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zen habits: Zen Habits March Challenge, Step 1: Create a Plan

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Zen Habits March Challenge, Step 1: Create a Plan

If you've signed up for the Zen Habits March Challenge, you've already made the most important step: a public commitment. I'm excited about the Challenge, if you can't tell!

Now let's get started. The first thing we need to do is make a plan. If we can't take the time to make a plan, we are not fully committed, and it won't work. So the first step of the Challenge will be to create a plan that will state our goal, strategize, motivate and overcome obstacles. Then we'll print out the plan and post it up somewhere visible -- preferably at home and work.

Here are the most basic elements of the plan (the easy version):

  1. State your goal. This needs to be something attainable (not too hard for this month!), measurable (number of days, number of minutes, number of dollars, etc.) and with a deadline - March 31.
  2. Motivation. Take a look at the Top 20 Motivation Hacks, and pick a few. The more the better. Examples: posting your progress every day (or at least weekly) on Zen Habits, emailing friends and family about your progress, keeping a journal, charting your progress with an Excel spreadsheet, joining an online forum, making a promised to your spouse or loved one, rewarding yourself, etc. Write down your motivations.
  3. Rewards. Set rewards for reaching mini-goals each week. Break each goal into weekly goals, with rewards for each. You might want to add mini-goals and rewards for the first few days, just to encourage you to get started. See this list for some simple rewards.
If you've got another 5 minutes, add these items for the Super Goals version (and for increased likelihood of success):
  1. Obstacles. What are your greatest obstacles to achieving your goal? Now come up with a plan to deal with those obstacles, before they occur. If you get lazy after work, how will you deal with that? Examples could be: working out in the morning, having a workout partner and making an appointment with him/her, getting a coach or trainer, or try to just get started.
  2. Monitor and zap your quitting urges. We all have urges to quit our goal. This is similar to the Obstacles step above, but it's very important to monitor our urges to stop. We might get lazy and say, I'll do it tomorrow. Well, that's an urge. Tally it on a small notebook every time you get an urge. And plan for dealing with the urges beforehand. Examples: take three deep breaths, and get a glass of water. Visualize success. Just get started. Email zenhabits (at) gmail (dot) com if you feel like stopping (we can help each other out). Get your workout partner or spouse or best friend to help you through the urge. Trust me: the urges go away if you have a plan to get through them. They only last for a few minutes. Once you get through them, you'll be glad you did.
OK, so to set a good example, here's my plan:
  1. Goal: Train for triathlon five days a week (with two rest days) through the end of March. Training will include swimming, running and biking, at any distance or length of time (minimum 20 minutes).
  2. Motivation: Joining this Challenge! I will also post my progress at least weekly, and am writing a bi-weekly series of columns for my local newspaper detailing my progress. Other motivations include rewards, keeping a journal, posting up my goals along with a picture of my goal, telling family and friends about it, and having a workout partner (swim and bike).
  3. Rewards: First three days, I will reward myself with a sweet treat. Each week, if I attain my goal, I get a weekend treat! At the end of the month, I get to buy a book I've been wanting.
  4. Obstacles: Being tired is my main obstacle. Therefore, I plan to get more rest, and start out slow this month. I'm not in a hurry to get better, and if I stick with it, I will naturally get better. Later, once this is more of a habit, I can work on a more progressive schedule.
  5. Quitting urges: I will keep a tally of my urges to not train in my journal, and every time I get an urge, this is what I will do: take 3 deep breaths, drink water, and just get started. If that doesn't work, I will call my wife for encouragement. I will get through my urges!
OK, now write down your plan and print it out and post it up! If you don't do this, you will regret it. You may post your plan in the comments if you like, but at the very least please just post that you've done your plan.

Here are the March Challengers so far. Iif you haven't signed up, go do it now! Or do it in the comments here. It's not too late -- you can sign up at any time.
  • stayfly: Decorate and move into apartment I love. In terms of habits to help with this, I am aiming to do one major and one minor action toward decorating and moving into my apartment everyday of this month :)
  • Chris Yeung: I'm going to wake up at 5am on the weekdays.
  • Shaun: My goal is to run a mile 4 days a week for the rest of the month.
  • kamal: Wake up by 8:30am.
  • Monica: My goal for March is to read at least one new book every week.
  • Ann M. Mione: My goal is 4 days a week of either hitting the gym (which I usually enjoy once I get myself there) or some pilates and free weights in my apartment.
  • tedgotsoul: get back to practicing and composing music. two hours per day for practicing is where i should be. i will start on march 10th (when i get to the new state) and finish ... when i can play guitar better than jimi hendrix. just kidding... i'll keep playing beyond that "plateau"
  • Samer: My March goal is to jog for one hour, five days a week, until the end of March, and hopefully cultivate this into a habit.
  • holli jo: My goal is to exercise (probably walking, but any exercise will do) for at least 15 minutes, 5 days a week.
  • John Wesley: My goal is to exercise at least 30 minutes 5 days a week. And to redesign my blog by the end of March.
  • jen.: doug & i are in. each of us plans to write and complete a short story by the end of march. this morning we woke up earlier than usual and spent a half hour working on them. it felt great!
  • sommer: my goal this month is to run 5 days a week. This means I must take my lunch hour and use it to run 30 minutes all 5 days, but i have the weekend for back up just in case I miss a day at work. It's going to be hard to get back into it, I've become used to ordering in with my co-workers over the holidays. I need to hold strong!!!
  • RebeccaB: I'm jumping on the workout bandwagon! At least 3 times a week, i'm going to get up with him at 5 and work out in the apt Gym (because it's free!). As a more long term goal I need to find awesome peopele in my area to hang out with, living in 1 state for 22 years and then moving to another one where you don't know anyone is difficult. So I would love to make some meaningful friendships. So if you want to be my friend let me know, that would just make this goal a whole lot easier :)
  • Jenn: I have an ongoing goal that I'm hoping to use smaller, monthly goals to augment. My ongoing goal is to read and make notes on at least three items a week from the list of texts I need to to know for my upcoming doctoral comprehensive exam in June (and, thus far, I'm succeeding). In order to help myself out with this, my first month's goal is to exercise for half and hour to an hour, four times a week. I feel and think better when I'm active, which I imagine will only help me to get comps reading done better than I do now, and will also prevent me from turning into an academic slug.
Let's get going fellow Challengers!!!!


stayfly said...

another great post!

today I had my apartment window measured and was given a qoute for a screen and blind for my apartment and I will also be contacting my phone company to arrange the phone connection later today too. :)

I've started tracking my daily progress on Joe's Goals (great website) and I've set a reward of getting a professional back massage once my goal is accomplished :)

I'll consider some of the other suggestions too :)

best of luck everyone!

Ann M. said...

1.Goal: Exercise (gym or pilates+free weights) 4x week.

2. Motivation: a)chart progress-joesgoals, b)online support group-Here! c) visualize goal--in my head d)public commitment-here!

3. Reward: March 31-Buy a book (this is ok financially because I have a gift card from Christmas, otherwise I wouldn't want to spend). Hmm, weekly rewards-watch a movie perhaps?

4.Obstacles: a)Problem: Weather (I live in New England and hate driving in bad weather in the morning), Solution: Work out at home (pilates+free weights); b)Problem: Tiredness, Solution:Get more sleep! c)Problem: time, Solution: this is a bad excuse, stop procrastinating online and go to the gym! I won't turn on my computer until after the gym.

5. Quitting Urges: Will keep track in my planner. Will print out inspiring parts of this blog and some other quotes to put around the apartment to read when I don't want to exercise.

Questin: After reading the top 20 motivational hacks, it almost seems to me that my goal (i.e. exercising a certain amount) is more of a means than an end. I'm not sure if I should clarify it to a more concrete, end-based goal (i.e. lookin good!). I feel okay with what I have so far. I'm just curious on other people's thoughts on this.

Ann M. said...

*whoops-typo! I meant to write " QUESTION" . my apologies!

Anonymous said...

I posted about my goal here, www.msmollie.blogspot.com

Day 2 and going strong!

Leo said...

@Ann M.: I apologize ... I thought I responded to your comment already. Anyway, it looks like you have a great plan! I'm going to put up a post where we can all report our progress, so stick with us!

As for your question, my reaction is that it is important to know your reasons, and to visualize how you want to look, and feel, and be, after you accomplish your goal. Have powerful reasons! And find as many reasons and motivations for changing this habit as possible -- if you really want to change more than you don't want to change, you'll do it. Pile on the motivation!

Leo said...

Hi Mollie ... great post! I submitted a comment on your site, but I thought it might help others here as well (whether they're quitting smoking or changing any other habit), so I'm reposting it here:

Sounds like you're doing great so far. You have a good plan and I congratulate you on your commitment to this new goal!

One thing I'd like to suggest (besides joining the forum at quitsmoking.about.com) -- think about all the habits that smoking actually encompasses for you. I plan to write about this on Zen Habits soon, but in brief:

1) Smoking is not just one habit, but several. It's useful to list out the needs that smoking fulfills for you, and the things that triggers smoking for you. For example: stress, waking up in the morning, having coffee, having alcohol, driving, talking on the phone, hunger, after a meeting, after sex, after eating, etc.

2) After listing these triggers, write down a replacement habit. For example, what will you do to relieve stress instead of smoking? For me it was running, deep breathing, and self-massage (not the dirty kind!). For other triggers, drinking water or eating a healthy snack (carrots, frozen grapes, etc.) were my new habits. After a meeting, instead of immediately going outside and smoking, I would go to my computer and write down the actions that resulted from the meeting, and email them to the appropriate people right away. Yours will be different, but the point is that you need a replacement habit for each trigger, and you need to focus on conditioning yourself to use those new habits for at least a month. Otherwise, the trigger will come up sometime (the next time you get really stressed, or the next time you go out drinking) and you will have no other habit, and the urge to use your old habit of smoking will be very strong. You can overcome that urge, especially if you DELAY! but it would be much easier if you have a new habit instead.

3) Put extreme focus and energy into these new habits, and overcoming your old habits, for a month. If you can do that (and tell yourself NO EXCEPTIONS!) you will be fine. I did it, and many others have, and you can too. If you make a mistake, don't beat yourself up about it ... just refocus yourself, and learn from it -- how will you overcome that obstacle next time.

Good luck! Write to me at zenhabits (at) gmail (dot) com anytime if you need help, or have a very strong urge. I'm always willing to help! (And this offer is good for anyone else trying to achieve a goal or change a habit.)

Eric Blue said...

I just recently discovered your blog. Great post, and great timing! I particuarly like the idea of listing out obstacles, and solutions to overcome them.

I just recently posted an in-depth article on using mind maps to helps achieve your goals. I use this as my plan, have it posted on my wall in my office, and am consistently reminded to stay focused on my goals.

Check out the article when you get a chance. Hopefully, this will be helpful to your readers.