Cultivate Life Transforming Habits in 21 Days

Good habits

Have you ever thought of introducing a good habit into your life, but never got around to doing it? Perhaps you tried it for 1-2 days, but then lacked the discipline to continue afterward. Perhaps you are overwhelmed by the effort required to institute it into your life and never got around to doing it. Perhaps your attempts keep getting thwarted by other activities.

In comes the 21-Day Trial Program :D . It is a self-initiated program where you stick to a certain activity for 21-days – every day continuously. While it can be used to cultivate good habits, you can also use it to try out new things which you may not necessarily pick on, just to see how they are like. These activities can be anything, from exercising, waking up early, quitting soda drinks, sticking to a certain diet, making new friends, reading a book, meditating, going to work on time, quitting smoking, etc. The list is endless.

The 21-Day Trial is not just limited to developing good habits – it can also be used to break off bad habits. Do you have any bad habits, such as biting your nails, playing video games incessantly, putting off work to the last minute, checking your emails over 50 times a day, sleeping in late, spending too many hours at work, etc? You can take on the task of breaking these bad habits with the 21-day trial as well.

This is one of my favorite self improvement tools because it is simply so effective. When you think about it, the success of many of your goals  and the quality of your life are actually built on certain fundamental habits. When you get those habits in place, your output also increases dramatically as a natural corollary to that.

Why 21 days?

The 21-Day Trial is inspired by Steve Pavlina’s 30-Day Trial and it’s a modified version of it. I tried the 30-day trial before and decided it worked better as a 21-day trial for me. There are two reasons for that:

  1. 21 days is what it takes to fully break/form a new habit. There has been research which shows that it takes 21 days to fully cultivate a new habit because 21 days is the time required for new neuropathways to be fully formed in your brain. I recently did a raw vegan diet trial and found that 21-days was well sufficient to cultivate this new habit.
  2. A 21-day trial is more efficient than a 30-day one. It appeals a lot to me as one of my key values is efficiency. I rather finish something in the shortest possible time (provided there is no compromise on quality of output, where there isn’t any in this case), get the relevant findings, draw the necessary conclusions and move on from there to try other habits.

Benefits of this trial

There are several very attractive benefits of this 21-day trial.

1. Highly manageable.

Many people procrastinate on getting certain things done, even though these may be good habits which will bring significant benefits into their lives. The procrastination is typically because they get overwhelmed by the thought of having to do this for the rest of their lives. With the 21-day trial, the task becomes much more manageable and feasible. 21 days is but a short period of time – it’s merely 3 weeks. No more excuses like ‘it’s impossible for me to do this’ or ‘it’s too difficult to maintain this’. It’s easy to channel your efforts into getting something done for just 21 days as opposed to infinity. Before you know it, the 3 weeks will already be over, and it’s all behind you.

2. No commitment required.

Since it’s a trial program, there is no commitment required beyond the 21 days. After the trial, you evaluate whether your life has been better off with or without that habit. Based on that, you then make the decision on whether to continue the habit or not. If it’s the former, you can easily do so, since you have already stuck with it for 21-days without fail. If it’s the latter, you are free to revert to what you were doing before. There are absolutely no strings attached.

The highly manageable and non-committal nature of the trial gives rise to 2 other benefits.

3. Highly effective in getting good habits in place.

Many people often have a laundry of good habits they want to cultivate on their to-do list, such as exercising, going to work on time, cutting down on unhealthy food. While they make a mental note to get them in place, they never get around to doing that because of different reasons.

Rather than waste incessant time and energy in the ‘wanting to do’ phase which happens to many, the 21-day trial is a great way to solidify these good habits. For example, I have been meaning to try out raw veganism since mid-2008 (only fresh fruits, fresh vegetables and nuts) . This thought lingered in my mind for another 1-year before I finally decided to get this done last month via a 21 day trial, and the results were extremely welcoming. I will probably write about raw veganism in a separate article in the future, since the topic itself requires a separate post altogether. For now, I’ll continue with a diet that is dominantly raw vegan and have cooked food in the times I can’t get raw food readily.

4. Great way to try new things.

Lastly, it’s a great experimental ground to try out new things. Things that you thought of doing but never did them because you don’t know what to expect or if you would like the changes. Things that you never thought of doing but thought they might be worth a try. You can easily embark yourself on new, even radical, activities with this day trial. Since you are not committed to sticking to the activity beyond 21 days, you can easily chuck them aside afterward if you don’t like them. It’s as simple as that :)

The most important thing is that you try the activity for yourself before you conclude it’s not for you.  Many people often declare ‘This is totally not for me’ before they even try something. I hear this a lot when people learn some of things I do, such as eating vegan, eating raw vegan (since last month), waking at 5am, and so on, even though they have never tried them before. The 21-Day trial has allowed me to try out interesting things and pick up extremely good habits along the way. The whole point is to experience it for yourself, because you never know how it is like until you try it. There are really upsides and no downsides to it – you get to train your self-discipline, you try out something new, and you have real evidence to support your decision not to do something. If you don’t like it, there’s no need to continue it beyond the 21 days. It can quickly get really fun and addictive because there is a whole buffet of things which you can try just for the experience :D .

Terms of the 21-Day Trial

There is only one simple term of this trial. You must perform that activity every day, without fail, for 21-days. If you do happen to slip in one of the days before the trial is up, you need to redo it all over, starting from day one. No exceptions allowed. Breaking it for 1-day will affect your experience of the activity and that subsequently clouds your findings and conclusions. As mentioned in the beginning of the article, it takes 21-days for our brains to fully develop a new habit. If you want to do this, do it well and do it right!

Success of the trial is measured by your ability to stick with the activity for 21 consecutive days, which means you would have developed it into a habit by then. Your conclusions on whether you want to continue the habit depends on whether you think whether you are better off with or without this habit.

Success Strategies

I have found the following are great ways to ensure the success of the 21-day trial:

1. Do proper research.

Spend some time learning about the activity you are taking on before hand. Learn about some of the common barriers people face when trying to do it, whether they are successful and key watchouts on your end. Craft your strategy and do up an action plan to counter those issues so you will not be caught like a deer in the headlines when you face them later on. Having a proper plan ups your success rate significantly.

2. Try out the activity for a couple of days before the trial.

This lets you get a hang of what it is like and lets you prepare for what’s up ahead for the 21 days.

3. Spend a day or two to mentally prepare yourself before the trial.

Mentally prepare yourself for the upcoming 21 days ahead – This sets you in the right mood for success. During this time, you can either (1) start picking up the activity in a smaller magnitude, as a way of creating a momentum or (2) do the complete opposite of what you need to do, ad nauseam, as a way of creating a propelling force. For example when I recently went raw vegan, I spent the evening before that eating all the cooked / processed food which I had some craving for. This was to kill off whatever last remnants of attachments I had with unraw food so I could embark on the trial with a full burst of energy and no distractions. It worked out really great – I got really sick of cooked food after that evening and went into the raw vegan diet easily. It was only toward the end of the first week when the cravings for cooked food started coming back in, but by then I was already raw for a week and the momentum to continue the habit was already in place, so I eventually pulled through with the trial with success.

4. Track your progress for the 21 days.

Write out all the 21 days on a chart pasted on the wall, a white board, your desktop wallpaper, etc. This needs to be in a place which is constantly in your line of vision so that you are always reminded of your obligation to stick with the trial. When you successfully finish a day, cross out the day. This creates a form of instant gratification for your hard work for the day and pushes you on to do the same for the next.

I have a white board in my room which I use for this purpose, among others. When I embark on a 21-day trial, I write out the 21 days out on the board and cross each day out whenever I am done with it. I also have a header specifying the trial I’m doing and which day I’m at (Day #__). Whenever I see the number of days I have done, it reminds me of how far I’ve come and motivates me to move forward with it.

5. One at a time.

When doing the 21-day trial, make sure you are not so heavily tied up that it prevents you from committing to the trial. I often tell my clients it’s best to focus on a goal at a time in order to reap the most benefits. When you have the foundations for the first goal in place, you can then move on to the next one. When you have integrated the second goal, then you work on the third goal. And the fourth goal. Etc. Work only on multiple new goals simultaneously if you have the capacity to handle them. It is pointless to try all your goals at once if you have not developed the capacity to handle them – everything will crumble. Slow progress is better than no progress.

6. Write out affirmations.

Write out positive affirmations in the form of your activity and stick them in a prominent place. The affirmations should be written in a manner as if you are already doing them now. For example, if you are planning to wake up at 6am, write the affirmation as ‘I wake up at 6am every day’ and not ‘I am going to wake up at 6am every day’. The former sends the signal to your subconsciousness that you ARE already doing it right now and it reinforces a successful 21-day ahead of you.

What to Expect in the 21 Days

Week 1 Induction.

Week 1 is when you are moving fast speed ahead. The best way to have a fast and easy start in week one is via generating momentum in the first few days before the trial (see above, Tip #3 for success).

Week 2 Resistance.

In week 2, you generally face the biggest challenge of the trial (this is also dependent on the magnitude of your activity). You will start experiencing resistances of different sorts that attempt to pull you back to your previous lifestyle. If you have prepared your action plan well, you would be able to overcome these resistances with minimal effort.

Week 3 Integration.

This is the stage of the flow, when the activity starts becoming commonplace in your life. Even though it’s just been 2 weeks since embarking on this habit, the time from before the trial probably seems pretty distant to you by now. If you had previously procrastinated on this for a while, you will probably be wondering why it even took you so long to get this going, because everything seems so easy and natural. By now, you should be clearly noticing benefits from sticking to this habit, if there are benefits and if you haven’t already noticed them.  If you have gotten this far, congratulations! You are already on your way to full integration with this habit. :D

My 21-Day Trials

I have done a series of trials before, including the ones below. Most of them started out as a genuine curiosity to experience how life would be like doing them and ended up as permanent habits because of the tremendous benefits I got out of them. This goes back to the fourth benefit of the trial program – it’s a great opportunity to just experiment and try different things. :D You never know what comes out of it!

List of Habits

Here are some examples of activities and habits you can try out for the 21-day trial:

  • Sleeping at X timing every day
  • Waking at X timing every day
  • Waking up early (5am)
  • Reaching work early
  • Sleeping X hours a day
  • Spending a cap of X hours at work (for the workaholics)
  • Exercising: Going to the gym, Swimming, Jogging, Tennis, etc
  • Going to work on time
  • Not being exposed to mass media (TV, newspapers, radio)
  • Cutting out junk food (fast food, fried food, etc)
  • Cutting out chocolate and candy
  • Drinking 8 glasses of water
  • Being a vegetarian
  • Being a vegan
  • Being a raw vegan (only fresh fruits, fresh vegetables and raw nuts)
  • Quitting soda drinks
  • Quitting caffeine (e.g. soda, coffee and tea)
  • Meditating
  • Polyphasic sleep
  • Having a good posture
  • Loving yourself
  • Showing love and kindness to at least 1 person
  • Sticking to your skincare regimen
  • Making a new friend every day
  • Connecting with your parents
  • Better oral care: Brushing and Flossing your teeth
  • Reading a book
  • Listening to podcasts
  • Doing work on time
  • Not cracking your knuckles
  • Not grinding your teeth (including eating ice)
  • Not cursing
  • Not complaining
  • Not gossiping about others
  • Not criticizing or judging others
  • Checking email only once a day (for those who have a habit of checking emails incessantly)
  • Cutting out fried, fatty food in your diet (for those who have unhealthy diets)
  • Not biting your nails (for those who bite their nails)
  • Quitting smoking (for smokers)
  • Not playing games at all (for gaming addicts)

Try them on in your life and see how it works out. The key is to do them one by one, integrate them into your life fully before going to the next on the list. If you have too many trials and you are not sure which one to start, pick the ones that correspond to the Quadrant 2 activities.

Before you know it, 21-days will be over and you would have a new experience to take away from it! :D By then, you can always be free to continue the activity then or discontinue it and move on to developing other habits.

This is part of the Cultivate Good Habits Series. Be sure to check out the full series:

  1. 21 Days To Cultivate Life Transforming Habits
  2. 21-Day Lifestyle Revamp Program
  3. 14 Tips To Successfully Cultivate New Habits (exclusive article in Personal Excellence Book, Volume 2)
  4. Waking Early21 Tips To Wake Up Early
  5. Quitting Soda5 Reasons To Quit Drinking Soda (& How To Do It)
  6. Improve Your PostureBenefits Of A Good Posture (& 13 Tips To Do It)
  7. Be TV-Free: 10 Reasons You Should Stop Watching TV
  8. Being On Time17 Tips To Be On Time
  9. Meditation10 Reasons You Should Meditate | How To Meditate in 5 Simple Steps
  10. Manage Emails Effectively11 Simple Tips To Effective Email Management
  11. Run Barefoot: 10 Reasons You Should Start Running Barefoot
  12. Weight Loss: 25 Of My Best Weight Loss Tips
  13. Emotional EatingHow To Stop Emotional Eating (6-part series)
  14. Better Oral CareHow To Attain Healthier Gums and Teeth – A Simple but Important Guide

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  • http://simplified1.wordpress.com Chris

    Hey Celes,

    I just wanted to thank you for the great advise. The 21 day program is one of the best ideas I’ve ever heard of. I am on my walk to a more simplified life and have recently started my own blog http://simplified1.wordpress.com (hopefully one day I can have you on). I started this blog so others can follow along in my journey and possibly learn from my mistakes. I just wanted you to know that you have been such an inspiration. Thank you! :wink:

  • http://alexi788.skyrock.com alexis

    YES! I DID IT!
    Just so happy today, because I’ve just finished my first 21 day trial : At least 20 minutes of meditation per day and I’m going to continue meditating because the benefits are so great… What’s good about the 21 day trial is at the end of it, it takes as much psychological effort to continue the habit as it takes to brush your teeth or take a bath :)
    Next 21 day trial : Commiting 30 minutes a day to find my life purpose :)

  • http://shulouto.blogspot.com Sam

    Hi Celestine, stumble upon your blog few months back, very inspiring stories. These my second attempt on the 21 days habit program. The first attempt was to wake up on time. I did it by telling myself i m gonna wake up on time for the next 21 days without tracking and strong determination. In the end I only manage to do it once or twice and it went out of my mind thereafter.

    This time round, i wrote an article on my blog and declare to track and update it for the next 21 days. it’s a MUST work for me!

    Thanks for creating all these valuable articles ! Cheers

  • Azrim Giab

    Good article. I have accomplished the following using your methodology.
    1. Gave up desserts
    2. Gave up Soda
    3. Drinking 4 bottles of water a day
    4. Doing atleast 50 pushups a day
    5. Cook nutritious food on the weekends instead of eating out.
    6. No Junk food…. Ever.

    Now if only I can start the “wake up at 5 am everyday instead of 6″