30 day challenges

30 days

“Knowledge is not power -action is! Execution trumps knowledge every day of the week!” ~Tony Robbins

In my last blog post I mentioned that I have often used 30 day challenges to build new, positive habits in order to help me turn around various aspects of my life. I think the beauty of this approach is that anyone can commit to doing something for thirty days. I make a rule with myself that if I miss a day I have to start at zero again. This mental trick seems to work on me because I never end up going back to zero.

Oddly enough, although the thing that gets me started is knowing that I only have to do this new thing for 30 days, a huge number of my previous 30 day experiments end up becoming incorporated into my daily routine and I find myself still doing them consistently years later.

In Hal Elrod’s book The Miracle Morning, he suggests committing to a specific morning routine for 30 consecutive days. In Elrod’s terminology the first 10 days can be unbearable, the next 10 merely uncomfortable and by the last 10 you are unstoppable. He may be onto something because I read the book in January and I haven’t missed a day yet!

Some people find it helpful to use an app or website like don’t break the chain. Personally I use a paper journal, but go with whatever works for you. I usually fly solo with things like this but others find it useful to impose some accountability on themselves, to make sure they stay on course. Here are a couple of suggestions:

  1. Find an accountability partner – a friend you trust, who is working on their own thirty day challenge.  You have to text message or phone each other to “check in” once you have completed your daily activity.
  2. Post evidence of your daily activity on your social media, tagged day 1/30, 2/30 etc. Your entire friends list becomes your accountability partner

If you have an individual accountability partner, it can also help to make it interesting by introducing some stakes. If one of you skips a day you have to:

  • Buy the other person a meal
  • Donate to a charity of the other person’s choice
  • Donate to a cause you definitely do not support (a group or political organisation you find objectionable) This third one is the scariest, and therefore perhaps the most effective, of all!

After posting last week’s article I was asked to give clarification on some of the 30 day or one year challenges are that have helped me in the past.

Here are some of my previous experiments, along with a few I intend to try in the future:

  • Drink a minimum of three litres of water a day for thirty days
  • Keep a food diary for thirty days
  • Walk at least 10,000 steps per day for thirty days
  • Avoid all alcohol for thirty days
  • No takeaway food for thirty days
  • Meditate for thirty days in a row
  • Day 1 – one sit up, and push up, Day 2 – two sit ups and two push ups… etc.
  • De-cluttering – throw away/donate/recycle one thing on day one, two things on day two… etc.
  • Smile and say “hello” to everyone you pass for thirty days
  • Write in a journal every day for thirty days
  • Compliment someone, anyone every day for thirty days
  • Perform a ‘random act of kindness’ for thirty days in a row
  • Start a conversation with a stranger every day for thirty days
  • Practise a musical instrument every day for thirty days
  • Read for ten, fifteen, twenty minutes a day for thirty days
  • Get up early for thirty days
  • Learn a foreign language with Duolingo every day for thirty days
  • Write down ten ideas every day for thirty days – thanks to James Altucher’s Choose Yourself for this one
  • Take a picture a day and post it on social media – this is fun as a 365 day project. It encourages you to live a life worth photographing, and keeps a nice record to look back on at the end of the year

There must be hundreds of these to have fun with. Let me know if you have any ideas not listed here. Why not try one and let me know how you get on: Tweet me @dfrancisdrums with the hashtag #30days

Good luck!

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Cause and Effect

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I believe that cause and effect is one of the universal laws which govern our world. Whilst I will happily admit that there are many circumstances and situations that are beyond our control, I also firmly believe that most of us have more power over our lives than we ever realise.

Many of us have at some stage come across the following quote:

“Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

This sums up the concept of cause and effect in a nutshell. The implication is that by changing our thoughts we can change our destiny. So far, so philosophical… so how do we make use of the concept?

Let us focus on two areas – health (or more specifically weight) and finance. I’ve selected these for two reasons:

They are very easy to measure

Many of us find at least one of these areas emotionally challenging. It is easy to mis-interpret the “effects” we are experiencing as indicative of some kind of personal flaw.

Most people have experienced less than satisfactory results in one, or both areas at some stage. If you’re anything like me, you have also told yourself a story that somehow links these results to a personal characteristic that is set in stone. Here are some stories I’ve told myself about health/money:

I’m fat

I’m lazy

I’ll never be able to get in shape

I’m hopeless with money

One day I’ll come into some money and everything will be fine

There are a few of problems with this type of thinking. Firstly it is based on the faulty assumption that we are our behaviours. In reality we have the power to make choices and change our behaviours. Secondly, these statements imply that we are passively experiencing life, rather than actively living it.

Though it is easier said than done, an alternative way to interpret our results is to look at them as a scientist might:

This cause produces that effect… interesting! I wonder what happens when I change the cause?”

Rather than taking the “effects” personally, we can learn from them and adjust course. This should inevitably lead to different results. Rather than demoralising ourselves by thinking that our current circumstances are written in stone, we can examine what actions have produced these results and change them.

There was a time (and it lasted about twenty years) that I habitually avoided two things: checking my bank balance and getting on a set of scales. I was in complete denial about the effects I was producing in both areas and was unaware that I had the potential to completely change the results I was getting.

“We go in the direction we face.” ~Jim Rohn

Which direction are you facing? The only way to know for certain is to start tracking your results. I started some years ago with the initially painful habit of noting two things on the first of each month – my weight, and my net worth. For me, calculating my net worth was simple: take my overdraft and subtract from it all the debts I owed. This resulted in a satisfyingly large number… which unfortunately had a minus sign in front of it.

As soon as I had two months worth of results I could see which direction I was heading in… the wrong one! At this stage it was fairly clear to see where this would take me if I kept up my current habits for a year, five years or ten years.

I realised that unless I changed my causes, the effects could be devastating over time.

Changing your habits is a study all of it’s own, but if you’re interested in this I would highly recommend Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit. In my own experience I’ve found it easiest to change one or two small things at a time. I often do this by setting myself 30 day challenges. (More information about this is coming soon.)

Questions for reflection:

Which way are you currently facing? 

What simple daily or weekly steps could you take to adjust your course?Each of these steps seem insignificant on a day-to-day basis but can have a huge impact over time.

There are two very good books on this subject which I benefitted from a great deal:

The Slight Edge by Jeff Olsen

The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy

In closing I’d like to paraphrase the great Jim Rohn and draw your attention to the following:

In ten years, we will surely arrive. The question is: Where?

It is largely up to you – cause and effect.

Thoughts on resilience/overcoming obstacles

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It is inevitable that no matter who we are or what we have accomplished, we will face challenges, obstacles, set-backs or even catastrophes at some point.

I am fortunate enough that I’m not currently experiencing these circumstances to any great degree. This is possibly down to my age, experience and lessons previously learned the hard way, but it is also at least partly down to luck – circumstances beyond my control.

I am fully aware that these tricky situations are bound to appear at some point in my future and when they do, I hope to be able to deal with them gracefully. I came across an African proverb last year that expressed very well the attitude I try and take towards obstacles:

“Smooth seas do not make skilful sailors.”

The attitude I try to take is that each challenge we face contains within it the chance to improve ourselves, to learn and to grow. In finding solutions to the problems we face we often stretch beyond our comfort zones and develop ourselves in the process.

I have learned many useful lessons over the years by reading about Buddhism and Stoicism. One of the key lessons that I try to incorporate into my day to day life is this:

We have more control over our responses to the world than we do over the world itself.

Put simply – focus on what you can control.

Stephen Covey touches on this in the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People when he describes the circle of influence and the circle of concern. Covey urges the reader to be proactive, to recognise what he or she can control and to take action. In time we may find that our circle of influence expands, but time spent talking about or worrying about things beyond our control is time wasted.

For those who want to learn more about this attitude, there are some great classic texts. Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic and Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations are both highly recommended.

I have also created an “in case of emergency” reading list for myself drawing on some more modern (and perhaps more accessible) texts:

And finally this youtube clip of former Navy Seal Jocko Willink, which depending on my mood either makes me nod in agreement, smile or laugh out loud. Check it out!