We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.
Scientists have suggested that, with a little willpower, it takes roughly 30 days for a person to form a new habit. As with mastering anything new, the act of starting and getting beyond the preliminary stage where everything feels awkward is 80% of the battle. This is precisely why it’s important to make small, positive changes every day over the course of at least a 30 day period.
It’s like the old saying: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” The same philosophy holds true for making changes in your life. Trying to bite off more than you can chew will only make you choke. But taking smaller, manageable bites, one at a time – eating a little healthier, exercising a little, creating some simple productive habits, for example – is an amazing way to make positive changes and get excited about life.
And when you start small like this, you won’t need a lot of motivation either. The simple act of getting started and doing something will give you the momentum you need, and soon you’ll find yourself in a positive spiral of changes – one building on the other. When I started doing this in my life, I was so excited about it that I started this blog to share it with the world.
Below you will find 30 challenges to be accomplished over the course of 30 days. If carried out diligently each of them has the potential to create a new positive habit in your life. Yes, there is some slight overlap between a few of them. And no, you don’t have to attempt all at once. Pick 2 to 5 and commit the next 30 days, wholeheartedly, to successfully completing the challenge. Then once you feel comfortable with these habits, challenge yourself with a few more the following month.
- Use words that encourage happiness. – Typically, when I ask someone “How are you?” they reply, “I’m fine” or “I’m okay.” But one lazy Monday afternoon last month a new colleague of mine replied, “Oh, I am fabulous!” It made me smile, so I asked him what was making him feel so fabulous and he said, “I’m healthy, my family is healthy, and we live in a free country. So I don’t have any reason not to be happy.” The difference was simply his attitude and his choice of words. He wasn’t necessarily any better off than anyone else, but he seemed twenty times happier. Spend the next 30 days using words that encourage a smile.
- Try one new thing every day. – Variety truly is the spice of life. You can see or do something a million times, but you can only see or do it for the first time once. As a result, first time experiences often leave reflective marks in our minds for the rest of our lives. Make an effort to try something new every day for the next 30 days. It can be a whole new activity or just a small experience, such as talking to a stranger. Once you get the ball rolling many of these new experiences will open doors to life changing opportunities.
- Perform one selfless act every day. – In life, you get what you put in. When you make a positive impact in someone else’s life, you also make a positive impact in your own life. Do something that’s greater than you, something that helps someone else be happy or suffer less. I promise, it will be an extremely rewarding experience. One you’ll likely remember forever. Obviously your options here are limitless, but if you’re looking to assist an ordinary person in need without leaving your chair, check out GoFundMe.
- Learn and practice one new skill every day. – Self-reliance is a vital key to living a healthy, productive life. To be self-reliant one must master a basic set of skills, more or less making them a jack of all trades. Contrary to what you may have learned in school, a jack of all trades is far more equipped to deal with life than a specialized master of only one. And besides, learning new skills is fun. Check out this article, this article, and this book.
- Teach someone something new every day. – We all have natural strengths and talents that can dramatically help those around us. What comes easy for you is no doubt challenging for others. We tend to take these gifts for granted, often hardly noticing what we have to offer, and thus we rarely share them with others. Inner happiness and zeal come from using these inherent gifts on a routine basis. What do people thank you for? What do people routinely ask for your help with? Most people’s passions and talents help others in one way or another. Perhaps for you it’s painting, teaching math, cooking a good meal or leading an exercise class. For the next 30 days devote some time each day to sharing your talents and expertise.
- Dedicate an hour a day to something you’re passionate about. – Take part in something you passionately believe in. This could be anything. Some people take an active role in their city council, some find refuge in religious faith, some join social clubs supporting causes they believe in and others find passion in their hobbies. In each case the psychological outcome is the same. They engage themselves in something they strongly believe in. This engagement brings happiness and meaning into their lives. (Angel and I discuss this in detail in the “Passion and Growth” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
- Treat everyone nicely, even those who are rude to you. – Being nice to someone you dislike doesn’t mean you’re fake. It means you’re mature enough to control your emotions. Treat everyone with kindness and respect, even those who are rude to you – not because they’re nice, but because you are. Do this for 30 days and I guarantee you’ll see the rudeness around you dissipate.
- Concentrate on being positive at all times. – The real winners in life cultivate optimism. They have the ability to manufacture their own happiness and drive. No matter what the situation, the successful diva is the chick who will always find a way to put an optimistic spin on it. She knows failure only as an opportunity to grow and learn a new lesson from life. People who think optimistically see the world as a place packed with endless opportunities, especially in trying times. Try to spend the next 30 days looking at the bright side of things.
- Address and acknowledge the lesson in inconvenient situations. – It’s important to remember that everything is a life lesson. Everyone you meet, everything you encounter, etc. They’re all part of the learning experience we call ‘life.’ Never forget to acknowledge the lesson, especially when things don’t go your way. If you don’t get a job you wanted or a relationship doesn’t work, it only means something better is out there waiting. And the lesson you just learned is the first step toward it. Over the next 30 days keep a written log of all the lessons life taught you.
- Pay attention and enjoy your life as it happens. – When I watched the Academy Awards a few months ago I realized that most of the speeches actors and actresses make when they accept an award go something like this: “This means so much so me. My whole life has been leading up to this moment.” But the truth is, our whole lives have been leading up to every moment. Think about that for a second. Every single thing you’ve gone through in life, every high, every low and everything in between, it has led you to this moment right now. Ask yourself this: How much of life are you actually living? If you’re like most people, the answer is likely: “Not enough.” The key is to concentrate on a little less on doing and a little more on being. Remember, right now is the only moment guaranteed to you. Right now is life. Spend the next 30 days living in the now, for real.
- Get rid of one thing a day for 30 days. – We have so much clutter surrounding us at any given moment (at the office, in our cars, in our homes) and we’ve become so accustomed to it that we no longer notice how it affects us. If you start cleaning up some of this external clutter, a lot of internal clutter will disappear as well. Choose one needless item each and every day and get rid of it. It’s that simple. It might be difficult at first, so expect some resistance. But after some time you will begin to learn to let go of your packrat tendencies, and your mind will thank you for your efforts.
- Create something brand new in 30 days or less. – Creation is a process like none other. Putting to use your innovative faculties and constructing something with your own two hands will leave you with an indescribable sense of wholeness. There is no substitute for it. The only caveat is that it must be related to something you actually care about. If you are creating financial plans for clients all day and you hate it, that doesn’t really count. But if you can find something you love, and create something related to it, it will make all the difference in your life. If you haven’t created something in a while just for the sake of creating, do so. Take the next 30 days and let your creativity run wild.
- Don’t tell a single lie for 30 days. – With all the seemingly innocent, white lies that trickle out of us, this is way harder than it sounds. But you can do it. Stop deceiving yourself and others, speak from the heart, speak the whole truth.
- Wake up 30 minutes early every morning. – Get up 30 minutes earlier than usual so you don’t have to rush around like a mad man. That 30 minutes will help you avoid speeding tickets, tardiness and other unnecessary headaches. Give it a legitimate try for 30 days straight and see how it impacts your life.
- Ditch 3 bad habits for 30 days. – Do you eat too much fast food? Do you play too many video games? Do you argue with your siblings? You know some of your bad habits. Pick 3 and quit doing them for 30 days. Period.
- Watch less than 30 minutes of TV every day. – Entertain yourself with real-world experiences. Great memories are the product of interesting life experiences. So turn off the television (or the computer if that’s how you watch your TV programs) and get outdoors. Interact with the world, appreciate nature, take notice of the simple pleasures life has to offer, and just watch as life unfolds in front of you.
- Define one long-term goal and work on it for an hour every day. – Break your goal down into bite-sized pieces and focus on achieving each one piece at a time. It really is all about taking baby steps, and taking the first step is often the hardest. Spend an hour every day for the next 30 days working toward something you’ve always wanted to accomplish. Take a small dream and make it a reality. Read Getting Things Done.
- Read one chapter of a good book every day. – With the Web’s endless stream of informative, easy-to-skim textual snippets and collaborative written works, people are spending more and more time reading online. Nevertheless, the Web cannot replace the authoritative wisdom from certain classic books that have delivered (or will deliver) profound ideas around the globe for generations. Books open doors, in your mind and in your life. Read an online book list and find a good book to grab at the library today. Then spend the next 30 days reading at least one chapter a day until you reach the end. Here’s another book list. And another. And another.
- Every morning, watch or read something that inspires you. – Sometimes all you need is a little pep talk. For the next 30 days, before you eat breakfast, or leave the house, watch a motivational video or read something (quotation, blog post, short story, etc.) that inspires you.
- Do something every day after lunch that makes you laugh. – Watch a funny video clip on YouTube, read your favorite comic strip, or find a good joke online. A good chuckle stimulates the mind and can give you a renewed level on energy. The best time for this laugh is during the lull in the mid-afternoon, when you need it most.
- Go alcohol and drug free for 30 days. – This challenge depends on your individual circumstance. If you are a heavy user of alcohol or a particular drug it is not recommended that you quit cold turkey. You need to see a physician and ease off of the substance slowly. But if you are a casual user, quit right now for 30 days. If you’re looking for a natural energy boosting alternative to a substance, check out 50 Natural Ways To Boost Your Energy.
- Exercise for 30 minutes every day for 30 days. – Your health is your life. Don’t let it go. Eat right, exercise and get an annual physical check-up. The 4-Hour Body is an insightful and entertaining read on this topic.
- Get uncomfortable and face a fear every day. – With a strategy of continuous small steps into uncomfortable territory we are often able to sidestep the biggest barrier to positive change: Fear. Sometimes we’re afraid we’ll fail. Sometimes we’re subconsciously afraid we’ll succeed and then we’d have to deal with all the disruption (growth) and change that follows success. And other times it’s our fear of rejection or simply our fear of looking like a fool. The best way to defeat fear is to stare it down. Connect to your fear, feel it in your body, realize it and steadily address it. Greet it by name if you have to: “Welcome, fear.” Fear can be a guiding friend if you learn how to swallow it, and listen to it only when it serves its true purpose of warning you when you are in danger. Spend an hour every day for the next 30 day’s addressing a fear that is holding you back.
- Cook one brand new, healthy recipe every day. – Cooking is fun, challenges your mind, and if done correctly, provides vital nutrients to your body. Win-Win-Win. How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman is great tool for this challenge. Packed with 900 pages of simple instructions on how to cook everything you could ever dream of eating, it’s pretty much the greatest cookbook ever written. Prepare one new, healthy recipe every day for the next 30 days.
- Spend 10 minutes every evening reflecting on what went well. – For the next 30 days spend 10 minutes every evening pondering the small successes that occurred during the course of the day. This process of positive reflection will remind you of all the tiny blessings in your life, and help you to celebrate your personal growth.
- Have a conversation every day with someone you rarely speak to. – People are interesting creatures, and no two people are exactly alike. Interacting with different people will open your mind to fascinating ideas and perspectives. So for the next 30 days strike up a conversation daily with someone you rarely speak to, or someone you’ve never met before. Find out what makes them tick.
- Pay down debt and don’t create any new debt for 30 days. – Live well below your means. Don’t buy stuff you don’t need. Sleep on big purchases. Create a budget and savings plan and stick to them. For the next 30 days pay for things in cash and micro-manage every cent you make and spend. Read I Will Teach You To Be Rich.
- Let go of one relationship that constantly hurts you. – Keep people in your life who truly love you, motivate you, encourage you, enhance you, and make you happy. If you know people who do none of these things, let them go and make room for new positive relationships. Over the next 30 days, if relevant to your situation, gradually let go of one person in your life who has been continuously hurting you and holding you back.
- Publicly forgive someone who deserves another chance. – Sometimes good relationships end abruptly because of big egos and arguments based on isolated incidents. If there’s someone in your life who truly deserves another chance, give it to them. If you need to apologize too, do it. Over the next 30 days give your story together a new chapter.
- Document every day with one photograph and one paragraph. – For 30 days bring a camera with you wherever you go. Do your best to take one photograph that represents a standout experience from each day. Then, before you go to bed each night, write one paragraph in a notebook or journal that highlights your day. If you do it all digitally you can unite your daily photograph and paragraph in one digital space (like a personal blog), which can be easily reviewed in the future. Many moons from now these old photos and journal entries will ignite your recollection of interesting memories you would have otherwise forgotten.
As you progress through these challenges remember, personal growth is a slow, steady process. It can’t be rushed. You need to work on it gradually every day. There is ample time for you to be who you want to be in life. Don’t settle for less than what you think you deserve, or less than you know you can be. Despite the struggles you’ll face along the way, never give up on yourself. You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, smarter than you think, and twice as capable as you have ever imagined.
Photo by: Andres AZP
Love this! Great, solid goals to work toward on a daily basis. Thanks for the inspiration.
Coach Nea says
This a wonderful list, Marc. What I’ve committed myself to is trying something new. Rather than doing a new thing everyday for 30 days, I think I’ll use those 30 days to get really good at 1 special something that adds more joy to my life.
Loved this…what a great way to start the new year!
marc van der Linden says
Great list, Marc
I love especially #25 – the attitude of being reflective each evening about what we experienced and learned is an attitude all productive people on this planet have. Cultivating this attitude helps us to see our genius inside too.
Thanks for sharing
Great post! Small tips and challenges that have the potential to make a huge impact on our lives. Thanks for the motivation.
I love your website! And this post is a perfect example of why. I’m definitely challenging myself these next few months. Thank you sooooo much! 🙂
Love love love this article… will definitely share with friends and family. Thank you!!
Thank you for these great tangible ways for self betterment! I love waking in the morning and being inspired. One of my 30 day goals is now already accomplished today by reading this list of encouraging and achievable goals 🙂
This is article provides great challenges for the new year. I especially like number 28 – I used to think it was mean to drop friends if they were draining but now I realise it is necessary to ensure that I stay positive and energized.
You work magic with inspiration. These words are right on target, SO true and worth reviewing again and again! All the best!
Love this article, Marc… It’s amazing how many of them I actually knew, and yet I have not been diligent in actually taking action (or never been consistent). Your article makes them look “real” again, reminding myself what it means to live fully in every moment. Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful list full of practical wisdom.
Heather Hummel says
#30 is my favorite and is something I do daily already! Great post, once again.
This is officially my favorite blog!! I have learned and improved so much by just reading your blog and I am looking forward to adopting some of the habits above 🙂 Keep’em coming!
This article works! So very practical! I tried a few challenges for a few days and already see a positive change. 🙂
Starting tomorrow I will be posting the 30 day photo challenge on my blog. I have already started on some other aspects. When I visited friends today I was very aware of only being positive and enjoying myself. Made a big difference!
This month will mean a lot of hard work for me, I predict. But I’m looking forward to it.
Ene okwori says
I love this article! After reading it, I said to myself this new year will be a great year for me! I am going to put your advice into practice. Your blogs inspire me, Marc. Thank you.
Great post! I know there will be some resistance on my part to do some of these things only because it’s not comfortable nor convenenient. In the end it’s all about growth!
This is great! Only day three and I’m seeing a difference.
Thanks for the wonderful inspiration! I am going to document my progress of this throughout the new year! ~ and also going to try some of your other inspirational blog experiments for myself! 🙂
Great article, I am going to share & challenge all my facebook friends and family to take this wonderful ride with me, 30 days of growth…
Just discovered your blog today and a great find for the New Year. Have you read The Compound Effect? Similar, and a great read, but more success oriented. I like the variety in your list.
Oh, and I selected challenge #’s 1, 17, 27, and 30. Starting on them January 1st.
Thanks for all the positive feedback, everyone. It’s great to hear that many of you are already beginning to challenge yourself. 🙂
For the record, Angel and I are currently working on challenge #30. We’ve been committed to it for the last two months, and we absolutely love the results.
Keep us posted on your progress.
Nice article. I didn’t know about this psychological effect of 30 days on habits. But I do realize that this has happened to me often. I am living in Japan since May 2011 and my habits are changing, step by step, to follow the etiquette of this country. For example, putting my shoes at the door way, toes pointing toward the door (i was not doing it at first and now it is natural for me)… Thanks a lot for this insightful post, I will try as much as I can to change for the better by following your advice.
I have been following you for 3 months now with maximum intensity and I have learned your whole lot from your blog! This article looks to be one of the most helpful so far. Thanks.
Thanks for the list. This reaffirmed my goal this year, which is to pamper myself more intellectually, physically, financially and emotionally.
More power to you and I hope that you motivate more people!
Julie Takase says
Such a useful and inspiring read to get ready for the year ahead. Thanks.
This is an amazing list. I plan to implement many of the idea over the course of next year and document them in my blog. I can’t wait!
Super great post!! 🙂
Perfect for the upcoming new year ahead!
This is a fabulous article!!! It was exactly what I needed today, and is full of so many amazing resources! Thanks so much!!
I’m very inspired by your list and excited to choose my first 2 challenges for the first 30 days of the new year! Thanks!
Love it! Such a motivational and practical list of ideas. Thank you!
Just a note to let you know how wonderful and timely your article is! I have mentioned it on my own blog and provided a linkback to here and am encouraging my friends and students to adopt and apply the principles to their own lives. As I wrote my blog, I realized that each of your challenges can be equally viewed as a gift to themself, someone else, or both.
Kristen Mercier says
Great ideas! My 2012 goal is to develop new habits that have a positive impact on my life. I think I will choose a few of these and work on a month. I’m glad you shared this.
I really can appreciated this blog post… Thank you thank you! You’ve giving me a positive direction for the upcoming year.
Will Kwan says
Great stuff! My favourite is “create something brand new”. Too often we get caught up in finishing things that we never take the time to make anything truly memorable.
Love this! I am very inspired by this and your blog… I’m so happy I discovered it… just in time to kick off a productive new year! Thank you!
This is a fantastic list to pick some ideas from. I think the beauty of the 30 day challenge is that because you’re only doing it for 30 days, you don’t feel like it is so intimidating.
By the way, the suggestion for recording a paragraph and a photo about every day, is my favorite.
Ken Wert says
A powerful treasure chest of 30-day trials, Marc!
I especially appreciate the challenge to be honest (an important part of building your character) and getting rid of the advanced world’s #1 time waster: TV. Imagine how many relationships could be strengthened and books read and projects completed and talents improved if the TV was turned off 99% of the time!
Thanks for the great series of posts, Marc!
Margaret Gwemende says
Great post. Like the idea of taking one bite at a time. Will select 3 at a time and work on them each month.
Exactly what I need to start off my New Year 🙂 Especially love number 28, the hardest thing to do yet the most vital. Have a great new year!
Laura Carter says
A friend sent me to your post. I was so inspired, I began a 30 day blog journal. I’m up to day three. Thanks for all the great suggestions.
jack foley says
Great post! It’s all about the compounding of tiny steps which will ultimately make a profound difference in your life.
And yeah 30 days seem to be the barrier for so many people, break through this and you are free!
Don Jacks says
What a great post! Thanks for all of the ideas and inspiration. You are a great reminder that your job does not define you, your passion does! Have an extraordinary 2012!
LOVED this! Thank you. I’m sharing it on my blog and hope you will visit and see what I’m doing! Thank you bunches!
I love the list. I’m going to print it out today and take a look at the links. I’m going to take my camera with me. Thank you for the list!
What an inspirational post! A super array of challenges to choose from.
Immediate motivation as I realize I do a few automatically now with plenty of new ones to work on throughout the year. First up for me was #11 – Get rid of one thing daily. How energizing…
I just found your blog and experienced an instant high appreciation for your good work.
LOVE. Thank you.
thank you so much! i needed this more now than i ever have…i have shared with many friends and i hope they take away as much as i have!
Thank you very much for this article, it gave me the motivation to continue what I am doing, I’ll often find that people dont give themselves enough time to live life versus rush through it, and cling on to old memories, they create mental hurdles and blockages, that are not physically present.
As a devout muslim I can relate to every single point, my father trained, and brought us up to do all these 30 points since we were children, and their second nature now. I believe our religion and most faiths, and philosophies teach such general goodnes. In Islam even a smile is a good deed, our prophet peace be upon him said ‘If you have two words, choose the better’ this goes with your point of saying kind things, and I could mention countless teachings you mentioned in your blog found in our prophetic traditions, such as contemplating, learning life skills, exercising, eating healthy, going out, seeking forgivness, and staying alcohol and drug free or just having a laugh balance is the key.
Most of my friends ask ‘Why are you always smiling’ I say, not only do I feel I am thankful to Allah for everything he has given me, but I feel everything I do serves a purpose, for the hereafter and to attain paradise, I dont fear death, as I know that whatever I am doing right now will pay back, for eternity”
Thank you 🙂
Thanks for all your effort and enthusiasm on writing these articles. Today is a month since I´ve started doing some of the things in this list and I feel lighter and happier already. Tomorrow I´ll add one more and I expect to keep on adding one or two at a time until good habits kick in.