30 Day Challenges – Can You Really Change in 30 Days?

It's kind of hard to ignore a kettlebell on your desk
It’s kind of hard to ignore a kettlebell on your desk

Though this article is not about goal-setting, per se, I believe it is important to have a long term goal in mind if you are about to jump into a 30-Day Challenge. If for no other reason but to ensure it is in harmony with your goals.

The New Year often kicks off various resolutions in the form of 30 Day Challenges.

We’re a month into the year, and as I writing this, I am sure many of you are just wrapping up a personal challenge.

My Facebook feed has seen several like these:

  • Paleo Challenge
  • Whole 30 Challenge
  • Juice Challenge
  • Colon Cleanse Challenge¬†(a.k.a. the don’t leave the house challenge)
  • 30 Day Squat Challenge (not to be confused with the previous item)

But what happens in a 30 day window? And how will it affect you long term? That’s what I’d like to discuss.

Experience

In mid-January I completed a 30-Day, 10,000 Kettlebell Swing Challenge. I am pleased to say that I did stick with it for the full thirty days, even though I completed my 10,000th swing on Day 28.

In the past, I’ve done 30 Day Goblet Squats, 30 Day Barbell Squats, 100,000 pounds a month, and various Nutrition Challenges.

In fact I am entering the final week of a Nutrition Challenge at my gym. I typically eat a Paleo-Style diet, but I find myself pushing the boundaries, and I need to push the reset button. Also eating Paleo doesn’t necessarily address one’s personal needs for macro ratios. That has been my biggest challenge.

Pros

For many people, a 30-Day Challenge may be their first introduction to a certain habit or discipline. It is unlikely that 30 days of anything is going to change your life forever. But, it provides sufficient time to “Taste” a new discipline, and see if the benefits are sufficient such that you would like to continue as a permanent lifestyle.

What can you eat on 30 Day Challenge
Pumpkin Omelet, Chicken Thigh, Nuts & Berries. Just another 1,000 Calorie Breakfast

Another benefit of these challenges is the accountability and support network that surrounds the activity. Whether it is at your local gym, a membership website, or a handful of friends, you know you are not alone.

There is assurance in knowing that your struggle with changing your behavior is real, and shared by others. They have survived and possibly even thrived, so you know there is the strong possibility that if you stick with it, you can too.

30 days is also a good period for “Rebooting”, that is, to get a disciple back into the fold, after months or years of drifting away from the fundamentals of the desired behavior.

30 days is a number that is not overwhelming. The reality is that a 90 Day challenge is more likely to have lasting results, as behavior and mindset will be more deeply ingrained. But the thought of change is daunting for many. And the idea of implementing such change for 90 days would discourage many from even trying.

Cons

The downside of many 30-Day Challenges is that the goal is often as short-sighted as the time required to complete it. 30 Days! If the goal is bragging rights, a month of free gym membership, a reserved parking spot or a new barbell, once you’re done, you’re done. You either won the prize or you didn’t.

Yes, you may have lost 10 pounds and two inches. But what will you do once the artificial motivations of prizes, encouragement and accolades fade? Will you still prepare all your meals for the week, when no one on Facebook cares anymore? For many, the answer is no.

On Day 31, are you and your coaches all meeting to do a post-mortem on the past 30 Days, to discuss what went well, and what did not? Will you be discussing what elements of this challenge are keepers, and what may make sense to discard?

Too many Day 31’s end up with a piece of cheesecake and a glass of wine,… just because you can. And the back-sliding begins, and another Yo-Yo diet begins it’s cycle.

Review

My 30 Day 10K Kettlebell Challenge was a valid exercise for re-instilling daily discipline. As I got deep into it, I grew tired and frustrated, even bored. But there was gratification in finding grip strength, shoulder health, and hip hinge all improve considerably in only a month. There was satisfaction knowing that I persevered for the full thirty days, not skipping a single day, even in the midst of the holiday season.

Then I went directly into the 30 Day Nutrition Challenge. My frustration with this is how it has disrupted my household, for my personal goal. The upside has been that I have learned a great deal about how much I eat, versus how much I need. Also, after three years of Paleo influence, I had incorporated a great deal of fat into my diet. 60-70% of my caloric intake was fat. Why? Almonds had become my “go to” food for my gym bag, my car, my office. Almond Butter, Avocados, Bulletproof coffee, you get the idea. It’s all good, it was just too much of a good thing.

I dropped five pounds in the first week, even though I was eating a lot and drinking a great deal of water. But my energy levels rose, and I feel leaner and I no longer feel bloated.

So to sum it up, both of these recent challenges have provided me with some immediate benefit. But for how long?

Long Term

The long haul, that is what we are all interested in. But the fact of the matter is that none of us can know the answer until we are at Day 31, or 45, or 60. On Day 30, there will always be a personal celebration with this triumph. But it is also anti-climatic in many ways, and it can be followed by a sense of complacency as we can rest of our laurels.

30 Day Challenge breakfast
Sauteed meat and veggies, topped with farm fresh eggs. It’s not just for breakfast anymore.

The time to think about this is NOT on Day 31, but on Day 14. Yes, you are at the mid-point of the current challenge, but you are looking ahead to the next. You are planning to attack your next goal head-on. That plan may include a couple days off to recover, but the calendar stares back at you, beckoning you to get back on the floor and lift some weight. Or modify your diet. Or include sprints into your daily grind.

What Day 31 must not permit, is regressing to your old ways.

My 30 Day Kettlebell Challenge made me feel strong enough to jump back into CrossFit three days a week, after a year-long layoff from regular WODs. My current nutrition model is built around activities, not just the dinner plate. Work hard, eat more. Work hard, get more carbs. Work less, push away from the table sooner.

Tips for Your 30 Day Challenge Success

(Let’s use shorthand: 30 Day Challenges = 30DC)

  1. Avoid being hustled: Many online 30DCs are simply trying to get you to buy something. A downloadable program may be just fine, and you can re-use it whenever you get the urge. A membership site can be valuable, but know the reputation of the company. Beware of some 30DC that are simply ploys to get you onto supplement subscriptions, and the like, that will suck the life out of your checking account every month.
  2. Be Flexible. Doing a 30DC is tough. Doing it every day, at precisely 5:30 a.m., after a cup of black coffee, a handful of almonds, and a pre-workout shake just made it impossible. The challenge mustn’t be so rigid and impractical that a Spartan would fail.
  3. Results are Temporary – Beware, life goes on. The biggest issue with 30DC is on Day 31, your behavior goes back to the day before the 30DC began. Any gains you experienced, whether fat loss or muscle gain, whither away over the next thirty days. If you wish to do a 30DC, think beyond it, or consider not doing it at all.
  4. Change is Incremental – Slow and steady wins the race. Savor what you learn in a 30DC. If you apply 90% of the principles you just learned, you may continue to lose a pound or two a month on your own. If I did that I’d be 180 pounds of old man awesomeness, instead of a pale imitation of the Pillsbury Dough Boy (yes, let’s acknowledge the trademark to keep the lawyers happy).
30 day challenge Front Squat
Four years ago, this old man couldn’t do an air squat.

Though I joke, I would be delighted to be either 20 pounds lighter, or appear so, because I am leaner. But, I also want to be stronger and faster too. Many of you, ladies and gentlemen alike, share some of these goals. The older we get, the more difficult they become.

It’s safe to say that it will likely be easier for me to lose 20 pounds of fat, than it is to lift that extra fat in a pull-up. So my choices are simple, drop 20, or gain muscle with the 20 I’ve got. It’s these types of goals that will keep you seeking to improve your health and fitness habits after the 30 Day Challenge is done.

I’d love to hear about any long term goals you have, and how a 30 Day Challenge may kick you into gear.

Join the growing Defiant Wellness Tribe!

 

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