Scott H Young

One Month Isn’t That Long…


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As some of you know, I’m a big fan of the 30 Day Trial method. The concept was first set out by Steve Pavlina several years ago and I’ve been using it ever since. The idea is that if you commit to a change of behavior for a month, it will become a habit.

It’s simple, but it works. I’ve used this to exercise more, read books, stop watching television, wake up early, become a vegetarian, start using GTD and begin keeping a budget. After a continuous month, you have the choice to continue with the new way of living, switch back or find a happy medium.

Last week, I had a discussion with a few readers about the method. Since I started writing about changing habits, I’ve held to the rule of thumb that you should only do one 30DT (thirty day trial) at a time. Friend and life coach, Tim Brownson, suggested I was wrong:

Forget conventional wisdom because if you don’t you just end up as an Average Joe because that is what conventional wisdom is based around. Unless of course that is what you want, in which case, knock yourself out.

Will power = motivation, and if you have enough of that then you can easily work on more than one change at once. I have seen it done successfully numerous times it’s just a question of belief……in yourself.

I respect Tim’s advice both as a friend and as a professional. But I’m going to have to disagree.

One Month Is Incredibly Short

Since writing my first book on the subject and these introductory articles, I’ve had a lot of people ask me questions about changing habits. A common problem I see is being over-motivated.

Typically, I’ll get an email from someone who feels doing one 30DT at a time would be too easy. It is more practical, this person feels, to do 3-5 at once. That way, you’ll have everything finished in a month instead of a year.

Usually when I follow up with this person later, their excessive enthusiasm didn’t help them. Instead of successfully completing one habit change, they burned out. The motivation lasted a week, but after that everything slipped. Now this person is asking for advice before doing it again.

One month is short. Trying to squeeze 3-5 trials into one month is possible, but it is unnecessarily difficult. Don’t hurry the process.

Patience Versus Motivation

The problem of excessive motivation with 30DT’s isn’t restricted to changing habits. It’s something I see all the time. Worst of all, it’s a mistake I’ve made more than once, so I’ve learned the lesson firsthand.

Patience isn’t as sexy as enthusiasm. A motivational speaker will get paid more if s/he gives you the idea that you can accomplish your dreams in a week if you just push hard enough. The idea that relatively painless, habitual investing is a better strategy doesn’t sell seminar tickets.

Motivation is the spark, patience is the firewood. You only need a small spark to kindle firewood. But if all you have is flash without fuel, you’re going to burn out. It’s easy to overestimate the amount of motivation you need and underestimate the amount of patience required.

30 Day Trials Aren’t Supposed to Be Hard

After completing more than two dozen 30DT’s, I’ve found that they aren’t hard at all. In fact, aside from a few hiccups they are pretty easy. Even dramatic changes like giving up meat, not watching television or exercising every day are doable for a month.

But if you have a romantic picture in your head that changing a habit is supposed to be grueling labor, you’ll scoff at something like the 30 Day Trial. I’ve even had a reviewer of my book send me this message, “Scott makes it sound so easy. If changing habits were really this simple, why do so many people struggle with getting in shape or quitting smoking?”

Motivation is worthless without a focus. And unless you have the patience to focus on one change, for a month, you can’t succeed with this method.

Life Does Reward Tortoises

The importance of patience and consistency isn’t a new one. I’m sure all of you have heard of the tortoise and the hare. I’m sure you also know who wins the race.

Most of self-improvement doesn’t come from one or two motivational sprints, although these are important. It comes from putting in the same effort day after day. Having the discipline to say no to opportunities that draw you away from your focus. Controlling and harnessing motivation, not just fanning the flames.

Here are just a few examples:

  1. Saving and investing. Starving yourself for one month to save 40% of your income isn’t as effective as investing 10% of your earnings each month, for a year. The painless, simplistic and slower method wins.
  2. Getting in shape. Eating a sustainable diet high in plants and low in grease is will result in better health than eating nothing but grapefruit for a month. It isn’t glamorous, but it works.
  3. Regular blog writing. I write four articles each week. Some weeks I have more ideas and some I have less. Keeping to a schedule has helped me write over a half-million words in the last two years.
  4. Skill building. I’ve read from various sources that it takes 10 years with 20 hours a week of practice to become a master at anything. Burning yourself out doing 80 hours a week for the first month won’t help.
  5. 30 Day Trials. My first example, but it deserves repeating. One trial a month means that in a year you can change almost every major habit that runs your life. How can you consider that slow?

Taking Small Steps

What should you do if you can’t go over a wall? Create the motivation to jump 10 feet in the air, or start building stairs?

I’m a believer that if you can’t take a step forward, make the step smaller. I didn’t start using the 30DT method with difficult habits. I started with easier ones, like keeping a journal or waking up at 7:00 instead of 7:30. Once I had built confidence with the technique, I moved to bigger tasks.

Some might say I was wasting time. If I had just built up the motivation, I could have started off with the most difficult steps. Sure, that might have been possible. But what is the difference between an excruciating thirty days and a mildly challenging six months?

I believe in slowly ratcheting up the challenge level. Be confident lifting the 20 kg weight before you try to lift the 25. Otherwise you might throw your back out. Your challenge level should always be slightly higher than you’ve faced before.

Motivation is Important

For some of you, what I’m writing is almost blasphemy. I need to clarify.

Motivation is important. But without being able to control and focus that motivation for the long term, too much can be just as bad as too little. A fire can fuel an engine, but it can also burn down a house.

One month is short. One year isn’t that long. The truth is, most people won’t even invest a month. Or if they do, it won’t be consistent enough to last. Separating yourself from the “Average Joe’s” doesn’t always mean more motivation. In the end, the tortoise does win.


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32 Responses to “One Month Isn’t That Long…”

  1. Andy says:

    I am a big fan of the 30 day trial, although I am pretty new to it. I did my first one in April where I exercised everyday. It actually worked and I am now exercising daily, which is great. My new one is to write a blog post everyday – this one is tougher, as it takes a considerable amount of time, and I am one post behind right now, but I think I can catch up and finish it.

  2. [...] Scott H Young » One Month Isn’t That Long… LinkedIn [...]

  3. David Gane says:

    I agree with you. Too many 30DTs and a person can get overwhelmed. I am sure there are those that can do it but I am sure there are many that can’t.

    Using 30DTs, I wrote 10 scripts in one year. What I learned from that experience couldn’t have been discovered in one month but through the continuous experience of immersion. Attempting another trial into the mix would most likely have shut me down on one or the other or both.

  4. Sara says:

    I’m currently trying to get with the 30 day trial program – I’ve made a list of things I’d like to try and have been working on one for a while, though I did a poor job of keeping track of the days…

    Anyhoo, assuming I will be more focused about this with the next one I try and actually keep a record of my progress, I have been considering overlapping trials. I agree 100% about trying to do too many at once, even simple efforts, but at the same time, life is short!

    Would it be too much to start a second trial 15 days into the first? Once completing the first, starting a third? So you’d always be doing two at once but at different levels of progression? Or is two still too many?

    I’m sure I will have to test for myself to see what I’m capable of, but since you wrote about this topic, I thought I would ask! :D

    Thanks! (Would also love to hear from fellow commenters, of course!)

  5. Tim Brownson says:

    Scott, I’m ‘hoping’ to get a response in to this in more detail if I get time over the next few days.

    One thing I’d like to mention because I see this so often is the 30 day trial thing. I know that Steve Pavlina gets credited for this over and over again, but I heard of this years and years before he blogged about it. I think it was even mentioned by Robin Sharma in The Monk That Sold His Ferrari, a book that I believe is on Steve’s recommended list and came out in the 90′s.

    SP is a brilliant blogger but sometimes he gets credit for ideas he didn’t create, just re-presents. Strangely enough, something that Tony Robbins did a lot of in his early days with certain NLP techniques like Fast Phobia Cure.

    No link love btw? ;-)

  6. jon says:

    i’m going to have to agree with this. one 30 day trial at a time is enough. focus is a huge asset that is largely ignored in the self-improvement community. if you’re dividing your efforts among four or five different things you will get 1/4 or 1/5 of the result that you desire. it’s that simple.

  7. Scott Young says:

    Tim,

    Post a reply on your blog and I’ll be happy to send you some link love. I didn’t know where I should link, so I missed it on this post (most people get it through there feedreaders, so a retroactive linkback won’t be as useful).

    True. Steve also gets credit for Law of Attraction in some circles even though he didn’t create that either. I cite Steve because that is where I learned of the technique, not necessarily it’s first origin.

    The truth is, few people writing in our field are entirely original. I prefer to mash up ideas together and present my thoughts. But if we want to get serious, we should start citing Socrates and Confucius.

    -Scott

  8. [...] Day Trials I was reading this blog post from Scott H Young where he talks about the impact of a radical concept of habit-forming called the [...]

  9. Henrik says:

    Excellent post, Scott! You have really had some good stuff all week, I especially liked the one about how you are allowed to be happy and ambitious at the same time. Have a fun weekend!

  10. Thor says:

    Sara, I asked a similar question recently, see link at top of this post. I think it is a good idea to do as you suggest but with alteration, here is what I would/might do; start one habit, do only that for 15 day’s, decide on day 15 íf you have the stamina to start a new one the day after and continue with two items at once OR if one is (more than) enough OR drop or alter first trial.

  11. Scott Young says:

    Thor,

    I’d agree with you, but I’m against dropping trials midway unless it is absolutely necessary. If you use the 30DT enough, it becomes almost a meta-habit, a habit of changing habits. If that meta-habit involves occasionally quitting midway, you won’t get very far. However, if your meta-habit is that you don’t stop in the middle of 30DT’s, their power to change behavior goes up.

    Overlapping is something I do frequently (I’m doing it right now). I’ve also done 2 trials at once. It’s a rule of thumb, but not an absolute principle.

  12. Thor says:

    O.k. I understand.

    I just read about Ian Flemming habit of writing his James Bond novels, he would write 3 hours in the morning and 1 in the afternoon every day.

    If one wanted to take up that habit do you suggest one aim for this amount of time from beginning or take it one hour at a time? Would it be harder or easier to change the habit every thirty day’s by adding an hour?

  13. Scott Young says:

    Thor,

    You could do it both ways. If writing was your full-time job and you wanted to secure it as a habit, then you could probably dive straight into 4 hours a day.

    However, if you already have a full schedule, it will be almost impossible to squeeze an extra four hours without quitting something else.

    My advice is to try for yourself. Pick a difficulty level you think you can handle. If you can’t make it a complete 30 days without exceptions, scale down the difficulty level.

    -Scott

  14. [...] is a reason for the saying “Jack of all trades, master of none”. When too many ideas occupy our time we suffer. We stand by a crowd of signposts, but have no vehicle to get us anywhere [...]

  15. cj says:

    Maximize the chance for change. Do one at a time, be patient, and KILL that one. KILL it. OWN it.

    One a month for 5 years is 60 habits formed. Or alternately, you can half-change the same 12 habits, over and over, falling backward again and again for five years … until you give up in frustration.

    Motivation and willpower are deceptive. Both depend upon focus. And focus WILL be lost. It is impossible to have perfect focus, therefore willpower will fade. Willpower and motivation should be used to set the stage, to clear out obstacles, so that when you have only little motivation left you have an easier way to keep at the habit.

    Motivated to eat well? Use that to toss the junk food, fill the pantry with healthy food, and plan meals for at work, including snacks. Do it immediately, while focus is there, that day if you can. Then when motivation is at it’s lowest, there is little temptation around to fall for, and you have made the good habit the easiest path to tread.

  16. Silence says:

    Scott,

    Great post and I am really gaining a lot from your blog.

    I do have one question, how do you balance and prioritize the 30-day focus on changing one habit against accomplishing steps in your five areas of your big goals (mentioned in a later post)?

    Thanks.

    Silence

  17. Scott Young says:

    Silence,

    Although I had listed 5 big goals, these are broken into smaller action steps. I always have a main focus which prioritizes my most important goal for the next several months. Although this focus isn’t universal, it helps me when I need to decide between two alternatives.

    Right now my focus is on this website. In the past I have focused on my social life or health. I’ll probably adjust my focus again, when I’ve accomplished a few milestones for this business.

    -Scott

  18. Alex Shalman says:

    Hey Scott,

    I enjoyed this article and I do agree with the ideas in the way you presented them. What I really wanted to mention is a bit of an anecdote, but the version of the race between the tortoise and the hare that I saw consisted of the tortoise cheating. Didn’t the tortoise have a bunch of other tortoises that were spread out all through the race and they would come out at different times? It sounds like cheating wins the race, not patience. =)

  19. Scott Young says:

    Alex,

    Ha! I’d never heard that version before!

    In the classic tortoise and the hair that I’m familiar with, the two set out for a race. The hare, being overconfident, speeds ahead and takes a nap while the tortoise slides along. When he wakes up, it’s too late and the tortoise has finished.

    -Scott

  20. [...] weeks ago, I wrote why I felt many people were being too ambitious in trying to change habits. Instead of focusing on one change for a month, I frequently see people trying to do 3-5 changes in [...]

  21. Iair says:

    30DT worked for me. I used it just 1 time, with success. Small steps, that’s the key. This article reinforced this idea in me, and I’ll be looking for a new habit to develop using this method. Thanks Scott!

  22. Scott Young says:

    Thanks great Iair!

  23. [...] their comfort zones.  In some ways, Cal’s thoughts echo my own when I wrote about people becoming over-motivated when trying to change habits.  The initial spur to act needs to be followed by more than just [...]

  24. xands says:

    You are right, I belie the turtle and hair analogy applies to pretty much any game or business, the poker player who makes a lot of aggressive risky moves may win at the start, but the player who is slowly taking notes and playing smart will win in the long run.

  25. [...] written previously about the importance of sticking to one goal at a time.  While this doesn’t mean you can’t have any goals simultaneously, you can only have one you [...]

  26. Scott,

    I completely agree with you about using 30-day trials as a way to change your life. So much so that I even started a blog recently based around it (http://thelifeexperimenter.com/).

    It appears that you have a lot of experience with doing 30-day trials.
    What some of examples of 30-day trials you did? Which types of trials did you benefit the most from and why?

    -Allen

  27. Scott Young says:

    Daily exercise, giving up television, vegetarian diet, waking up early and cutting down on internet usage are just a few. If you want to know more, check out some other blog entries.
    -Scott

  28. [...] I suggest following only one thirty day trial per month, that is because I believe focus is the limiting resource for most people and doing 3-5 trials [...]

  29. [...] I’m a big fan of the 30-Day Trial system for changing habits. I’ve used it to rewire my health, work and lifestyle. One of the most important factors for success with the system, I’ve found, is only conducting one trial at a time. [...]

  30. [...] I’m a big fan of the 30-Day Trial system for changing habits. I’ve used it to rewire my health, work and lifestyle. One of the most important factors for success with the system, I’ve found, is only conducting one trial at a time. [...]

  31. [...] I’m a big fan of the 30-Day Trial system for changing habits. I’ve used it to rewire my health, work and lifestyle. One of the most important factors for success with the system, I’ve found, is only conducting one trial at a time. [...]

  32. [...] I’m a big fan of the 30-Day Trial system for changing habits. I’ve used it to rewire my health, work and lifestyle. One of the most important factors for success with the system, I’ve found, is only conducting one trial at a time. [...]

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