Define your goal
Big hairy audacious goal
The first thing you want to do is figure out what do you want to accomplish during your challenge. This will be your big hairy audacious goal. Don’t choose an impossible goal, but do try to make it at least a bit challenging to reach.
Once you’ve got your idea, it’s time to put it into words. Try to keep it in one sentence, like, “I will learn how to code in Java in 30 days”, or “I will have the habit of running in the morning”. Once you’re satisfied of your goal, write it down, preferably somewhere you will see it often.
This is mostly important so that your mind is clear of what you want to do. If you are not clear on goal, trust me, you won’t be able to reach it.
Daily key target
Now that you have your big hairy audacious goal, what are you ready to do every day, for the duration of your challenge, to reach it? This is going to be your daily criteria to track your progress. You should be able to track your progress with a simple yes/no question: “have I run 5km today?”, “did I post my article today?”, “did I follow a lesson on coding today?”
Start small to allow you to get into the rhythm of your challenge. Then increase your daily target as you get more comfortable with it. If you get back to a previous challenge after a long pause, here again start small, even if you previously were able to do more, you are now lacking the training and habit, and need to get slowly back into the rhythm.
Make it fun
Don’t set you goal or task as a chore. Find a way to make it a bit more exiting, something you can look up to doing. Try turning it into a game. Keep your high score. Do it with friends. Some experts in habit forming even recommend trying to set yourself a treat you’re accomplishing the task, so that you link the task to joyful feeling. Just don’t make your treat break your challenge: don’t allow eating cake after a day of fasting, don’t allow a day of “couch potato-ing” after running.
Positive goal vs negative goal
For some reason, many people first think of their challenge with a “negative” goal by not doing something: I will go on a diet, I will stop smoking, I will not do something. Having a “positive” goal by doing something more, is much easier and more effective to aim for. Having a negative goal will most likely leave you with a hole that will tend to attract back habit you are trying to get rid of. This is why I don’t recommend starting your first challenge with a negative goal.
If however you absolutely want your “negative” goal, then try to replace it by a positive one: I will drink more water instead of going on a diet, I will pick up running instead of smoking. This way instead of getting rid of a bad habit, you are replacing it by a better one.
Keep it flexible
Once you have defined you big hairy audacious goal and your daily target, feel free to modify it according to your needs. Your challenge is not written in stone, and life doesn’t always allow a straight progression. The most important is to be regular, to do something every day. But some days we just can’t do as much as we’ve planned, so adjust your target to what you can do. There is no shame in reviewing your target or your goal, only good sense.
Keep track of your progress
Keep a log
Keep track of your progress. This is a must to follow up on what you do. It could take many forms, but here we’ll focus on the most common ones.
The easiest today is to use an app on your phone. There are dozens of habit tracking app out there, but I recommend using a simple one. I like to have an app that opens quickly, I log my progress in one tap by checking a box, and it’s done. There are much more fancy apps that allow you more in depth follow up, but I find this a bit of over kill for a challenge. I personally use Habits Loop, but other apps such as Habit Bull, Habit Streak, Momentum and many others can do the trick. Just find one that is most convenient for you. You can also open a new Excel sheet and log one day per line. This last method allows you flexibility and to comment every day is you want to.
What should I do if I can’t get it done?
You missed your daily target for a daily? You had a perfect all days in a row daily target reached… until yesterday… It sucks when you break the streak, but don’t worry, it happens even to the best of us. What you want to do first is make sure you don’t miss two days in a row.
You probably had a good reason for not doing your target yesterday, so try to see what you can do next time another good reason arrives; can you reduce the length difficulty of our target. If it makes sense to your goal and if you have the time, you can try doing double the following day, but often that’s not possible. Another way is to end your challenge one day later. This way you still finish your challenge and reach all your daily targets, but a day late.
But sometimes there is nothing you can do, say if you have a race day and you missed one day of training. There is no catching on a missed day. But what you can do is see if you can reorganize your daily schedule to make sure you will not miss another day.
Get involved with people around you
Talk about your challenge to your close friends. Let them know what your goal is and what you will do every day to reach your goal. The thing is, next time you will see your friend, you will expect him/her to ask you about your challenge, and no one likes to say they didn’t do it. You will become accountable for your challenge, and will make sure you always have progress on your challenge to share with them.
This is a bit controversial as some people say that by telling you are doing something to people you are less likely to do it, that the action of telling people is kind of an accomplishment. This is probably true if you talk to people you don’t see on a regular basis (you go to a networking event and blabber about your amazing challenge you are starting, but you won’t see most of those people ever again. But since you’ve been talking about it the whole evening, your mind is already full of your challenge, and it feels as if you took a step into your challenge, but you haven’t. Tell it to a few people you trust and you will certainly meet again during your challenge period. Don’t take it as an accomplishment or as a satisfaction, the real challenge still stands in front of you.
Posting online is also a great way to get into it, if your challenge is suits it. You become accountable for your challenge, and sometime, when you miss a day, I friend will send you a message asking “where’s the article?”
Some personal challenge experiences
30 articles in 30 days
I’ve always been horrible at writing. When I sent emails to my classmates, I would often get my email replied with correction on my spelling. I spent decades living with it, it was kind of ok. But one day I felt like I needed to address this issue. And thus started my first official 30 days challenge. I decided I would write an article every day on whatever subject I wanted to talk about. It was a tough challenge; I hadn’t measured the difficulty of that one nearly close to reality. Since I had basically never written before, I had no idea what to expect.
Eventually, I decided I would post my article on Facebook as well. That was a great idea, as I got a lot more encouragement and people reading my articles than I would have ever expected (nothing extraordinary either, but I got 20-30 regular readers on each articles, when I thought no one would actually care about it). It was a great motivator.
Arrived the 30 days limit and I wasn’t even close to my goal. I had about 10 articles done, and was 20 articles behind my target. But it didn’t matter, I felt some progress and was enjoying it, and my friends were encouraging me in my challenge. So I kept going and writing my articles at a more reasonable pace. I eventually finished my 30 articles in about 4 month.
I am now able to write articles in a much more confident manner, with a better writing style. In a way, what you are reading now is the accomplishment of my challenge.
Getting into running/ Running a marathon
As you can imagine, this is a long term challenge, not just 30 days. It started a couple years ago actually, as I was looking for some workout to do. I couldn’t find anything convenient or not too expensive to do (I didn’t want to hire a personal trainer, or pay a gym membership: these are crazy expensive in Beijing, and I didn’t even know if I would like it or stick to it). I’ve always thought running wasn’t a difficult thing, and never really bothered pushing myself. But eventually, I gave it a try, and embarrassed myself. I ran about 500 meters and was completely out of breath. I couldn’t go any further and had to slowly walk my way back home while breathing like a buffalo. So there it was, I just had to be able to run.
I started by having the goal of running 1 km none stop. When reached that goal, I pushed it to be able to run 5km. And when I arrived at 10km, I knew I would run a marathon. Even if I struggle like crazy to finish my 10km and had to take breaks on the way. I knew thins way only the beginning. So I started running for longer runs, more regularly. I started following a 10km training planning, then a marathon training planning (you can find tons of these online. I use the one offered by the app Zombies Run).
This has been about two years now. I wasn’t able to run the race last year because of some unfortunate trips. But I am proud to say I have just run my first half-marathon a few days ago during my training. I didn’t do a good time and I know a half-marathon is nothing close to a full marathon (42km), but keep in mind I was struggling to run just 500m only two years back. But the worst in all that is I know that once I’ll have run a full marathon, I will put myself a higher goal. I don’t know what it will be yet, but I will keep on challenging myself.