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The Power of the 30-Day Challenge

Looking for my template to Pre-Commit for 30 days? Use this link to download the PDF!

Why are the videos so popular where a person tries cold showers, intermittent fasting, 100 daily pushups or basically anything for 30 days?

It’s not because committing to 30 days is an incredible feat. It’s because we are all curious how much influence a short challenge can have. The videos prove the theory that a habit can be formed in as little as ten days and that we can learn faster than we think.

Getting a hang of the four basic chords on the guitar, which make up 60% of pop songs, can be done in 45 minutes. Some people have learned to do a backflip in 6 hours. Solving a Rubik’s cube. Throwing cards. Ripping a phone book in half! These things can all be learned in less than a month when done diligently.

If you want to pick up something new you don’t have to stop watching Netflix or reading the news. You just need to build up a daily practice.

Thirty Jumbotron Challenge

In January 2020 David DeLooper made it onto the Jumbotron at the Portland Trailblazers NBA game and satisfied his goal. He had just gotten himself onto the 30th Jumbotron in 30 consecutive games by dressing up in outrageous costumes for each game. This has got to be my favorite 30-day challenge and it goes to show what someone can do when resolved to succeed.

In a much more widely-seen challenge from 2005, Morgan Spurlock ate fast food from McDonald’s, three meals a day, thirty days in a row. Not only did he experience mood and energy swings, he also gained 24 lbs. He went on to do eighteen other challenges for his show 30 Days, including living off minimum wage. The FX cable network broadcast from 2005 – 2008.

What fascinates people about these challenges is that they are attainable. You think, hey I could do something radical for a little more than four weeks. If your cousin can give up chocolate for Lent, a mere thirty-day commitment should be a piece of cake. Scratch that. I meant piece of toast (for the no-sugar-challenge). Or maybe piece of fruit (for the no-carbs-challenge).

30 Day Water Challenge

The video released in 2018 about four employees at Buzzfeed taking on the 30 day Water Challenge has been viewed 3 million times.

What would really change if you drank eight cups of water a day? I was surprised to learn that they all experienced improvements. From clearer skin to an energy increase to the loss of six pounds, this one small habit had a big impact.

When I made it a habit to place a full bottle of water at my desk each morning it quickly changed how I felt. Instead of waking up groggy, I find myself energize and rarely have an early morning headache. Good habits can be incredibly powerful, particularly when they replace bad habits, such as drinking multiple cups of coffee or Diet Coke. 

Digital Declutter

The best selling author Cal Newport asked a few readers to participate in what he calls the Digital Declutter. It surprised him when 1,600 people signed up and shared some inspiring stories as a result. The declutter starts with a 30 day commitment to remove all social media not needed to maintain your personal life and professional success.

After adjusting your behavior for the month-long-challenge, you slowly add back in the things that provide value. It may sound a bit extreme, but the separation is crucial, according to Newport.

The most valuable part is seeing for yourself how you feel living a life without social media. What high-quality activities can you add in? Perhaps more time to go on a walk, read, or make conversation with friends and family? The cold turkey approach makes it much easier to swap in these activities because at first, you find yourself with newly acquired free time. 

“The most productive and fulfilled people I know often got where they are by doubling down on the activities that return them huge benefits, while happily ignoring everything else.”

— Cal Newport

For many people, after a Digital Declutter they decided to spend less time on whatever social media platform engages them the most. Ultimately participants adopted practices such as limiting the app usage on their phone or even uninstalling those apps entirely.

** You might also like my summary of So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport:
Why “‘Follow Your Passion” is bad advice and how to build skills that earn you career autonomy. **

What to do with your 30 days?

I have been surprised at how much I can learn in the first few weeks of trying a new skill. Research has shown that you make the largest improvements in the first twenty hours of practice of a new skill.

You will obviously continue to improve after that, but that initial growth and progress get me most inspired to start something new. I could go from flailing in the water to a handsome forward crawl in less than a month? Sign me up! Think of all that potential satisfaction.

The truth is that you can start a challenge any day of the year. But people have an easier time starting things with momentum, often given by a special day. That might be your birthday, the spring equinox, the first day of the year, or maybe just the day that you read this article. That last one feels a bit presumptuous…

I, for one, have gotten addicted to 30-day challenges. It helps me learn new things but also get through winter months or periods where maybe I’m injured and have to take a break from a favorite hobby or activity.

What challenge will you accept for the next 30 days?

Great Challenge Ideas

Read: Why you should take an online class – Jono

I have found tremendous value in learning new perspectives, models of living and other new skills through online courses and workshops. If you want quick and easy access try out Skillshare today.

Read: Cal Newport’s Digital Declutter Experiment 

Newport explains it simply at the top of the article and then shares responses from his readers who participated in the challenge

Watch: We Tried the 30 Day Water Challenge (Buzzfeed on YouTube)

Such surprising results after drinking eight glasses of water per day.

Watch: Mike Boyd on Youtube 

Boyd describes his challenges from learning to backflip to ripping a phone book in half. Seriously inspiring videos so check these out.

Watch: Matt Davella on YouTube

Davella takes on many challenges and experiments from cold showers to tracking every minute of his days. My favorite is I quit sugar for 30 days even if it failed to convince me to try it myself.

Print: Precommitment Calendar

This is my template for a 30 day challenge that makes every successful day feel satisfying. You won’t want to break the chain of X’s once you get started!


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