Tips for a successful 30 day trial

The first time I attempted a 30 day trial to jump start a new habit, my friend Kris and I both wanted to wake up earlier to get a head start on our days.  It was September, that time of fresh optimism for students when you still think you can do it all, that you will fix all your mistakes this term and squeeze every last bit of opportunity out of your tuition bill.  I was just beginning grad school.  After a couple years in jobs with flexible schedules, I thought regularly getting up at 6:30 felt reasonable, starting at 7AM and pushing it back by 15 minutes with each passing week.  Granted, I hadn’t regularly woken up before 7AM since high school, but that didn’t mean it was beyond the realm of possibility.  The world felt wide open with endless possibilities, and I was going to get each day off on the right foot with a bout of productivity while my classmates were still sleeping.

Although if my classmates were anything like Kris, then obviously I had a ways to go.  She set her goal at rising between 5:30 and 5:50 daily.  Following her lead, we each drew up contracts for ourselves and emailed them to each other.  Here is mine:

I commit to a 30 trial of

1) Getting up at 6:30AM by the week of October 1, 2008 on the
following schedule:

-Beginning September 8, waking up at 7:15 AM
-Beginning September 15, waking up at 7AM
-Beginning September 22, waking up at 6:45 AM
-Beginning September 29, waking up at 6:30 AM

2) After waking up I will do 20 minutes of stretches and exercises followed by 30-60 minutes of writing.  Then I will ping Kris plus ~10-20 minutes of crafting blog appreciation/voyeurism, no longer than that.  After that I will spend 20 minutes on breakfast, then continue on to other homework or other PRODUCTIVE time usage for the day.

3) 2 free days allowed

Kris’ contract was even more specific, down to the exact actions she would take the minute her alarm went off.  This level of specificity is helpful for several reasons.  You can almost go on autopilot if you follow the exact same sequence daily, which is helpful to shake the cobwebs in those groggy early morning hours.  It prevents indecisiveness, which leads to inactivity, which leads to talking yourself out of follow through.  It allows you to envision what the 30 day trial will look like each day, and we are more likely to succeed to actions we first visualize.

The idea was to keep each other accountable through a simple daily email.  If I’d succeeded in completing all items on my contract I’d send her an email with a single word, Ping!  She’d send one back if she was successful as well.  Living on separate coasts, my ping usually reached her first, but it was a really great way to start off my day each morning.  That sense of satisfaction and accomplishment, combined with the accountability and the knowledge that we were going through this together, really made Pinging successful for us.

Most importantly, we agreed, once you start racking up a string of Ping!s, you really don’t want to be the one to break the trend.  You develop rhythm, momentum.  Each day’s accomplishment is rewarding in itself, but so much more so in the context of the larger picture of continued success.

We learned several lessons from our first string of Pings.

*Be as specific as possible when laying out your contract.  Imagine your daily routine.  Pick a time to start and stop.  Think through the obstacles you will face in accomplishing all the items on your contract, and put safeguards in place to help yourself succeed.

*We originally set a “2 free passes” clause into our agreement, namely that we could each have 2 days where we did not have to adhere to the 30 day trial.  This was a big mistake because once we used our free passes it was difficult to get back on track.  It allows a wishy-washiness that detracts from the positive energy built up by a string of pings.

*Emails don’t have to be limited to the word “Ping.”  It’s fun to share successes, words of encouragement, and progress.  I always loved hearing what Kris was up to, and it was nice knowing I had someone I could blab to about word counts or other such mundane details.  Other friends who are less involved are great support networks, but they won’t have as great an appreciation for your efforts.

*In the course of your 30 day trial you may come across obstacles that morph into their own 30 day trial.  In my case, towards the end my efforts faltered because I wasn’t getting to bed early enough.  By the end, my head was so foggy in the morning that it ruined my entire day.  When we tried another Pinging session a couple weeks later, I made my bedtime routine the subject of my 30 day trial.

I still love Pinging with Kris.  In fact, we have another one going right now.  I’m supposed to write for at least 30 minutes daily and post to this blog at least 3 times per week.

Ping!

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