There's nothing quite like that feeling that comes with completing a 30-day diet and/or fitness challenge ...until you realize that you no longer have that routine to keep you on track. The end of January may be such a time.
Let's be real: No 30-day challenge is going to transform your body, your health or your lifestyle for the long haul. Sustainable progress takes time. Creating new habits takes time.
If you have gone all-out and given everything to your 30-day challenge you have probably experienced some changes – you may be feeling better, sleeping more or have possibly lost some weight, but you might also feel disappointed that you haven't reached your goal in this short amount of time. You might also be disappointed when your feeling, weight or symptoms return as you return to your original habits.
So how can you make sustainable progress?
After finishing a challenge, you are really excited. You complete a challenge and are inspired and motivated as you made these healthy changes, and as soon it's over, there's a loss of momentum. This, however, doesn't mean all of the hard work you've put in has to go to waste. It's important to realize that, within your own self, you have the capacity to keep that momentum going by putting a lot of the same factors that kept you so motivated during the challenge to work in your everyday life.
Any time you can take stock of our life and try to change your behavior can be helpful. Like anything else in life, your ability to execute and benefit long term from a 30-day challenge, whether you’re trying to eat better or learn how to manage your stress better, is dependent on multiple factors, such as your level of commitment and whether you have a support system in place (studies have shown that couples who try to lose weight together are more likely to be successful than those who go at it solo). What you need to do from there, is be realistic about the changes you make and do the best that suits your lifestyle and current situation.
Turning a 30-Day Challenge into Long Term Success
Next time you decide to do a 30-day challenge there are a few important things that are, in my opinion, required, in order to ensure success over the long term, not just over the span of 30 days.
Don’t Make Your Challenge Quite So Intense
Generally speaking, short-term weight loss, dietary or lifestyle and exercise challenges can be effective to help teach better, more sustainable habits. However, if your challenge is too restrictive, it can also backfire. Once over, a challenge that is too intense and time-consuming for you, may leave you lacking the energy left to keep the positive momentum going.
Next time you may want to attempt a less intense and more sustainable challenge, to hopefully create more positive change over the long term as it develops into a habit and not just a challenge.
Create Your Exit Strategy Before You Start
The last thing most people do when starting a challenge or embarking on a new goal or resolution is think about what they’re going to do after.
That’s a huge mistake. By knowing what long-term success looks like and creating a manageable and sustainable plan before you even start, you will know exactly what to do after your set time period ends, and will hopefully avoid the crash that so often hits.
If you are at the end of your challenge and wondering about your exit strategy, it might, if possible for you, work to extend your challenge by a few extra days while you create a plan for moving forward.
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Add Accountability on the Backend
Funding accountability partners, joining groups, publicly stating your intentions, and creating accountability during your challenge makes sticking to it significantly easier than if you embarked on your journey alone or kept silent..
The problem is, after the challenge ends, there is no accountability. By finding someone (or something) to hold you accountable for those longer-term goals you’re putting yourself in a position to succeed.
If you want long-term changes, though, you should start early -- like now. There is no need to wait for an artificial starting point, or ending point of something else.
Avoid Turning it into a Competition
Your success at crystalizing a new habit is happening at the exact same time as many other people, at the end of a January challenge, it is at the exact same day. It might feel as if you have joined a race with millions of people. And this makes it very challenging, nearly impossible not to compare.
How's that weight loss coming? Did you start on that new book? How much weight are you lifting now? How many hours did you fast for? The questions may have started coming by January 2, and they may be followed up by the progress other people seem to be making that you feel you are not.
You Have a Choice. Take Yourself Out of the Race.
Going all-in or cold turkey seems so romantic. It is scientifically proven, though, that humans don’t operate like a light switch. This is exactly why crash diets, severely restricted plans, time consuming gym challenges and other extreme sports have quick results and equally quick relapses.
By starting slowly, you have the opportunity to ramp up your ambitions. You have to master the art of showing up. A habit has to be established before it can be improved.
If, as you move beyond your 30-day challenge, you miss a workout or fail to stick to your pre-planned food choices, meal plan or routine there is no need to simply abandon the program altogether. You get back on track the next day. Similarly, while it's great to make a game plan for yourself, you shouldn't beat yourself up if you don't follow it absolutely perfectly. Everyone struggles with being able to make time for all of the things life throws at you and simply because you couldn’t, for example, make 4 workouts this week, does not imply the 2 you did do can't be really important or you can't find other ways in your lifestyle to be active. The goal is creating long-term consistency as opposed to momentary perfection.
In reality, perfection is simply not required. Pressuring yourself to be perfect, or trying to achieve other people’s goals, inevitably leads to self-sabotage. By facing diet trip-ups or skipped workouts with self-compassion, you learn to accept where you are and end up doing your best.
Maintaining your results after a 30-day challenge is all about being in the right mindset. Your challenge may be for a short month, but leading healthy lifestyle is forever. A challenge might give you that starting point, or a time to reset and recommit to your goals. A challenge also provides accountability and specific targets. It is, however, important not to just look at those changes as temporary and give yourself permission to make it a part of your life. If you are actually trying to cultivate meaningful change, it’s the after that’s the most important part.