Do 30-Day Challenges Actually Work?

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Month-long jump-start challenges often promise a fool-proof path to a new life with healthy new habits in 30 days. Challenges can be connected to any number of health behaviors, productivity habits, or other simple changes that can lead to a better life. But do they work? 

The answer is yes and no. The challenge in and of itself may not yield the promised results, such as six-pack abs, but the act of practicing a new behavior daily can help you develop better habits.

The Science of Change

A habit is a learned automatic response. Forming new healthy habits—or breaking bad ones—involves multiple steps including making a decision to change, initiating the new behavior, and repeating it often.

Building new healthy habits takes time. A 30-day challenge can help to get the ball rolling, but it may not be enough to make lasting change. In fact, research suggests it takes an average of 66 days for a new behavior to become ingrained. 

A 2010 study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology found the length of time it takes for a new behavior to become automatic varies from 18 days to 254 days. According to the authors, missing one day did not hinder progress, however, the more difficult the behavioral change was perceived, the longer it took for the habit to form. 

Stages of Change

Change is made in small steps or stages. The "pre-contemplation stage" occurs before you even think actively about making changes. The next stage involves thinking and planning but no actual observable change as far as taking on the new habit is concerned.

It's only in the next stage that the actual new habit is acquired. Interestingly, if the habit is dropped, this isn't considered a failure, but rather a predictable part of the whole process of change and even a specific stage of change if you don't give up trying; it's considered a part of the process of creating lasting change.

Strategies for Success

While perseverance is essential for making any new habit stick, researchers have identified several other tools that can help. 

Context and consistency are strongly linked to success in modifying behaviors. According to research published in the British Journal of Health Psychology in 2013, tying a new habit to a current routine can be useful.

The study focused on teeth flossing and found those who flossed after brushing their teeth developed more consistent flossing habits than those who planned to floss first, then brush their teeth. 

According to the study authors, creating sub-routines in the middle of an existing routine can have a greater likelihood of habit formation. In addition, positive attitudes had a direct result on successfully making a new habit. 

Ways to implement this strategy include: 

  • Read a daily devotional with your morning cup of coffee.
  • Take vitamins with your breakfast.
  • Add a squat challenge or body-weight exercise challenge to your daily gym routine. 
  • Tie a new skincare regimen into your bedtime routine.

Support Systems

One way that 30-day challenges on social media can help create new habits is the support people get when posting online. Using apps, such as MyFitnessPal, FitBit, Habitify, or Todoist, can also boost success.

A 2018 study published in the Journal of Biomedical Informatics found interactive digital support systems can help people establish healthier lifestyle habits.

In the study, patients who were at risk of metabolic syndrome were able to lose 5-percent of their body weight and stave off health issues by using software that provided motivation and reminders to monitor diet and fitness activity. 

The researchers suspect the digital interactions helped to reduce the mental load of forming a new habit and enabled greater consistency so the task becomes automatic. 

Types of Challenges

Whatever habit you'd like to make—diet, exercise, skincare, meditation, gratitude, etc.—you are likely to find a 30-day challenge for it.

There are two basic types of 30-day challenges: ones that introduce and strengthen new habits over the month and ones that offer something unique to try each day. Both can be effective ways to start a new healthy habit.

Here are some challenges we recommend:

Benefits

Given that it takes an average of 66 days to make a new habit, doing a 30-day challenge isn’t a guarantee that a new behavior will become part of your life.

Committing to a 30-day challenge has three main benefits:

  1. It provides the boost you may need to get started making a change.
  2. Once started, the daily repetition boosts momentum to implement the desired change consistently.
  3. As you keep going, achieving small successes can help motivate you to keep going.

Taking a challenge along with supportive friends—in real life or virtually—adds an additional level of support. Some people find online challenges offer an aspect of friendly competition that helps propel them forward.

Choosing a Challenge

Before committing to a challenge, make sure it's in line with your goals and realistic for your lifestyle.

For example, a money-saving challenge that has you socking away more money than you make by the end of the month isn't practical. Likewise, don't begin a workout challenge that requires levels of exercise that exceed what is safe or healthy for your situation. 

For some people, 30-day challenges promote an all or nothing mentality that can set them up for failure. It's important to remember, if you miss a day or stray from the challenge, you can start right back up again where you left off, or recommit to starting on Day 1 for a fresh start.

A Word From Verywell

Using a 30-day challenge can be an effective strategy for building new habits. Choose your challenge carefully to ensure it aligns with your goals and set realistic expectations for what you hope to accomplish.

Not all online challenges are designed with the right intentions. Oftentimes social media influences will use challenges as a way to boost engagement for greater ad revenue, as a means to sell their products, or simply as a way to toot their own horn.

A 30-Day Challenge for Your Mind

  • Day 1: Think of one thing for which you are grateful. (Read about the benefits of gratitude.)
  • Day 2: Read a few jokes that make you laugh. (There are great benefits to laughter.) 
  • Day 3: Meditate for 3 minutes. (Here's how to get started with meditation.)
  • Day 4: Take a few minutes to talk to someone who makes you smile.
  • Day 5: Listen to a song that makes you happy. (Read about music therapy here.)
  • Day 6: Write about three things that make you happy in a gratitude journal.
  • Day 7: Watch a video online that may make you laugh.
  • Day 8: Meditate for 8 minutes.
  • Day 9: Connect with a good friend for a few minutes.
  • Day 10: Listen to some music that will make you happy.
  • Day 11: Write about three things you feel grateful for in your gratitude journal.
  • Day 12: Share some jokes with friends for a good laugh.
  • Day 13: Meditate for 13 minutes.
  • Day 14: Take a few minutes to connect with someone you care about.
  • Day 15: Play some music you love and dance to it for 15 minutes.
  • Day 16: Write about three things you feel grateful for in your gratitude journal.
  • Day 17: Watch a few funny videos to make yourself laugh.
  • Day 18: Meditate for 18 minutes.
  • Day 19: Take a few minutes to connect with someone you care about.
  • Day 20: Play some music you enjoy and just listen to it and relax.
  • Day 21: Write about three things you feel grateful for in your gratitude journal.
  • Day 22: Share some good jokes with a friend.
  • Day 23: Meditate for 23 minutes.
  • Day 24: Connect with a friend for a few minutes today.
  • Day 25: Listen to music that brings back great memories.
  • Day 26: Write about three things you feel grateful for in your gratitude journal.
  • Day 27: Watch something that you know will make you laugh.
  • Day 28: Meditate for 28 minutes.
  • Day 29: Take a few minutes to connect with someone you care about.
  • Day 30: Listen to some music that will make you smile.
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