, there’s increasing pressure to succeed on the first try.
The second part of the failure trap comes from society. There’s not enough talk about people setting themselves mini-challenges or the experimental failures that inevitably result.
One of my favourite YouTube channels is run by Alex Berman, who runs the aptly-named marketing agency Experiment 27.
In his videos, Alex starts a series of business ventures, providing a behind-the-scenes look at his progress, warts n’all. It’s liberating compared to the normal, guru led, rainbows and fairy lights we usually see.
After all, modern culture has been so indoctrinated to avoid rejection and failure that our family friends aren’t immune to its effects.
They are their own skin-filled sacks of opinions, biases and contradictions who may be struggling with their own risk-taking abilities.
Naturally, when our friend sees us fail, it could be a reinforcement of their belief that failure is bad and should be avoided.
Even if you as the experimenter are unphased by the setback, those around might be very adept at placing fear in your mind, where none existed previously.
No-one wants to face-plant in front of their friends, so this can deter us from 30-day challenges that may add positively to our lives.
Which brings me on to my next point…
Many of Your Experiments May Not Work
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Thomas A. Edison
It’s worth getting this out of the way.
Just like many scientists set out to prove a null hypothesis, a lack of results or failure can actually be more informative than success.
Just like we don’t sit down at the piano and expect to play a perfect symphony, how can we expect immediate success with our first tests?
We need to develop resilience towards failure and like a scientist, allow it to add to our overall body of research on the subject, before informing our next move.
- Do you need to change an aspect of your piano playing and incorporate more deliberate practice?
- Can we change a variable and try again?
- Do we need to attack the problem from a different angle entirely?
Seek Advice Cautiously
It’s easy to think that because people have been there and done it, we just need to seek out their mighty brains to discover their mystical secrets.
Like trying to discover the results before actually starting an experiment or 30-day challenge, we want to avoid the whole failure thing.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work like that. There’s a bit of a crisis in science, called the replication effect.
Take some of the most famous experiments in history, such as the prison study and the plant investigation, and we find that reproducing their effects is all but impossible.
And it can also work the same way for human accomplishment.
So what does that mean for you? Well, it means that you won’t always be able to reproduce the results of your mentors.
This is even more likely if you’re involved in a different pursuit or vertical. They can provide invaluable advice and guidance, but if you’re not starting because you don’t have the guru behind you, then you need to rethink your strategy.
Taking action via experimentation is the vital first step regardless of whether you seek mentorship or not.
In fact, any coach worth their salt will be actively encouraging you to experiment to give them some data points to analyse. Otherwise, they’re merely hypothesising.
30-Day Challenge Ideas
Obviously, the 30-day challenges you set for yourself will vary according to what you’re trying to accomplish.
However, I’ve put together a core list of high-value, high-return activities that should have a significant impact on various areas of your life, whatever you want to achieve.
It might look more like a self-care list, but the truth is, if you can nail these habits, you’ll be significantly better off and my guess is that you’ll continue with them for longer than 30 days.
Hopefully, there are also some fun challenges to do with friends!
1. Getting up early – Many high performers are early risers. Why? Because the morning is often the part of the day you can actually control before the minutia of life intervenes, allowing you to get your most important tasks done first.
2. Meditation – There are many studies purporting the health and wellbeing benefits of meditation. Trying this will help liberate your psyche.
3. Stretching – I’ve recently started this lifestyle experiment myself and enjoyed it so much that I’ve gone beyond thirty days. If you’re a regular exerciser, you will find that your athletic performance increases too.
4. Running – Getting a good sweat on is a great way to clear the mind and sculpt the body. If you’ve not exercised much before, start slowly with this to avoid overuse injuries.
5. Resistance training – Doing daily weights or callisthenics has many scientific benefits beyond the aesthetic appeal.
6. Journaling – Journaling has been shown in studies to improve measures of health and wellbeing. If you’re unsure how to start, stream of consciousness writing is a good first bet. Check out Julia Cameron’s morning pages for more information.
7. Gratitude – Another favourite of psychology researchers, gratitude exercises have been shown to improve health and wellbeing. Pick three small things your grateful for every day, which can be done alongside your journaling.
8. Sending messages – We’re social creatures and staying in touch with our network re-inforces important bonds. Pick a friend or someone in your circle and send them a message.
9. Talking to one stranger – it’s often too easy to stick to what we know, including our social groups. Challenge yourself by speaking to someone new every day.
10. Doing good deeds – Research shows that we get a significant psychological boost from altruism. Identifying mini-deeds you can do through the month will not only improve your psychology but can also benefit your relationships.
11. Taking up a new hobby – Many of us are stuck with big, scary existential questions, like what we should be doing in life. Trying new hobbies can very easily act as signposts and sometimes turn into meaningful pursuits. I’ve just signed up for a Udemy coding course for example, which is a low risk, potentially high return activity.
12. Playing an instrument – Taking a break from work and using a completely different side of your brain is a great way to unlock creativity.
13. Intermittent fasting – I personally use a 16/8 intermittent fasting regimen, which has been extremely useful.
14. Going meat-free – I went vegetarian over 18 months ago now and while I’m not militant, the benefits of enforced vegetable-eating have been numerous.
15. Cooking a new meal every day – A kitchen challenge is an excellent repertoire-expanding, creative option for those who are bored with their diets.
16. Drinking more water – I try to drink at least 2.5 litres of water per day.
17. Going teetotal – Sign up for a campaign like Go Sober for October to give yourself a physical and psychological break from alcohol.
18. Yoga – For strength and flexibility, try yoga. But check out this guy first.
19. Pilates – Having previously worked as a Clinical Pilates instructor, I know many people would benefit from adopting it into their daily routine. With the average amount of time spent sitting on the rise, we need to safeguard our physical health.
20. Reading – Leaders are readers.
21. Cold showers – Having started a daily dose of contrast therapy a while back via cold showers, I can definitely attest to their benefit. I mostly do this for the psychological benefit of building credibility with myself.
22. Deep breathing – I first started experimenting with deep breathing after coming across the Wim Hof method. I’ve found deep and diaphragmatic breathing to help with relaxation.
23. Abolishing media consumption – Often we flick on TV and Netflix as a distraction from discomfort. It’s far easier to sit back and consume rather than working on that book or screenplay for example. When you remove the option for distraction it’s amazing just how productive you can be.
24. Getting the same amount of sleep – I try to get a solid 8 hours of sleep per night. Obviously, the amount you need might vary, but try to standardise your routine for the best performance through the day.
25. Incorporating a wind-down routine before bed – We know that exposure to blue light before bed keeps us awake. Therefore try to ignore all digital devices at least 30 minutes before lights out. Also, try to develop the same pre-bed ritual so your mind can begin powering down for the night.
26. Public speaking – This is a challenge I’m keen to try, Being comfortable speaking in public is a highly rewarded social skill. As it can be tough to find daily soapbox opportunities, practising on platforms like YouTube can help us gain confidence and valuable feedback.
27. Creating art – Unleash your inner Van Gogh and check out this Instagram account for some inspiration.
Most of these challenges listed can be done at home, so there’s no excuse not to try them.
Remember that when you’ve set yourself up for the experiments, don’t focus on the results.
Rather, reward yourself for performing each daily action and let the outcomes take care of themselves.
Plus, if you need some extra accountability, check out the Commit30 Planner to help you stay on track with your challenges.