Forget Resolutions and Try the 30-Day Challenge Instead

By Stella Haffner   |   January 11, 2022

Dear Montecito,

New Year, new me. Is that what you’re telling yourself?

The holiday season induces an annual jet lag. By the time January first rolls around, we’re trying either to make up for our less virtuous actions from the past month or attempting to practically manifest the most enlightened version of ourselves — we did survive holiday dinner with the in-laws, after all. But I’m here to say just one thing today and that’s bah humbug to New Year’s resolutions.

New Year’s resolutions are psychological quicksand. When we’re not putting off our goals until the flip of the calendar year, we’re setting our own expectations too high, and I simply refuse to be in the business of disappointing myself. My advice isn’t to give up on aspirations all together but make certain they are both realistic and meaningful. Are we planning to go to the gym five times a week because we want better cardiopulmonary health or because we feel guilty about the number of ginger snaps we ate last week?

First, never feel guilty about the number of ginger snaps, hot cocoa, or Mexican wedding cookies you consumed over the holidays. It’s not a productive use of your time, and it’s my opinion that this sort of brain rot, self-flagellating anxiety does not make a good foundation for personal growth. Second, take any external motivators and leave them in the garbage. Psychology teaches us that genuine motivation behind a goal is a key predictor of success. From these thoughts, our takeaway should be two-fold: One, examine what we want. Two, consider how to manageably achieve it.

Perhaps the best habit I’ve ever learned was taught to me in eighth grade. My English teacher encouraged us to develop and write about a “30-day challenge” in which we’d try something we wanted to do in the safety of a finite calendar month.

This is an effective strategy for a couple of reasons. On the one hand, the self-contained nature of the 30-day challenge doesn’t feel like too big of a commitment — success on the microscale is a great motivator to success in the long run. When in doubt or when motivation is in short supply, make sure you find ways you can succeed. This is the best tonic to discouragement. On the other hand, an initial 30 days can easily serve as a trial period to a bigger, more ambitious goal, making the 30-day challenge as unlimiting in structure as it is supportive.

While I find it tempting to choose a grown-up type skill, one that puts me on the adult path of personal development such as improving my email correspondence or moisturizing my cuticles — that’s what adults do, right? — these types of goals reek of generic-brand New Year’s resolution material. I think instead I will gravitate toward something with a little more soul. Maybe I’ll give myself 30 days to rework my ginger snap recipe. That will always be worth my time.



From the shores of Scotland, Stella keeps her connection to her home in Montecito by bringing grads of local schools to the pages of the MJ


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