A little while ago, I was sitting at dinner with my friends when one mentioned his recent discovery of the 30-day challenge. Every month, he picks something he’s always wanted to learn or try and consistently keeps it up for 30 days straight. The conversation switched gears quickly, but I was deeply inspired.Little did I know at the time that this challenge would actually change my life - it would bolster my self-confidence and boost my productivity beyond proportion.I am an incredibly “interested” person, to say the least. I sincerely dream of pursuing countless hobbies, taking a wide range of online courses, and acquiring various skills. However, I often get way too ahead of myself; I stretch myself too thin, and rather than mastering ten new skills, I’ve realistically mastered a fraction of one. I mean, come on, pursuing multitudes of interests simultaneously as an overworked Northwestern student is truly not realistic.It wasn’t until I sat at dinner one night that I realized my issue wasn’t laziness, or a lack of patience, or a curbed dedication - my issue was purely a skewed perception of proficiency. I would mindlessly hop from honing my guitar skills to practicing calligraphy to reading a classic novel to listening to an entrepreneurial podcast to formatting a bullet journal, hoping that one of these days, my skills in these areas would magically reach my self-imposed standards. I turned a blind eye to the inevitable reality that if I merely just skipped around from hobby to hobby - without any structured consistency - minimal progress would ever be made in one area, let alone all five.Subsequent research of the 30-day challenge prompted a dramatic wake up call. I realized that if I wanted to achieve the self-fulfilment that I yearned for, my approach would have to endure a complete 180-degree turnaround. Accomplishing all of the small objectives that I assigned to myself was going to take time, and the process had to be incremental.So I wiped my slate of self-induced expectations clean and embarked on my first 30-day challenge: meditation.I had previously dabbled in the practice of meditation with intermittent frequency, but I could never sustain a consistent habit. Meditating existed in a cyclical space in which I would engage in the exercise one day, forget about it the next, self-deprecate about my lack of regularity, and then avoid the practice all together to prevent future disappointment.As I now reflect on this unrewarding pattern, I am realizing that my issue was largely that I did not hold myself accountable for my occasional forgetfulness. I didn’t realize at the time that this issue had such a simple fix: writing out the numbers 1-30 on a piece of paper. The physical action of crossing out a number each day that I practiced meditation was incredibly satisfying; even just a simple stroke of a pen was so rewarding, and I could actually observe my daily progress.Today marks my 38th day meditating on Headspace. Yes, I’ve exceeded the 30 days, but I noticed such a dramatic positive impact during the challenge that meditating every day no longer seems like an obligation - it’s a privilege. In only the span of a month, I have already seen significant reductions in my stress levels and an overall deep appreciation for mindfulness - results that occasional meditation never sparked.I am now in the midst of a second 30-day challenge in which I listen to the Wall Street Journal’s “What News?” podcast every day. As a busy college student, I felt so out of tune with the world outside of the Evanston bubble. With the simple action of listening to a single 10 minute podcast as I walk to class every day, I now feel more educated about current events than ever. Being in accordance with the external world is quite fulfilling and certainly has boosted my self-confidence.Some more ideas I have for future 30-day challenges are: reading 10 pages, practicing guitar for 10 minutes, listing things I’m grateful for, and sketching a picture of something that happened during my day.I can now say that I have acquired two new habits or skills that I’ve always wanted to add to my daily routine - two more than I would have ever tangibly acquired in years.If you have always wanted to pursue a new passion, try out a new hobby, learn a new subject, or acquire a new skill, just dedicate 30 days and watch the magic unfold.Here is my list of tips for 30-day challenge success:
Check out Matt Cutts’ Ted Talk about the 30-day challenge.Devon Spungin is an English Literature and Cognitive Science sophomore at Northwestern, and a non-tech aide at The Garage. She’s from Los Angeles, California.