Developing Better Habits: A 30-Day Method that Sticks

How to Improve Habits in a Month and Make Them Stick (and 8 Takeaways)

Note: this is a repost from July 2015, but I have done this experiment dozens of times since then. I love it, and I hope you will too.

Developing better habits isn’t easy. What works for one will not work for others. But, here’s a 30-day method that can help make your habits stick. In the hopes of improving my own, I decided to do a social experiment during the month of July.

Mainly because I saw myself as having pretty terrible habits.

If this is something you can identify with, I’d love to hear about your habits. Information on this topic abounds, but this 30-day method was easy to follow. And it helped make my habits stick in just a month. 30 days is all you need.

Here’s how it went for me and why I wanted to change my habits in the first place.

I got the idea from a number of places. Some inspirations include my older brother Josh, and Jerry Seinfeld. Others include writers who talk habits on podcasts like I Should be Writing and The Creative Penn.

How To Develop Better Habits

The idea is that you pick one habit that you’d like to develop, improve, or change. Make the habit small and attainable. If you want to write more and you’re writing 0 words a day, don’t set your daily goal to 3,000. Going from zero to hero won’t work. Instead, start small, do your best to accomplish the goal you set for yourself, and work up from there.

In June, I had to get my tonsils out and knew I’d be taking two weeks off from work. I knew I needed recovery time. But I thought once the pain and medications wore off, I’d be able to write a little bit. I was going to be blessed with more free time, and I was so happy.

Time, a Fickle Beast

This realization came to me in the seventeen days I was recovering. I kept counting down the days. As though returning to my job at school was worse than my stitches ripping open inside my mouth and me bleeding for 6+hours until the nurses could stop it (this happened). Anyway, I wouldn’t have my time anymore. The more I counted down and anticipated my return, the more time slipped away. Time passed and I began to realize it wasn’t just about time anymore. I knew I needed to make a change in the way that I was viewing time.

X Marks the Spot

I wanted to accomplish four goals during the month of July for after I was back at work.  The rules were this: draw an X through each day where you succeed in the goal/habit you set for yourself. Never miss a day. If you do, never miss two days in a row.

Note: you will need a physical calendar for this. Buy one, or you can print any month of the year (and customize them) for free at

This is something Jerry Seinfeld did early in his career. He told himself he needed to write a joke every day. His goal was feasible and measurable. Write one joke a day, that’s it.

Goals that Create Habits, & Habits that Create Goals

The 4 goals I set for myself were:

  1. Write at least 100 words a day. This is easily attainable and not such a big jump from my typical schedule of going days without writing anything. I always thought I’d need to sit down and pump out a chapter. Because that was always such a discouraging thought, I never got around to it at all! Sheesh!
  2. Do yoga everyday for at least ten minutes. I want to be more flexible and work on different breathing techniques. Yoga with Adriene on YouTube is one channel I love.
  3. Meditate every day for at least ten minutes. That was the big one. I was spending so much of my days thinking, waking up tired, and going to bed awake. I’d get a lot of messages before bed, (13-hour time difference), which meant I was on my phone a lot. I wanted to respond to messages as soon as I got them (thanks OCD). Before I knew it I was spending large chunks of time on my phone and not really accomplishing anything. I wanted to start mediating to be more mindful so I could have better peace of mind. My sleep patterns were affecting me. Two great meditation apps I can highly recommend are Headspace and Calm. Although I’ve recently broken up with the former for the latter.
  4. Read one chapter of a book every day. I needed to pair this with my writing so I could nourish my brain with more imagery and imagination. I think reading is one of the best things we can do to improve ourselves and increase our knowledge.

The Results

I am not totally proud to say that I did miss two days in a row for some things. But it was a really fun exercise. I find myself more aware, more alert, on my phone less, and writing and reading more. I’d like to say the X trick had a lot to do with it. Getting myself to strike a line through a day does something for me, I think.

I guess it’s not really a social experiment except in that I was maybe less social. Though I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

8 Takeaways

  1. Time is amorphous, but saying you don’t have enough time is just an excuse to yourself. If you want to do things like write, and make time for important things, you will. Every great writer, artist, and athlete, innovator, and entrepreneur has.
  2. It’s not about being perfect. I did 30 days of yoga with Adriene, and I really loved her approach to yoga. That is: non-judgmental (because I’m pretty new to yoga), encouraging, and down-to-earth. Even though she could crush all the forms, she didn’t pressure me to. It is okay to be imperfect and human.
  3. Breathing exercises can make you more mindful, and connect you to the world around you more intimately. I focused on my breath, sat and observed things without trying to change them. In this way, I found myself more relaxed and almost all of my problems with falling asleep went away.
  4. Being on my phone without purpose is a waste of time. I set aside times of the day to specifically be on my phone. That way, I could respond to messages. Other times I could just put it away and not look at it. Using airplane mode to reduce distractions is also a great idea.
  5. There are so many small pieces of the day where you can get things done. It didn’t matter if I was on the train, bus, on my lunch break, or waking up early before school. The important thing was I could put an X through my calendar, and free time up later in my day.
  6. It’s not always about the result. When I first started mediating using I almost always wanted to get an immediate benefit. I wanted answers or better sleeping habits or to be as calm and as wise as the Dalai Lama. Of course, this was not at all reasonable. Instead, it was better to focus on improving my day-to-day, rather than expecting results all at once.
  7. Being mindful and aware is not only for you. Meditation taught me that these practices aren’t only beneficial for you, but for those around you. Being present and caring has a direct impact on the people you interact with on a daily basis.
  8. Set not only a goal, but also a purpose. Why did you show up to the yoga mat today? Why are you sitting on a couch for twenty minutes with your eyes closed, focusing on your breathing? Find out your purpose by asking the important questions. What do I want out of this? How can this help me? How can this help those around me? It can be something as simple as I want to smile more.

Post-Surefire-Method Musings

Having said all that, I think I’ve only scratched the surface. My habits are better because I have a regular schedule now, but they’ve still got a long ways to go. Time to set some for August. I want to continue meditation, and reading at least one chapter. Instead of doing yoga, I want to study Korean for at least 15 minutes a day.

As far as writing goes, I want to write 500 words since I was reaching that goal most days anyway. Though, if I had started off with that goal, I probably would have felt discouraged. The goals I set for myself would have felt overwhelming. That’s why it’s important to start slow and small or you’ll burn out.

Here’s one I did in January 2019 focusing on two habits: writing 300 words per day, and reading one chapter of a book.
You can do anywhere from one to four habits.
I don’t recommend doing more than four at a time.

What would you say are your best and worst habits? How do you go about developing better ones?

I’m always trying to learn more about this and change my ways.

Let me know in the comments.

Photo Credit:

Jared Rice