A powerful personal growth tool is the 30-day trial. This is a concept I borrowed from the shareware industry, where you can download a trial version of a piece of software and try it out risk-free for 30 days before you’re required to buy the full version. It’s also a great way to develop new habits, and best of all, it’s brain-dead simple.
Let’s say you want to start a new habit such as an exercise programme or quit a bad habit such as sucking on cancer sticks. We all know that getting started and sticking with this change in behaviour for a few weeks is the hard part. Once you’ve overcome inertia, it’s much easier to keep going.
Yet we often psyche ourselves out of getting started by mentally thinking about the change as something permanent — before we’ve even begun. It seems too overwhelming to think about making a big change and sticking with it every day for the rest of your life when you’re used to doing the opposite. The more you think about the change as something permanent, the more you stay put.
But what if you thought about making the change only temporarily — say for 30 days — and then you’re free to go back to your old habit? That doesn’t seem so hard anymore. Exercise daily for just 30 days, then quit. Maintain a neatly organized desk for 30 days, then slack off. Read for an hour a day for 30 days, then go back to watching TV.
Could you do it? It still requires a bit of discipline and commitment, but not nearly so much as making a permanent change. Any perceived deprivation is only temporary. You can count down the days to freedom. And for at least 30 days, you’ll gain some benefit. It’s not so bad. You can handle it. It’s only one month out of your life.
Now if you actually complete a 30-day trial, what’s going to happen? First, you’ll go far enough to establish it as a habit, and it will be easier to maintain than it was at the beginning. Second, you’ll break the addiction of your old habit during this time. Third, you’ll have 30 days of success behind you, which will give you greater confidence that you can continue. And fourth, you’ll gain 30 days’ worth of results, which will give you practical feedback on what you can expect if you continue, putting you in a better place to make an informed long-term decision.
Therefore, once you hit the end of the 30-day trial, your ability to make the habit permanent is vastly increased. But even if you aren’t ready to make a permanent change, you can opt to extend your trial period to 60 or 90 days. The longer you go with the trial period, the easier it will be to lock in the new habit for life.
Another benefit of this approach is that you can use it to test a new habit that you really aren’t sure you’d even want to continue for life. Maybe you’d like to try a new diet, but you don’t know if you’d find it too restrictive. In that case, do a 30-day trial and then re-evaluate. There’s no shame in stopping if you know the new habit doesn’t suit you. It’s like trying a piece of shareware for 30 days and then uninstalling it from your computer if it doesn’t suit your needs. No harm, no foul.
Here are some ideas for 30-day trials:
- Give up TV. Tape all your favourite shows and save them until the end of the trial.
- Give up online forums, especially if you feel you’re becoming a forum addict. This will help break the addiction and give you a clearer sense of how participation actually benefits you (if at all). You can always catch up at the end of 30 days.
- Meet someone new every day. Start up a conversation with a stranger.
- Go out every evening. Go somewhere different each time and do something fun — this will be a memorable month.
- Spend 30 minutes cleaning up and organizing your home or office every day. That’s 15 hours total.
- Every day, list a different item for sale on eBay. Purge some of that clutter.
- Each day, ask someone new out on a date. Unless your success rate is below 3%, you’ll get at least one new date, maybe even meet your future spouse.
- If you’re already in a relationship, give your partner a massage every day. Or offer to alternate who gives the massage each day, so you would each get 15 massages.
- Give up cigarettes, soda, junk food, coffee, or some other unhealthy addiction.
- Get up early each day.
- Write in your journal every day.
- Call a different family member, friend, or business contact every day.
- Write a new blog entry every day.
- Read for an hour a day on a subject that interests you.
- Meditate every day.
- Learn a new word every day.
- Go for a long walk every day.
Again, don’t think that you need to continue any of these habits beyond 30 days. Think of the benefits you’ll gain from those 30 days alone. You can reassess after the trial period. You’re certain to grow just from the experience, even if it’s temporary.
The power of this approach lies in its simplicity. When you commit to doing something every single day without exception, you can’t rationalize or justify missing a day, nor can you promise to make it up later by reshuffling your schedule.