May 13, 2013

Starting The 30 Day Challenge

A few years back I read a post on Matt Cutts' blog called 30 days. I tucked the idea in the back of my mind with the idea that someday I'd start something similar. About a year ago, I read an article on Zen Habits about flossing. Again, I thought someday. About six months ago, a book called The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life In Business by Charles Duhigg that made the rounds on few of the podcasts that I listen to at work. Then I saw another post on Zen Habits titled 5 Steps to Create a New Habit in February. Last month, I finally decided to figure out what this whole habit forming thing was all about.


Out of all of the articles I listed, one idea stuck in my head: just floss one tooth. Okay, that's stupid. Why just one tooth? It seemed strange to focus on something that simple. Then it clicked. It's not about that one tooth, it's about setting time aside to do it. Once I was in the mindset that I needed wanted to floss, I reminded myself: just floss one tooth. Once the floss came out, it wasn't just one tooth.

Rules Are Meant to be Broken

I have to admit, I broke one of the rules of habit forming. I decided to do two things in April. Since I assumed the flossing thing would be easy, I decided that I'd stop eating deep fried food. I stopped eating bread last fall (at least until I took a vacation to Las Vegas in February), so the idea was just to see if I could do it. A little side note for those of you that don't know me: I don't eat at home, I eat out twice a day and rarely have anything besides iced tea in my refrigerator.

Deep Fried Food

The most surprising thing about the deep fried food challenge was that all I needed to do in order to be successful was aware of what I ordered. I knew that there were a couple of things that I needed to avoid:

  1. Anything that's free. Tortilla chips at Mexican restaurants are deep fried. The also show up when you sit down, so as I was seated, I politely said "no chips, please." Remember, out of sight, out of mind.
  2. Appetizers. I don't think I need to elaborate on this. Virtually every appetizer on a menu is deep fried: onion rings, nachos, shrimp.
  3. Lunch. You can't avoid lunch, but this is where you need to pay attention. Lunches are served with chips or fries. To get around this, I upgraded to soup or a baked potato.
  4. Fast Food. No brainer, just don't tempt yourself.

Being a purist, there were three times that I cheated on the challenge: (1) I didn't realize it was April 1st and I had two crab rangoon at lunch, (2) there was a deep fried onion that snuck into a Philly brisket that I was eating, and (3) one bite of a homemade authentic Thai appetizer that a friend's mom (from Thailand) made. I probably made up for that by waiting until May 3rd to have any sort of deep fried food (tortilla chips) and it wasn't until May 10th that I had fries; nothing deep fried since as I've decided to continue to avoid deep fried food.

Another Hack

Outside of the start really small idea, the best hack I can offer you is Jerry Seinfield's productivity secret. Another simple, but effective hack. Pull out a calendar every time you complete your goal every day and cross the day out. Look at the calendar and make sure you never miss an X on consecutive days. If you miss two days, start over.

Looking Toward May

For May, I wanted to get back into the whole working out routine. The simple goal: one plank for one minute every day. What it really means: three planks for at least one minute and 200 crunches front and each side. Just remember that the idea is to set your goal really small so you can trick yourself into doing something more complicated. I'll write an update at the end of May with how it went.