What do 30 Day Challenges, Getting to Carnegie Hall and a Successful Weight Loss Program Have in Common?
The answer? “Practice, practice, practice!”
There is a saying that a person becomes a master of their craft after they’ve put in 10,000 hours of work. I think that’s about 5 or 10 years of time invested. It’s no joke. You can’t fake your way to the finish and suddenly become an expert. There are no short cuts to achieve real, lasting results. I’ve witnessed this phenomenon in my personal life and through the experiences of my clients.
There is beauty and magic that happen when you practice a behavior every day. It becomes a routine, then habit. Eventually, it becomes part of you and your identity. It’s the daily “doing of the work” that transforms you. I’ve seen sedentary people transform into runners, words on a computer screen transform into a published book, scraps of clay transformed into bronze jewelry. In fact, if I hadn’t “practiced” my hobby enough, I wouldn’t have ever attempted to open an online Etsy shop, participate in a craft show, publish a book on my hobby or create an additional income stream from doing an activity that I love. So here I am in my glory, doing the daily practice that helped me take an idea in my mind become a real, live pursuit of happiness.
I firmly believe that it’s my daily practice of consuming whole, nourishing foods that has kept me solidly healthy and illness free for the past 3 years. You can ready about that story here.
Or what about this one? I used to consider myself a “runner.” Meaning that I would run several times a week and occasionally participate in racing events like 5Ks, 10Ks and even longer. One day my friend suggested that I should try running a marathon. I flipped out a little:
“I can’t even conceive of running a marathon! I’ve barely finished a half marathon and have absolutely nothing left. I could never do twice that distance!”
But look below. In the first picture, there I am at the finish line of my first marathon. How did I make it? The impossible became possible by tackling it one day at a time. It took four months to be ready (even with my running experience) and it wasn’t pretty, I still had to walk a lot during the event, but I crossed the finish line! I got my medal!
I vowed to train again for a second marathon and finish it without walking, two years later.
The middle picture is me after finishing a “century” bike ride, a distance of 100 miles. Again, the only reason I finished with a smile on my face is because I’d spent the previous 3-4 years cycling and logging miles on my bike on a regular basis. You can’t pull off 100 miles of cycling without doing the base work.
The picture on the left is me on the day of my first triathlon. I’d not thought of myself as a triathlete, mostly because I don’t enjoy swimming and am not all that great at it. But this particular race combined running, biking and kayaking. So I gave it a try! I had put in years of work with running and cycling and strength training. It was a great experience, a check off the bucket list, but didn’t leave me with a burning desire to be a triathlete. After five minutes of paddling, the burning in my arms was all I could focus on. The finish line couldn’t come soon enough!
Looking back on all that rather athletic period in my life, I realize that the only way I completed these “bucket list” accomplishments is that I did the work for them every day. I had a training plan for each particular event that I followed closely. The marathon training plan lasted four months, but I stuck it out. I did the work and I was able to finish these once seemingly impossible feats.
The same idea applies to long term goals of weight loss or following a healthy lifestyle.
The saying that it takes 21 days to make a habit is encouraging, but in reality, lasting change requires a much longer commitment. Daily repetition practicing a new behavior or an unfamiliar activity can take 3 to 6 months until it feels like normal.
Think about the popular “30 Day Challenges.” Compare someone who is performing a plank daily for 30 days in a row to someone who’s goal is to do more planks for the next month. At the end of the month, who do you think will have been more successful in improving their planking but also maintaining a regular habit of planking? The person in a 30 day challenge follows a modest plan (typically challenges start fairly easy then gradually increase in intensity over the four weeks) but is able to do a little bit EVERY day. The person who is not in a challenge to do something daily has a goal to plank 3 times a week for 5 minutes. Who will receive the more transformative experience? I argue that it’s the person who is getting daily reinforcement to practice their goal. At the end of the month one person will have 30 practice sessions at performing a plank while the other will have only had 12.
The Daily Practice is more powerful for creating new habits because it creates stronger connections in the brain from more frequent repetition compared to goals that are achieved a few days per week.
So what do you think? Is there an achievement, goal or other aspiration lingering out there in the future for you? What “daily work” are you needing to focus on to make this become a reality? Has a 30 Day Challenge helped you pick up a new habit? Do you think daily actions are more powerful than those done a few days per week? Leave a comment below and tell us!