30 Day Challenges Don’t Work

Garrett MacLean
Apr 5 · 6 min read

One Week of Cold Showers. Thirty Days of No Sugar. Six Months Without Social Media. BuzzFeed bombards us with such undertakings by casting out irresistible click-bait. Everyone is a sucker. Hook, Line, and Sinker.


The colloquial proverb, “It takes one to know one” fits me well here; for I have been both a spectator and practitioner in this realm. One time, I threw down a self-imposed challenge against my brother. At the drop of a hat, I would quit smoking for 100 days, and if I took even a single puff, I would owe him $100. If I came out on top, he would not owe me a dime — the bet would just be over. Five minutes after I texted him, he responded back, “Sure, let’s do this!” I envisioned him grinning at his phone thinking,

“This is going to be the easiest money I’ve ever made.”

If you’ve ever watched the movie “Spanglish”, starring Adam Sandler and Tea Leoni, there’s an unforgettable scene with Tea’s character, Deborah Clasky confronting her mother, Evelyn Wright, played by Cloris Leachman. Evelyn is holding a healthy glass of white wine, when Deborah lashes out, “Mom! It’s not even noon!” Evelyn’s reaction always gets me.

When the clock struck midnight on Day 100, I was on a dancefloor in the middle of a crowded concert. I parted the sea of club goers, raced upstairs to the outdoor patio, and without hesitation bummed a cigarette off a random. I enjoyed it more than I want to admit. By the time my friends noticed I slipped outside, I had already burned through three or four more.

I had won the battle but lost the war.

This calls for a moment of full disclosure. When I had first thought about writing an article like this, I intended to title it something like, ‘Out with the Old, In with the New: Coffee and Cigarettes for Gratitude and Affirmations’, or ‘I Replaced Coffee with Gratitude and I’m More Buzzed than Ever’, or ‘I Got Rid of My Vices and I’ve Never Felt More High’. Pretty clever, eh? I thought so at least. I also thought they were pretty dumb and even more superficial.

The hundred days of no smoking wasn’t the only voluntary quest I embarked on. Morning meditations, caffeine-free, vegan diets, and 3:30 am workouts were some of the other stunts I pulled in my free time. All of them concluded with anything less than a Cinderella moment: I’d scrape by and once the time was up, I would revert back to my old ways.

My most recent venture was the infamous, Sober January. A way for many to start off the New Year on a healthy note and feel good about yourself. Again, I took it a step further. No alcohol, plus no smoking and no junk food. I even challenged my roommates to partake in the festivities. At the end of the month, I had passed with flying colors, only to lose the war at midnight, again.

I got to a point where I thought this whole thing was stupid. I underwent withdrawals only to return to my vices and reinforce the habits with what felt like vengeance coming back around. So I said the hell with it,

I’ll smoke as much as I damn well please, thank you very much.

Looking back, a coined phrase of my parents was, “We’ll give you enough rope to your hang yourself.” For instance, the classic example: curfew. Unless I was in the dog house, my parents weren’t as strict as some of my friends in this arena. Their reverse psychology parenting style empowered me to make decisions for myself, and if I made bad ones I had a chance to learn from the repercussions. When a child is confounded to a number of rules, they are destined to break out; but, if given more freedom, they are less inclined to rebel.

After I removed the “rules” of these 30 Day Challenges from my life and chose to accept myself for who I was, I found my internal rebellion came to an end. On top of that, I became more happy with myself than I’ve ever felt in my entire life. I started to love myself as myself. To be frank, these feelings were unorthodox to me. Ever since I was a young kid, I couldn’t shake the feeling: I never really liked myself. No matter, what I accomplished or the endless love I received from family and friends, acceptance for who I was as an individual was something that did not come naturally to me.

I don’t feel like I experienced a monumental “aha” moment, the changes felt natural. All my focus became dedicated to doing things that made me happy like reading, writing, and exercising. I didn’t transcend to Thoreau status, build my own cabin in the woods, and fulfill my duty of civil disobedience. No, I still drink my morning coffee and enjoy sharing a beer or two with friends.

According to your peers, when it comes to making changes to better oneself, there is no immediate reward for them. Plus, the thought of your identity changing in front of them is unsettling. The common behavioral response is to mock or inject self-doubt in one another, often times they don’t even realize they are doing it. Myself included.

Think of it this way: you notice that your friend starts exercising because they want to improve their health. You may take a look at your exercise habits and notice they are lacking. So, instead of cheering them on, you feel this as an inherent attack of your ego. There’s no trophy, thus no motivation, for encouraging your friend to be in better shape, and on an unconscious level, you want them to be on the same level playing field as you. As a result, your friend who is seeking approval from his or her peers is not getting it, or even worse receiving the opposite. So, what do we humans do if we can’t get the real stuff? We attempt to synthesize it through artificial means. That’s where social media comes into the picture.

Social media provides an immense amount of benefits for individuals, as well as, the general population. It brings together people from all walks of life to communicate over shared interests. It allows small businesses to market themselves at scale; a thought previous generations could only dream of. It provides a platform for anyone out there to share their unique story to the entire world. In contrast, many people rely on it to support their goals. It is more uncommon to receive authentic emotional support from our peers, so we turn to likes and comments like “Good job man” or “You go girl” hoping to get that needed extra boost.

What I gathered from all of this, and the whole point of me writing this is to tell people one thing: If you really want to make a positive change in your life, big or small, do it for yourself. Do not step down into the misery-filled trenches because the other social animals hunger for our company. Accept yourself first as you are, do all the things that make you happy, and be amazed at what happens next.

Age of Awareness

Stories providing creative, innovative, and sustainable changes to the education system

Garrett MacLean

Written by

San Diego Native. Colorado Buff. Teacher in Ho Chi Minh City.

Age of Awareness

Stories providing creative, innovative, and sustainable changes to the education system

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