I hope my headline got your attention. Actually, I have TWO predictions for you, but first a disclaimer. My predictions do not pertain to everyone reading this blog; they only pertain to those who are participating in the 30-day challenge and are serious about it. So are you ready?
I predict that over the course of the next 30 days, you will improve in the area that you have taken on as your challenge. But wait; there’s more. Keep reading. Regardless of what your challenge is—walking, exercising, reading, etc.—you will do better this month, and in subsequent months, too, if you want to, than you have done prior. On New Year’s Day this year, I wrote the very first post for My Pleasant Places, “The Best Time of the Year.” I shared about one of my 2011 fitness goals—to run 700 miles by year’s end. In 2010, I had logged 500 miles or so, and I thought 700 miles was an appropriate goal to stretch myself and still be reasonable. I thought I was right on target, but in mid-December, I checked my figures, and to my surprise, I was 50 miles short! I really got with it those last two weeks, and on December 30, I recorded my 700th mile!
However, even if I had failed to reach the 700-mile goal, I would still have logged about 150 more miles in 2011 than in 2010. Just aiming for something caused me to improve significantly over the previous year. And that same principle will apply for you who are aiming for something this month. Even if you only accomplish 3/4 of your goal, that is probably a vast improvement over what you did last month; right?
I predict that while you are focusing on trying to improve in one specific area over the next 30 days that you will inadvertently improve in other areas as well. Those of you are focusing on exercise may start eating better, too. Those of you who are working on getting up earlier may reap far more than an extra hour’s-worth of productivity in your day. Those who are focusing on reading more may start watching less TV. Those who are aiming to walk every day may start reading more.
I know you’re wondering if I have special powers that enable me to make these amazing predictions. I hate to disappoint you, but my predictions are based on two things: 1) my personal experience, and 2) science. I write about these surprise, by-product improvements in “Success Breeds Success.” The most curious thing about these bonus successes is the often apparent lack of relationship to the intended goal (for example, walking and reading).
As for the scientific basis for my predictions, I read about this in the book, The Power of Habit, Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg. A couple of Australian researcher set up a program to see if willpower was like a muscle that could be strengthened with exercise. They enrolled 24 self-professed couch potatoes, ages 18-50, in an exercise program for two months. At the end of the two months, the researchers reviewed the lifestyles of the participants. They discovered that, not only were the participants growing in their fitness levels, but they were also smoking fewer cigarettes, drinking less alcohol and caffeine, eating less junk food, spending more hours on homework and less hours in front of TV. And they were less depressed.
What if all these improvements were the result of the endorphin-high that can be created by strenuous exercise? The researchers decided to modify their willpower experiment and take the fitness component out of it. They recruited 29 people for a 4-month money management program. In this program, the participants set savings goals and denied themselves luxuries like eating out and going to movies. They kept detailed spending logs in order to track where their money was going. At the end of the program, not only had their finances improved, but they also were smoking fewer cigarettes, drinking less alcohol and caffeine, eating less junk food and were more productive at school and work.
The researchers decided to try one more experiment. This time they focused on students and improving their study habits. Not only did the participants learn to study effectively, but—you guessed it—they smoked less, drank less, watched less TV, exercised more and ate healthier.
The research suggests that willpower is, indeed, like a muscle. If we build it in one area (say, finances), then it is strengthened to use and succeed in other areas, too (like exercising, studying, smoking, etc.). While I don’t necessarily disagree with this conclusion, I tend to lean more toward the philosophy that we are integrated beings—body, soul and spirit. What’s good for the spirit, is good for the body. What’s good for the soul, is good for the spirit. If I become healthier in one of those areas and I maintain a life of balance, it cannot help but flow over into the other areas.
As you continue on in your 30-day challenge this month, be attune to other little surprise successes along the way—and leverage them to the hilt! And be sure to let me know about them. I am very interested!
Please leave a comment and let me know what your challenge is.