The Runway to a 30-Day Challenge

I often do diet experiments in the form of 30-day trials (or longer). I define a crisp plan to follow, and then I strictly adhere to those boundaries for the time of the experiment.

Usually before I begin a clearly defined challenge, I first go through a period of whittling away temptations. This phase typically begins a few weeks before the start of the challenge. During this time, I’ll identify the most tempting foods and gradually eat them till they’re gone. I try not to overdo it by binging on them. I just naturally let them run out at whatever rate I was eating them before. I stop replenishing those foods, so I won’t have them in the house to tempt me while I’m doing a stricter trial.

This isn’t always possible or practical, but it definitely helps in some cases.

It’s easier to do a caffeine-free challenge if there’s no hipster coffee left, and the only remaining source of caffeine in the house consists of some crusty bags of green tea leftover from hotels.

When I decided to do a grain-free, bean-free, and sugar-free month (which was August 2020), I gave myself time to finish up the tofu and didn’t buy more of it. I often air-bake tofu and add it to salads, so this gave me a little extra time to adjust back to tofu-free salads.

When doing an interesting diet experiment, there are a cascade of smaller changes stacked on top of each other. I often find it easier to begin the process of change a few weeks before my stricter challenge begins, so I can unpack and roll out some of those smaller changes at a more gradual pacing. This gives me some practice time with those little changes before the full challenge begins.

By the time Day 1 of the challenge comes up, I’ve already made some modest changes in the weeks leading up to that. I might already have been tofu-free, chocolate-free, or bread-free for a few days to a few weeks beforehand. I’m already eating some meals consistent with the challenge.

This approach helps me mentally prepare for the challenge without feeling like I’m taking a big dive off a cliff. I gradually strengthen my commitment as I approach the starting line, so by the time I get there, I already have some momentum building in the right direction. This make Day 1 and especially Week 1 easier.

Another benefit of this approach is that it trains me to notice unplanned challenge opportunities. I’m accustomed to beginning a challenge with a runway, so I occasionally find myself heading down what could be considered a runway to some kind of challenge that I haven’t identified yet. I remain on the lookout for accessible challenges that could fit my current runway, even when I’m not deliberately aiming for a specific challenge. For instance, the COVID situation became an extended runway into more personal projects, including my current 30-day novel writing challenge.

If you struggle with 30-day challenges, especially making it past the first week, consider building a longer runway. Transition into your challenge more gradually, so there isn’t such a sharp dividing line before your final pre-challenge week and your official Day 1.

Just be careful about using this as an endless delay tactic, always prepping and never actually doing. 🙂