30 Days of Mastery, Habit-Formation and Productivity

Pringles

What do Pringles have to do with reaching your goals?

Or, how can potato chips help you lose weight, build muscle and get the body you want?

Well, they can’t because they’re terrible for you. But the story behind them can.

In 1956 Gene Wolfe graduated from the University of Houston with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. He went on to work for Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati, Ohio for 16 years where, among other projects, he was given the task of finding a way to take a baked potato, press it down, and slice it up in such a way that it could fit into a small can.

Well, he did it. He developed the machine that makes Pringles.

That was a pretty big accomplishment, and I think if that had been me I might have sat back and rode that success for the rest of my life.

But Gene loved to write, and dedicated himself to writing one page a day. Just one page. Around 300 words. Nothing more than a paragraph or two.

Gene is now 83 years old and has been writing for over 20,000 days. Over the course of his lifetime, he has written about 80 books worth of pages. He has published over 50 of them, and many of them have won awards and become bestsellers.

Among critics, he is regarded as one of the best living American writers in any genre.

Day In, Day Out

There’s a lot we can learn from Gene. By dedicating just a tiny fraction of each day to something that mattered to him, he was able to:

  • Master A Skill. Gene built upon his skill over the course of a lifetime to become the best at what he does. There’s no doubt that he possesses an inherent talent, but he worked and worked to perfect his craft. If you want to be really, really good at anything, this is what it takes.
  • Create a habit. Can you guess what 90% of the emails that land in my inbox are about? Motivation. People want to improve their health and the way their body looks, but they can’t find the motivation to make it happen. Make something into a habit, and you’ll never have to worry about motivating yourself again.
  • Publish over 50 books!  This is the most important part. A few minutes every day adds up to A LOT over the course of a lifetime. Gene published 50 books, but think how much fitter you would be if you exercised every day. Or how much more flexible you would be if you did some stretching every day.

I’ve always been an ‘all or nothing’ kind of guy. If I don’t have the time to do a full workout, I often won’t do anything at all. If I don’t have time to write an entire article, I won’t write anything whatsoever. The net result is that I am getting less done than I ought to.

So for the next 30 days, I’m going to write ‘one page’ (at least 300 words) for this website.

And I want you to join me.

Not in writing one page a day – this is just a goal that is important to me right now – but in committing to doing one small thing that matters to you, every day, for the next 30 days.

I’m choosing to write a page a day because I want to improve my writing so that I can put together better articles, and more of them. But your goal could be anything really;  fitness-related or otherwise. As long as you are working towards something that is really important to you, that’s all that matters. Although I will say that the smaller it is, the better. You are much less likely to stick with something if it is too difficult, or if it takes up too much of your time. You want to make it as easy as possible.

Here are some ideas:

Going for a walk.

Doing a short workout like the one you get when you become a subscriber (The Beginner Bodyweight Workout) or the squat challenge.

Cooking yourself one healthy meal each day.

Or this one from our friend Tony G:

Maybe these goals seem a bit underwhelming, but the point is that it needs to be something you will stick with for 30 days. You can make it more challenging later.

A Note On Exercise

“If it is important, do it every day. If it’s not important, don’t do it at all.” – Dan John

Dan John is one of the smartest and most highly-regarded coaches in the fields of movement, strength, and athleticism, and yet the first time I read this quote I still thought to myself “You can’t do the same exercises every day! Your body needs to time to recover!”

My thought process was that if it was important to you to be able to squat heavy, then Dan was suggesting that you should do heavy squats every day. But that’s not what he’s talking about. He’s talking about mastering the skill of squatting.

If your goal is to squat the most amount of weight that your genes permit, squatting heavy every single day probably isn’t going to work because of course your body does need time to recover. But you can do some sort of squat variation every day. For example, you might do heavy squats on a Monday, bodyweight squats on a Tuesday, speed squats on a Wednesday, and so on…

Likewise, if you wanted to run a marathon it wouldn’t be sensible to try to run 26 miles a day, every day. Instead, you would do a different type of run (or even walk) each day.

Some of the best progress I ever made in the gym was when I went every day, or at least 5 days a week. It was a routine that involved training each muscle group on a different day. There are actually much more productive routines for people who are relatively new to training (such as a full-body workout every other day, or a 4-day split), but many beginners make the mistake of training like this because it’s what they hear about in the magazines and see all the pros doing.

Although I was doing the ‘wrong’ routine, I was doing something and I was working on some great exercises, like squats, deadlifts, pulls and presses. I made amazing progress because I was consistently exercising and getting better at these key movements.

Daily practice of the skill is what matters.

Life Is Long

Recently, I’ve become fascinated with Stoicism, thanks to Tim Ferriss and Ryan Holiday. It’s a ‘philosophy’ that has nothing to do with abstract theories and questions. Instead, there are just a few central teachings that are meant to help us make the best of what we have, wherever we are, right now.

The teachings come from three distinct historical figures; Marcus Aurelius (the emperor of the Roman Empire), Epictetus, and Seneca. Their overriding message is that we can’t change the world we live in, but we can change how we react it.

In one letter (called ‘On The Shortness of Life’), Seneca writes:

“It is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it. Life is long enough, and it has been given in sufficiently generous measure to allow the accomplishment of the very greatest things if it is well invested”

I think Seneca’s message here perfectly sums up the importance of spending your time well. It’s why, for the next 30 days, I am committing myself to wasting less of my time and accomplishing something that will benefit me greatly – becoming a better and more productive writer.

What do you want to achieve?

What can you dedicate a small amount of time to each day to become a better or happier person?

Leave a comment below, and let’s hold each other accountable!

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  • Vocal

    I am comitted to excercising more & becoming more organized!

    • That’s great! Do you think you could be a little bit more specific though? How much exercise are you going to do? How are you going to become more organized? The more specific the better!

  • Cecilia

    At least for the next 30 days I am committed to exercise at least 4 days a week

    • Awesome! But this might work better if you decide to do a little exercise every day, rather than just 4 days a week.

  • Bronwyn McDonald

    I’m working on core strength at the moment so I’m doing 30 days of plank. I started a couple of days ago and have increased my time by 40seconds so far. Hoping to reach 3mins by end of November!

    • Kelsey

      Oh I love this! I could fit this in! I may just steal this from you, hope that’s alright! ^.^

    • This is a great one Bronwyn. Let us know if you reach 3 mins (or more)!

  • Diana Rhodes Ellard

    Since I’m currently on the injured list, remembering to do my rehab exercises every day, even if I get to the point I can run again.

    • Good luck Diana! Let us know how it goes.

      • Diana Rhodes Ellard

        I tweaked my knee again yesterday, so today is limited to some gentle stretching and ice.

  • Jan

    I love the idea of starting the day with a glass of water, I am supposed to drink 8 glasses but I usually only manage 4 (or less). It’s tiny but if I can make that a habit I’ll add something else after.

    • It’s so simple and so effective!

    • Karen

      I fill up a 64 0z bottle with good water. When it is gone I know I have managed to drink 8 cups.

  • Kay

    Yes creating a habit works. And to be specific. I will do 30 min exercise/run every morning within 30 min of getting up! Have also been doing squat challenge but when I arrived to one legged squat have ?torn a bit of left quad and now when I squat I have sharp pain there. This has been healing now for at least two weeks. I am not quite sure what to do about it?

    • That’s a good one! For now I would totally avoid squatting if it causes you pain. Work on some exercises that are comfortable in the meantime, and give yourself time to heal.

  • Kathy

    I will commit to going for a walk everyday

    • That’s awesome Kathy. Let us know how you get on 🙂

  • Jen Letts

    Kudos to you committing to write everyday! I’ve committed to writing down one new project idea everyday in November for my business.

    • Thanks Jen! Have you heard of James Altucher (I actually got the Pringles story from him)? Something he advocates is making a list of 10 new ideas each day. 10 sounds like a lot, but the ideas can be anything whatsoever, no matter how crazy they are. It helps get the creative juices flowing, and when you’re coming up with that many ideas you are guaranteed to have some winners!

      • Jen Letts

        I think a key point is the writing down of those ideas, we always tell ourselves we’ll remember this fabulous thing but it is so easy to forget, isn’t it? I love the index cards because they’re easy to tote around but also because you can see the stack grow! I find it super motivating.

  • hankbrandtjen

    I have the flexibility of a steel rod. Today I will first blow the dust off of the beginners yoga book I bought years ago and then i will commit to doing five minutes of stretching/posing a day with five minutes of core work.

    • Haha you and me both. I think this might have to be the next thing I commit to improving.

  • Karen

    I am already doing the bodyweight squat challenge, walking 30+ minutes a day and logging in to calorie counter everyday to log my food and exercise, but I will commit to 20 minutes on the treadmill 4x week.

  • Monique

    I want to commit completing the 28 squat challenge this month. I also want to form a better habit of eating healthy. So, I am challenging myself to make it a routine to stop by the grocery store instead of fast food restaurants. So, for the next 30 day, I am going to stop by the grocery store daily. Whether I grab one apple, or items for a full course meal. I want to make it a habit of going inside the grocery store.

    • I think this is a great idea Monique. A really good way of getting into cooking healthy rather than just grabbing whatever is in the cupboard.

  • Shari

    I am going to go to the gym every day, even though I feel a bit intimidated.

    • That’s awesome Shari. I felt the exact same way when I first started going to the gym. I know you probably won’t believe me, but the truth is that nobody will even notice what/how you’re doing. Everybody is too wrapped up in their own thing!

      • Shari

        Thank you so much for your words of encouragement. You have no idea how much they mean to me

  • Roberta

    I’ve been taking golf lessons recently and I’m committing to practicing 5-10 minutes every day.

    • Nice and simple. I like it. Let us know how much you improve!

  • Natasha S. Chowdory

    Aim is to give up bread and alcohol for 30 days

    • This is a good one, but I think it will be tough!

      • Natasha S. Chowdory

        7 days in and it’s going ok. The test will be when I’m hanging with groups of people. Social gatherings in England = alcohol and bread :p

        • Good work Natasha! I’m from England myself so know how true this is!

  • Karen

    I worry about those who are “giving up” things they will not be able to sustain. Wont they gain the weight right back when the time is up? I thought it was better to modify than sacrifice?

    • It won’t necessarily be gained back when the time is up, but I do agree that it is easier to make small modifications to your lifestyle rather than drastic changes.

  • Sue Wollan Fan

    I learned to appreciate small incremental, daily change when I had to wear braces for 20 months, as an adult. No amount of complaining or wishing was going to move my teeth any faster – it just took time and commitment. I have a beautiful smile now (and a good bite). So I will join you in the 30 day challenge by working on strengthening my core for 15 minutes every day. – Sue WF

  • Be

    A bit late to the game, but figured I’d add my two goals to work on:

    1.) Get all two liters of my water in. It’s funny how difficult this can be when the weather turns cold. Mornings, I’ve been substituting a cup of hot water with lemon for a cup of coffee. That helps things go down better.

    2.) Wanted to start the bodyweight workout plan, but just…could…not. Am just going to start with one rep of all the exercises every other day, then, move up to two, three, etc.

  • GK85

    I am going to do 30 day’s of push ups each day. Trying to improve my number of reps on 1 set which currently is 26.

  • Tina B.

    I’m recovering from a back injury; however I can ride a bike, do stretch exercises and focus on healthy eating. My 30 day goal will be to start riding my bike and stretching for 30 minutes every day.

  • Roxie

    I’m 11 days into a 30 day healing diet (Whole30) and doing great! I find the further into it I get the more aware of other little things like how too much salt or not enough water effects how I feel throughout the day. Just today I was looking to add to my challenge and my goal this year is also to become a better writer (at work). I am sure it is no coincidence I bumped into this blog and article (love for squats brought me here). I am going to start with writing first thing in the morning for 30 days as well. I think this will be more challenging to me than the Whole30 (which is crazy restrictive)! Thank you for the great article and motivation.

  • Nikki Cranford

    I’m a newbie runner and last week I got an email regarding your squat challenge (for beginners!), as I’m having a problem with a weak muscle in my hip/ leg area thought it would be the ideal exercise/challange to start with. To my total surprise I’m enjoying it too!!

  • Karen

    I’m trying to do the squat challenge and incorporate stretching into my work routine, so when I return to my desk after tea-breaks and lunch (while I’m warmish from walking upstairs) I’ll do 10-15 squats or a 60 second plank and 2-3 minutes of stretching – won’t take much time out of my working day and hopefully I’ll be less sore at the end of it

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