What’s Your Goal?
In the early days of my Fitness First ritual, people often asked whether I was participating in a challenge. They wanted to know what my “goal” was: was it to keep going for 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, a year?
I get asked that question a lot abut all of my daily practices. And I always answer the same way:
My goal is to do it again tomorrow.
When I decide to condition a new daily ritual, whether it’s Fitness First, meditation, daily publishing, or anything else, I don’t set out to reach a magic number. My mindset is to find a way to make that practice sustainable for life. I focus on one day at a time.
The Challenge with Challenges
I see a lot of 30-day or 90-day challenges come across my feed. I’ve participated in my share of these types of challenges: a 10-day clean-eating challenge, a 21-day meditation challenge, a 30-day fitness challenge, a 90-day prospecting sprint, and so on. For ease of reference, I will call these “fixed-time challenges” because when we take one on, we commit to doing a certain thing for a specific amount of time.
Many people swear by fixed-time challenges as a way to initiate lasting behavior change. But do these challenges help us create lasting behavior change?
In my experience, they do not.
This doesn’t mean they aren’t useful. But their utility is limited. Let’s explore.
The Appeal of Fixed-Time Challenges
Fixed-time challenges can be helpful to kickstart a new activity or bust out of a rut. If you have trouble starting new projects or new routines because you fear commitment or major change, a fixed-time challenge can create a safe container for experimenting or taking a risk.
They can be a great launching pad for a new activity, if you’re aware of the dynamic that can keep you stuck in the challenge cycle. Something funny happens when we are in “challenge mode:” we become focused on the end-game and lose sight of where we are. And this creates the dynamic that can keep us stuck.
The Problem with Fixed-Time Challenges
In a fixed-time challenge, the outcome often becomes about finishing the challenge, rather than on conditioning a sustainable process. If you want to create a new behavior for life, it must be sustainable.
In my personal experience and in assisting and observing clients, I’ve noticed 2 major effects of fixed-time challenges.
(1) The Artificial Limit
Our minds create the reality of what we can achieve. When we tell our brain, “do this just for this amount of time, and then we’ll be done” that’s what happens.
Have you ever run a marathon, or watched someone who has? Many people drag themselves across the finish line. Even those who look like they have some energy don’t continue running for another marathon immediately. And most people who train for a marathon take the next few weeks off to completely rest. Then they have to start back again.
A fixed-time challenge creates an artificial limit that prevents you from getting real traction with the activity in a sustainable way. You’ll do what you need to do to cross the finish line, but you won’t be able to go on for much longer.
(2) The Artificial Urgency
Most fixed-time challenges focus on actions that are important for us to do in life, but rarely urgent. This includes things like eating healthy, meditation, fitness, writing, prospecting calls, sleep, and spending quality time with people.
By creating a fixed-time challenge dynamic around these activities, we move them from the dimension of Important/Not Urgent to the dimension of Important/Urgent.
If you’re an achiever, the motivation for moving something to the dimension of Important/Urgent likely makes sense to you. For many achievers, urgency creates the drive to get things done. And yes, you might get it done for 30 days, or 60 days, or maybe even a year. But at what cost?
The dimension of Important/Urgent is the dimension of high stress. When something is important and urgent, we push everything else out of the way to get it done, including things that are important but not urgent. For example, if you’re trying to meet a deadline on an important work project, you may sacrifice sleep or your workout for a few days to meet the deadline.
You may feel that’s a sacrifice you can make for a few days. But if you lived that dynamic every day for a year, or 2 years, you would find that this trade-off becomes unsustainable.
Over the long term, the stress from living in the dimension of Important/Urgent takes its toll. We begin to resent those activities. This is often why people leave their jobs. And this is a big contributor to burnout. Our systems can only take so much of the Important/Urgent before they shut down on us.
The goal is not to sacrifice whatever is necessary to do something for 30 days, but to find a way to make the behavior sustainable for life.
Life is not a 30-day challenge
If the only way to get yourself to do the important things is by creating an artificial urgency around them, then you will be relegating yourself to a life of stress.
To create a meaningful life that feels in balance, you must train yourself to do the important things because they are important. Creating an artificial urgency around the important activities subverts this outcome.
Rather than moving the important activities to the dimension of Important/Urgent, you must commit to spending more time in the dimension of Important/Not Urgent, where those activities naturally live.
Get out of stress and into sustainability.
If you enjoyed this article, you’re a perfect fit for The Ritual Revolution, a movement focused on creating sustainable behavior change without creating artificial limits and artificial urgency. Join the tribe to learn more!