A new year inspires us to new beginnings. Holiday feasting is over, and in the northern hemisphere, the darkest nights are behind us. Even though winter has just begun, the days are lengthening and sunlight is beginning to return.
Now is the perfect time for a fierce (or gentle) January challenge. It doesn’t have to be for the whole month — just a week-long or weekday challenge may be a perfect start.
Completing a challenge brings multiple benefits:
- You take control and prove to yourself that you have power over your habits.
- In an “N=1 experiment” (an experiment with only one study subject: you), you’ll discover how you, as a unique individual, feel after making the change. Do your joints ache less? Does your skin look better? Are you sleeping more deeply?
- You gain courage, confidence and self-efficacy that will help you successfully make the next change.
However, this only works if you actually do it. If you take on a challenge and don’t complete it, you’re sending yourself unfortunate messages, like “see, I’ve failed again.”
So here’s the key to a January Challenge: choose one that is a bit of a stretch for you, but you know you can accomplish it, in spite of the inevitable special events, travel or family emergencies. (Of course if you commit to 50 push-ups a day for 30 days and you get the flu, you’ve got to take a break, but you can simply extend your challenge by the same number of days at the end.)
There’s a human tendency to imagine we’ll be able to do something easily in the future, but when we actually reach the moment, it seems hard and we postpone it again. Especially if this is a pattern for you (as it is for nearly all of us!), scale back your challenge until it seems almost too easy. Completing it will give you confidence and momentum for more challenging steps!
Here are some very assorted ideas for January Challenges. Which one is right for you?
- Dry January (no alcohol all month; I did this in October and it wasn’t easy; I’ll tell my story in a future blog post!).
- If you are feeling super-fierce, or super-fed-up and ready for a big change, try a Whole30. You only eat nature’s healthiest foods for a whole month, and if you slip up, the clock resets for another 30 days. It can be life-changing!
- No alcohol for a week.
- Alcohol only on weekends.
- Limiting alcohol to below the risk threshold if you are currently above it.
- No added sugars all month. This means no processed foods, recipes or beverages with added sugars — it’s tough because sugar is everywhere, but you will likely feel a positive difference if you can do it! Feel free to contact me for guidance.
- No added sugars for just a week, or on weekdays.
- No sweetened beverages all month (I’d also suggest skipping artificial sweeteners to help conquer the sweetness habit and cravings).
- Tapering off caffeine and then going without it for a period of your choice.
- Getting 5 servings of vegetables every day (or 1-2 more servings than you currently consume; white potatoes don’t count!).
- Having 2 servings of fresh fruit every day (easy, and helps drive out other sweet treats).
- Cutting out a “trigger food” that you have trouble resisting (candy, cookies, chips, soda) for a month, a week, or during weekdays.
- Getting off your phone and social media 1 hour or more before bedtime.
- Closing your eating window right after dinner or at a certain time in the evening and having only non-caloric beverages (water, herb tea) until breakfast.
- Tracking your walking steps and setting a goal for the week, maybe 50,000 steps a week.
- Taking at least a 10-minute walk every day, even if it’s cold or raining.
- Doing 5 minutes of exercise every morning, even just marching in place while listening to motivating music.
- Meditating for one minute on the first day, working your way up each day by 30 seconds, so you’ll get to 15 minutes by the end of the month. Here’s a quick guide (don’t worry that they recommend 15 minutes as a minimum, you’ll get there!) or feel free to contact me for guidance.
- Doing one push-up on the first day, working your way up by one each day until you can do 31 on day 31. Here’s a quick tutorial (if you’re a beginner, go to 1:43 in the video where she explains how to start on your knees or with a chair)
- Before you get up in the morning, or before you fall asleep at night, thinking of 5 things you’re grateful for. A gratitude practice is extremely simple but can have huge effects on your outlook on life.
- Or ??? Please comment below and share your challenge!
Now that you’ve chosen your challenge, put all the tools in place to make sure it happens.
- Break the habit cycle. A habit involves a cue or trigger and then an automatic response. You take a break at work and have a donut. You hear the alarm and hit the snooze button. You wake up and check your email. Identify those key moments and plug in a better substitute. When you feel like taking a break at work, go on your 10-minute walk. Turn off the alarm and do your gratitude or meditation practice. When I cut out alcohol for 30 days and craved wine before dinner, I turned to grapes and blue cheese as a substitute treat, and I contacted my friend Viviana via WhatsApp for support (thanks Viviana!). Try the 5-Second Rule — when you notice yourself wavering between “I should” and “I don’t feel like it,” count down 5-4-3-2-1 and do the right thing!
- Track your progress. As all game designers know, getting little rewards like gold stars is motivating, as silly as it sounds. Track your progress on your calendar, a chart hanging on your mirror, or something else you will see each day. Maybe track along with a friend or even compete with each other.
- Find support/accountability. Reaching out every evening to my friend Viviana was crucial for my 30-day no-alcohol challenge. I knew she was expecting to hear from me, and I could complain to her when I was feeling tempted. (It turns out that our contact every day encouraged her to start exercising again, since she’d fallen out of the habit!) If you’re my client, I am happy to provide accountability every day for whatever challenge you choose!
- Find your “why”: who do you want to be? Your challenge points to the healthy, bold, positive self you want to bring out. Find a statement that expresses this and remind yourself of it every day: “I’m an active person who exercises every morning.” “I’m in control over my drinking/snacking/sugar consumption/social media time.” “I eat tons of healthy vegetables.” “I practice mindfulness/gratitude.” OK, these sound a bit dull — I know you can do better! Share yours below if you’re willing!
What if you realize your challenge was a mistake? Maybe you’re feeling worse instead of better, or you realize that you simply can’t keep it up. To avoid the negative consequences of “giving up,” when you stop your original challenge, start a new challenge immediately that you know you can fulfill. It’s OK to choose something super-easy, like meditating for one minute before bedtime or thinking of three things you’re grateful for each morning. Any small step in the right direction that you stick with is a victory.
I’m looking forward to hearing about your January challenge! If you need more support, please consider working with me by phone or in person. Happy New Year!