Last week, I wrote about the 30 Day Trial technique for changing habits. Since I’ve written about the technique indirectly through many articles on the website, I wanted to offer a beginners guide for people starting out with the tool. This article continues where last week left off, with a few more suggestions.
Tip #6 – Don’t Start Trials You’ll Forget Later
In doing over two dozen 30DTs (30 Day Trials), I’ve found that willpower isn’t usually the biggest problem with going an entire month. Sometimes you’ll have to use your self-discipline to grind your way through. But, more often, the bigger problem is simply forgetting about the trial.
Forgetting about a trial and accidentally missing a day or two is more common when the trial is easy. Take something simple, like reading for 15 minutes a day. This might seem like an easy 30 Day Trial. But in some ways, it is a harder trial to finish than reading for 60 minutes a day. Why? Because 15 minutes is forgettable.
If you’re starting out with the technique for the first time, I suggest picking changes that are difficult to forget. Giving up all junk food, omitting television, exercising for an hour every day or something similar is difficult to forget. Short or infrequent habits are more likely to be forgotten before the month is over.
Tip #7 – Be Specific
A common mistake I’ve made is making the guidelines for a habit too vague from the start of a trial. Even if you want a habit that has some flexibility, you need to make your conditions rigid during the 30DT. If you leave wiggle room, your habits will slowly erode until you’re back where you started.
An example would be giving up junk food. What is “junk” food? Unless you specifically write down what you mean, this could be misinterpreted later. I like to be overly specific, so I would write down exactly what types of food are junk food and which aren’t. A trial to eliminate soft drinks or fried foods would be more successful than giving up “junk” food.
When I first experimented with a vegetarian diet two years ago, I went from being a regular carnivorous guy to a complete vegan in one day. This might seem extremely difficult, but it was actually easier than just restricting meat or less healthy meat products. A complete restriction easier to follow than going halfway.
Tip #8 – Look at Your Calendar
Don’t start 30DTs on a whim. Although I don’t suggest procrastinating, there should be a minimum level of planning that goes into a habit change. Otherwise you may not realize that conflicting events a few weeks into your schedule will make continuing the habit difficult.
I made this mistake when I started a 30DT to run every morning. I didn’t realize the trial overlapped with an all-night grad party I needed to attend to. I finished the trial, although it involved a forced run at 8:00am after being awake for over 30 hours. You can bump into similar problems if you go on a vacation or have an unusual event that disrupts your habits.
The best time to run a trial is when your schedule is boring. You can make habit changes even in an irregular schedule, but it takes more effort.
Tip #9 – Get Obsessed
Obsession is your friend with the 30DT. If you can get obsessed about a change for at least one month, you have much better odds to last the entire month. Losing focus or interest after the first few weeks is a common problem.
I suggest, after you start a trial, to pick up one or two books that advocate the change you’re trying to install. If you’re becoming a vegetarian, Diet for a New America, during the first month. If you’re giving up smoking, read books about the benefits of quitting. If you’re starting a new productivity habit, read books on goal-setting.
Read the most over-the-top, motivational hype you can find. I normally favor less emotional reading material, but when you’re in the middle of a difficult trial, you need all the motivation you can get. After the thirty days are done, that is a time when you might want to reflect, read contrasting opinions or change your focus.
Tip #10 – Check the Autopilot
Thirty days is a rough estimate, not a scientifically precise number. Thirty days is about what it takes to form a habit that no longer requires constant vigilance. But that depends on a lot of factors. If your habit is infrequent, inconsistent or too varied, it might take more than a month.
After you finish your 30 Day Trial, review your habit and ask yourself whether you have been doing it almost automatically for the last week. If the answer is no, and the change is important, you might want to follow up one 30DT with another identical one, back-to-back.
“Automatic” here doesn’t mean you’re doing it in your sleep. I’ve been going to the gym regularly for a few years, but I’d never sleep walk to an exercise machine. By, “automatic” I mean that it feels like a natural part of your routine. You’re at the stage where you’re indifferent to continuing or stopping.
If your habit isn’t automatic, you’ll probably still need some effort to continue it. You can reduce the chances of this happening by ensuring your habit is done the same way, every day. Also, reduce the friction by getting rid of the negative side-effects to starting a habit. If giving up television seriously impacted your need for entertainment, you might have difficulty keeping the change. Replace the lost needs so the trial can become a lifestyle.
The 30 Day Trial is just one of many techniques for changing habits. It is my favorite method, but there are many others. If you don’t find it works for you, I’d suggest looking at other methods in Neuro-Linguistic Programming or other forms of conditioning.
If you’re interested in changing habits, take a look at my full e-book on the subject, which covers the 30DT in more detail, along with many other methods I’ve found helpful.