You’ve probably heard that it takes 21 days to change a habit, right? Well, apparently there isn’t any hard evidence that this is a fact. According to Jeremy Dean over at PsyBlog, the “21 day myth may well come from a book published in 1960 by [Dr Maxwell Maltz] a plastic surgeon.” According to Dean, Dr Maxwell Maltz based an argument for a 21-day adjustment period after noticing that amputee patients took about 21 days to adjust to their loss.
In reality it can take much longer than 21 days to lose a habit or start a new one. However, 30 days is a good start. Here is my list of top ten things to try for 30 days. I’ve ranked them according to their position on this graph (level of difficulty and materials required vs. benefits).
A new month is just about to begin, so this is the perfect time to try something new for 30 days. Or, if you need some time to prepare, September is just around the corner – the perfect month to learn something new (even if you’re not going back to school) or turn over a new leaf (here comes Autumn!) If you do, try any of the 10 things listed below, please, keep us posted! If you are trying something for 30 days that isn’t listed, please share it below as well.
10. Stop Using Soap
Wash with only with water for 30 days.
This is low on the list because, on the surface anyways, it will be easy to achieve. Remove all of the soap and shampoo from your house and you’re at least halfway there. Next you just have to remember not to use soap when you wash your hands in public washrooms. This won’t be a problem if you are one of the 33% of Americans who don’t wash their hands after using public facilities (thepowderroom).
Perhaps soap is overrated. People who don’t use soap claim that their complexions improve and that soap actually makes a person generate more odor (boingboing.net). On the other hand, I’d like to hear from their friends or family to get the real dirt on what they smell like after a few weeks… (Image: beermerchants.com.)
Keep your hands to yourself for one month.
Celibacy has more than one definition, but today the most common definition of a celibate person is someone who isn’t having sex with anyone else. According to dictionary.com, celibacy also means “the state of being unmarried,” and originates from the latin word meaning “single.” So, you could also try to stay unmarried for 30 days or stay single for 30 days, if either of these are challenging for you (highly recommended after a divorce or break up in order to avoid rebounds…).
I’m a little shy about raising the subject of celibacy after the response to my Top 10 Things Better Than Sex, and the even more unintentionally offensive Top 10 Facts About Nymphomaniacs. Who knew that sex was such a touchy subject? Advocates of celibacy are also very passionate about their beliefs (if nothing else). One of the most active websites for the sexually inactive lists several benefits related to celibacy, including: spirituality, empowerment, birth control, health, and longer marriages. They are so happy about being celibate that they called their website Celibrate.org. Cute. On the other hand we have arguments that celibacy can have very negative effects. For example, writer James Carroll asserts that mandatory celibacy has produced devastating results in the Catholic church (National Catholic Reporter). Plus, you just missed National Celibacy Month (it’s June). Maybe next year.
8. Grow Something
Plant a seed and watch it grow for 30 days.
Does this sound slightly more exciting than watching paint dry or water boil?
All you need is a seed, and some dirt, water, and sunshine. You can enjoy homegrown radishes as early as 21 days after you plant your seeds; you can eat your very own lettuce in 30 days. Try to remember to keep the soil moist and warm as the seed germinates. Check on it every day. Too much for you? Go buy a plant instead. Name it, care for it, and love it. Need a friend? Grow one! You can buy plant kits that will grow a head of “hair” in just 14 days, so you can spend the other 16 days giving him different haircuts.
You might be surprised by how rewarding it is to nurture a life, no matter how small. It can increase your appreciation for all living things and the struggle to survive, from the spider you put outside instead of squishing, to the rude lady who pushes past you to get into the elevator (maybe she just got some bad news?). Gardening is so beneficial that it is used as therapy for all types of people; seniors, people with disabilities, inmates, depressed people, and people with learning disabilities.
Indoor plants improve air quality (and décor), while outdoor plants support the diminishing bee population and other insects and wildlife (butterflies, ladybugs, birds). Gardening can also save you money. According to CNNMoney.com you can “cut your spending by $500 a month” by gardening smarter. I couldn’t find one argument against growing plants, although there is an argument against growing exotic or invasive plants because of their effects on indigenous plants and animals.
7. Perform Random Acts of Kindness
Perform one random act of kindness each day for 30 days.
Purposefully look for others’ needs around you and respond to them. It sounds challenging, but random acts of kindness don’t have to be expensive, time-consuming, or complex. According to the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, you can “show kindness in simple ways, such as giving a hug, sharing garden produce, or writing a note to someone who has positively affected your life.”
The definition of kindness is “the quality of being warmhearted and considerate and humane and sympathetic” (thefreedictionary.com). I can’t come up with a reason not to want to practice more kindness for 30 days, can you?
Remember that everyone you meet is afraid of something, loves something and has lost something. (H. Jackson Brown, Jr.)
6. Eat Vegetarian
A meat-free diet for 30 days.
The difficulty of this challenge will depend on your current diet. The most common type of Vegetarian is the Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian: they will not eat animal flesh of any kind but will consume eggs and dairy. Once you start looking, you will probably be pleasantly surprised by all of the vegetarian options out there. Food.com has over 2,000 recipes, your local grocery store probably has a vegetarian section, and one of the best parts about changing your diet is the opportunity it provides to try new foods or add exciting new flavors to your old recipes.
Research has shown that vegetarianism improves health, encourages weight loss, reverses aging, extends life span, and lower cholesterol (time.com). If you smell some bacon and start to feel your willpower weakening, watch Food Inc or McLibel – both movies turned me off of meat for a while… On the other hand, others argue that “as a species… we have been happily eating meat for at least two million years, and probably much longer” (straightdope.com). (Image: Dmagazine.com.)
5. Cash Only
Stop Using Credit To Make Purchases For 30 Days
Put back those scissors, this is just for 30 days (for now!). Instead, take your cards out of your wallet and put them somewhere safe. One effective way to freeze your spending is to trap your cards in a block of ice. If you find yourself in a shopping fever, you have some time to cool down while the ice melts.
Prepare yourself for your 30 days by making a budget. While you’re at it, get a copy of your credit report. If you notice any mistakes send in a dispute letter right away and your credit score could be improved right around the same time that your 30 days end (that’s how long it takes for the bureau to investigate and correct errors).
This is an excellent exercise but will require courage. It’s an opportunity to discover the reality of your spending habits and your financial situation while you practice living within your means. People “Living on a Cash Only Diet” experience empowerment, less stress, reduced debt, and a sense of accomplishment. Negative aspects of a cash only lifestyle are delayed gratification, required planning and prioritization skills, and a lack of spontaneity (CNN.com).
4. Stop Watching TV
No television for 30 days.
Do you think you could turn off your television and leave it off for 30 days? It might be easier for you if you actually remove the televisions from your house (or at least hide the remote controls!). Nneka at balancedlifecenter.com offers 43 suggestions for how you can spend your time instead, including: traveling (with your $2000 in savings each year), dancing, making love, taking classes, socializing, and exercising. She hasn’t watched TV in over a year and says, “It’s saved me money, freed up my time, and given me back my opinions.”
There is a website dedicated to the ills of television called turnoffyourtv.com (“Kill Your TV”) that lists famous quotes as well as links to health and education information, poems and essays, and non-TV activities. Some of the arguments against TV from this site: watching TV makes you fat, television addiction, and the effects of TV violence on children. Another viewpoint is that watching television can be good for you as long as it is not excessive. Born in 106 BC, Roman philosopher Cicero once said “let moderation be your [TV] guide” and even kidshealth.org states that “television, in moderation, can be a good thing.”
3. Keep A Journal
Write journal entries for 30 days.
A journal is “an account of day-to-day events… a record of experiences, ideas, or reflections kept regularly for private use” (merriam-webster.com). Traditionally, journals are made out of bound paper but you can also record your journal entries onto scraps of paper or your computer. It’s easier to make your journal a part of your daily routine when you do it at the same time everyday. Pick a time that is convenient for you. Right before you go to bed, while you drink your first cup of coffee in the morning, on the subway in to work, while your children are napping, or during your lunch hour- whatever works for you.
The Change Blog lists 5 key benefits to keeping a journal: a better understanding of yourself, improved writing skills, the ability to transport yourself to another time in your life, increased accountability, and enhanced positive thinking. Are there dangers to keeping a journal? I found a young woman in a Yahoo forum who claimed that her journal habit was making her very emotional, over-analytical, and negative. There could be also negative consequences if other people read your journal, depending on the content.
2. Walk Everywhere
Use Your Feet As Your Only Means Of Transportation For 30 Days
Hang up the car keys, get some good shoes, and walk everywhere for 30 days. During a bus strike in my city, I realized that it only took me 45 minutes to walk to work. The trip took me over a bridge from one end of the city to the other and I never would have thought it was a walk-able distance until the bus strike and a lack of cab fare forced me to try it one day. You can check out distances beforehand (I use yahoo maps) and you might also consider using a pedometer (step-counter) to measure how far you go each day – it can be very rewarding.
You can read about real people who walk everywhere (and why) at the experienceproject.com. My favorite reason is that feet are “cheap, easy to use, environmentally friendly and not likely to cause a lethal accident” (Clem79). Of course, it’s good exercise, too. I love my city, and I continue to do a lot of my travelling by foot to this day. Sometimes other means are necessary (ambulance rides, large furniture moves, large distances) so you will either need to schedule your 30 days very carefully or be willing to make exceptions. (Is your commute too far? How about cycling or using public transit for 30 days instead?)
1. Get Up Early
Get up at 5:00am seven days a week for 30 days.
Personal development blogger Steve Pavlina gets out of bed at 5:00am every morning. He recommends that you get up at the same time every day but go to bed when you are tired because “your sleep needs vary from day to day.” He also offers this advice: “the longer it takes me to get up, the more likely I am to try to sleep in… always get up right away” (How to Become an Early Riser).
This experiment is first on this list because it is very easy to arrange- most people already own an alarm clock- and yet it can have such a huge impact on a life. You might argue that getting out of bed early is extremely challenging for you, but I will argue back that “early” means different things to different people. If you are currently getting out of bed at 11:00am every day, first of all let me say that I am actually very jealous. I have two kids and I am often awake a 5:00am, but not by choice. Anyways, if you get up at 11:00am right now, you might want to commit to getting up at 8:00am for 30 days. Just think- you’ve just extended your life for 90 more hours!
You could: write that first novel, spend more time with your kids, train for a marathon, or build a giant Lego version of yourself – go for it! You could use the extra time over the next 30 days doing the 9 other things on this list (growing a vegetable garden, walking to work, writing in your journal).
Leo Babauta gets up at 4:30am every day and lists numerous benefits at zenhabits.net, including: time for breakfast, increased productivity, watching the sun rise, and avoiding rush hour. There are health risks related to sleep deprivation, and there is also the risk that you may be cranky if you are forcing yourself out of bed. However, I personally like the idea of actively controlling what time I wake up rather than being at the mercy of my children, so I might give this one a try in August. I’ll let you know how it goes.