When I used to work at The Times, the central mantra we all worked to was ’30 days to make a habit’. It meant that our marketing activity and broader strategy was based on the premise that if we could engage a new consumer in reading us for 30 days, the habit would be engrained enough to stay.
I think we later found out the science behind this actually indicated that 60 days was the true reality of habit formation, but 30 days has somehow always stuck with me.
Since we’ve been travelling, I’ve realised that habit formation (and breaking habits, come to that) are super interesting once you leave behind all of your former routines. A recent interviewee for @mastersofmany talked about travel being an opportunity to start a blank slate wherever you land. What you eat, how you structure your day, how you present yourself to new people, it’s all up for grabs.
I’ve found several interesting things about our personal habits since we’ve been away. Food for one, is something that changes constantly when you’re travelling between different countries. Not only do you want to try new things, but the availability of some of your tried and tested favourites is sometimes limited, making you quickly realise that nothing is an ‘essential’. There is rarely an item that can’t be replaced with an equally satisfying one.
We’ve found this with our baby as well. When you first parent, you develop a routine that enables you to stay sane, and feel you’re doing a ‘good job’. However, the reality is, your little one is always changing, and as soon as you think you’ve got it all sussed, your world is turned upside down and you start to learn all over again. Travelling magnifies this effect, and you have to learn to be flexible in your approach, and take the ‘best on offer’ solution for whatever today’s baby challenge is, rather than our must have brands or products. And it’s still always ok, even with these supposed ‘lesser’ products.
So, in a world where our habits and routines are, in reality, always up for grabs, and ready to be changed, and dare I say it, improved, how do we look at changing things for the better?
The 30-day habit approach is something I’d recommend trying here. This short period of time can focus you on achieving something you’d put off, but keep putting to the bottom of your ‘to-do’ list, because there is ‘never enough time’.
I’ve been putting this to the test in the last month or so, with good effects. Obviously, it’s not about throwing all of your routines up in the air, but I’ve chosen a few areas I want to focus my attention on for a bit:
(1) The 30-day ab challenge
You may well think that I’ve started with something selfish, and totally about my appearance here. However, the reality is that I’m someone who keeps fit, does a mix of different activities to do so, and is pretty motivated about keeping healthy generally.
However, the post baby body and limited time to work out mean that I haven’t been happy with the remaining ‘mum-tum’ effect. Step forward the 30-day ab challenge. Cheesy title, yes. However, it’s given me a day-to-day focus, whereby for 10 minutes, no matter what else has happened, I’m doing exercises to focus on my specific goal (rather than the other fitness which is about keeping sane and healthy). It’s bloody hard, and I often don’t feel like doing it, but it’s weaving its magic in a way that a year of working out post baby hasn’t done.
Rather than vaguely working towards being healthy and strong (both of which I continue to do, as they’re about feeling good as well), it’s giving me a specific task that I can measure and stay focusing on. I’m also a fan of having a physical goal at any one time, as if I feel good physically, it primes me for everything else mentally and emotionally to work well too.
The lesson here? Focus on something that has a specific outcome, measure it, and ensure it goes to the top of your to do list every day. If nothing else happens, but that does, you’re doing well.
(2) Not complaining for 30 days
I am what most would describe as an optimistic, positive person. But I’m also pretty critical, and can sometimes hold others to an impossibly high standard. I’m aware of it, I try to slow down and not leap to expecting others to do things in the perfect way I’d expect them to, but sometimes it’s hard to keep the criticism (often hidden in sarcasm) in.
When you’re living with your other half, and your little boy, 24/7, this is a trait you want to keep in check. So, for the next 30 days, I’ve got to stop myself before I make any form of complaint, no matter how small. Even a couple of days into this one, it’s eye opening. It makes you stop and think before you open your mouth and engage. It allows you to think about reframing how you see something, and try to be more empathetic to the other person. I’m no saint here, so occasionally I’m internally seething, rather than voicing it, but I like to think it’s getting me into good habits.
The lesson? Focusing on something that gives you a filter on your behaviour, whereby you consider what others think about how you act is an enlightening habit to work on. Whether it’s personal, or for your business, this one is a great way to get a clear reflection on how others see you.
(3) Getting a key project off the ground
We’ve all got projects that have our heart and soul behind them, but are also a bit scary. They can feel hard to start, because we care about their outcome. They’re the same tasks that sit on a to do list, often mattering more than the rest of the list combined, but kicked to the kerb in favour of easier tasks day to day.
Mine is getting my book proposal out of the door, and my first few chapters written so that I can apply to book publishers, as well as continue to write the book to self-publish, should no offers be forthcoming.
It’s something I’ve wanted to do for ages. It’s timely and fits well with our current trip, and some interviews I’ve got coming up. And yet, it’s so easy to find reasons to not work on it. So, I have 30 days to nail it. I’ve asked people to be my editors for the first draft. I’m committing to timelines for words written each week. And if other stuff falls by the wayside during those 30 days, then so be it.
I’ve just been reading the brilliant ‘4 hour work week’ by Tim Ferriss, and the 80/20 rule he talks about, whereby you focus 80% of your time on the 20% that really matters is an eye opening one. Often, it’s that other 80% that stops you getting beyond the day to day routine and really changing your life, so I’m parking it for the next 30 days until I get this thing cracked.
The lesson? Stop putting off the stuff that may really change things. The impossible seeming goals are often the ones that matter, but they just need realistic steps behind them. Break it down, and work out what you can achieve in the next 30 days, even if it’s only part of the final goal. Just making some kind of progress and actually starting is probably what you need to realise that the goal may not be so impossible after all.
So that’s it. 30 days. Something physical, something mental, and something I really want to achieve in life. What does your next 30 days hold for you?