Before you can lead others, you must first be able to lead yourself. I’m going to share one of my favorite lead yourself first hacks. I won’t touch on the what of leading yourself, simply the how. There are plenty of people out there telling you to add this practice to your morning, or to do this one thing daily for instant success. This isn’t that kind of post. I don’t claim to have those kinds of answers.
I am, however, going to share the how with one of my favorite how techniques.
One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Luke 12:48 (NIV):
“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”
I don’t take this verse lightly. It’s the fuel to my constant push for personal improvement in the stewardship of all I’ve been entrusted with.
One thing I do to put this in practice is something I call the “30-day challenge.” The basic idea is to decide on a practice you want to commit to—whether it’s something you want to start doing or stop doing—and simply commit to doing it every day for 30 days. That’s it. 30 days.
There are several reasons why I like 30 days. First off, the commonly shared timeframe of taking 21 days to form a new habit, in my opinion, is far too short. Honestly, 30 days isn’t even long enough for most people, but it’s often long enough to decide if you want to continue the practice.
An important point to remember here is that the point of establishing a new practice or ritual in your life is not to start something for ritual’s sake, but to add a benefit or an improvement to your life. If your new habit or practice doesn’t deliver the desired benefit, stop doing it and try something else!
There’s no sense in doing something if it’s not yielding the benefits you’re after. It was Albert Einstein who shared the definition of insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”
If you don’t get the desired result, change your approach. And 30 days is the perfect amount of time to see if your approach is working, or if it’s time for a change.
Additionally, 30 days has a natural rhythm to it in the course of a calendar month. I like starting a new practice each month. I personally don’t even track the days of my challenge this way. I simply know that I started on the first day of the month and therefore know how many days in I am, how many I have left, and what my current “win” streak is as well. The calendar date shows me how far I’ve come and how far I have to go without any external tracking system needed.
So, let me tell you about one of my latest challenges and how it came to be.
I recently took Seth Godin’s altMBA course. It’s an intense, four-week sprint course for people who want to be effective leaders. When I received my orientation email, the schedule looked something like this:
Tuesday & Thursday evenings from 6-9 p.m. & Sundays from 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
Again, this was for four weeks in a row.
Seeing this, I had a “my wife is going to kill me” moment. We have four young kids (Noah, Aiden, Eli and Adele) and we were in the middle of selling, buying and moving homes during this same four-week time period. Being absent for three primetime “dad-timeslots” during the week for four weeks was not going to excite my wife about my altMBA experience (understandably so).
Not wanting to set off the volcano, I looked for an alternative and found out that the London cohort of the course met at the same time, except on London time. Therefore, their 6-9 p.m. slot was 1-4 p.m. New York time and their 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday slot was 4 a.m.-noon New York time. Perfect I thought, I’m in!
Now a part of the London cohort, I joined 25 other individuals, all from European and Middle Eastern countries.
One of my classmates was Sabastian. Sabastian lives in Germany and worked as a consultant for a number of years. As the consultant lifestyle goes, Sabastian worked 80+ hour weeks and was away from home Monday through Thursday. Each week, he’d return home for the weekend exhausted.
While on a vacation, as is typical for many European cultures, Sabastian’s wife hit him with something two weeks into the trip. She said, “You know Sabastian, you’re really a different person when we get away for a while.”
Not understanding what she exactly meant, Sabastian dug deeper (a true consultant he is).
Through the conversation, his wife shared that he was far more pleasant to be around, now two weeks into the trip, than he was a week ago and certainly than was typical in their everyday lives. He was happier, more joyful, more patient with his children, and a more loving husband.
Sabastian’s hypothesis to this change in his behavior was the additional two to three hours of sleep he was getting while on vacation. Rather than his traditional five to six hours of sleep per night, he had been averaging eight to nine hours. This piqued Sabastian’s interest in the study of sleep, setting him off on a several-year-long exploration, leading him to be a firm believer in the power of sleep.
Fast forward to my time with Sabastian as a classmate, the topic of sleep emerged.
I shared with my group that for years, I’ve been almost purposefully ignoring the trending topic idea of getting more sleep. I read Adriana Huffington’s Thrive years ago and dismissed the concepts as interesting and dreamy, thinking “oh sure, one day I’ll be able to sleep more, but not right now.” I felt the idea of being more productive after getting more sleep was nice in concept, but I don’t have time for that.
Appealing, nice in theory, but not for me. Not right now, at least. After all, I operate pretty well on six hours of sleep, right? I never feel tired. I’m happily married, my kids seem to like me, business is going pretty well, why rock the boat?
However, in my typical 30-day challenge style, I told my group I would commit to getting eight hours of sleep per night for the entire month of August. I’d go to bed when I went to bed and simply set the alarm for eight hours later. I felt challenged, but overall it was a pretty easy commit.
However, Sabastian fired back. He said, “I want to challenge you further, don’t set an alarm.”
Yikes! That one actually scared me. Don’t set an alarm? What if I sleep the day away (who am I kidding, I have four young kids!). What if I sleep nine or 10 hours?
Between balancing family time, running a company, buying/selling our home and taking this course, how am I supposed to risk losing one or two precious hours of the day?
However, the simple fact that the idea of no-alarm did indeed scare me was exactly what I needed to know that it was the right challenge. The fact that I was scared fired me up! So I committed.
Starting August 1, 2018, I completely banished an alarm clock. I left my phone charging in the kitchen at night and always went to bed around 9:30, plus or minus 30 minutes. I tried to always be off my computer by 8:45 and in bed reading by 9 p.m. to give myself 30 minutes of “wind down” time before lights out.
With that, I very consistently woke up 7.5 to 8 hours later, between 5 and 5:30 a.m., without an alarm. I followed this for 30 days, knowing that it may take some time for my body to catch up and feel truly rested once again.
Reporting back on the 30-day experiment, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the consistency my body has shown in the time it desires to rest each night. My mood has certainly been no worse and I like to think my focus and clarity of thought have been heightened.
With that, I decided to continue the challenge, enjoying the “sleep until I wake” idea.
And now, I encourage you. Find your 30-day challenge. What have you been wanting to do and have been putting off? What is tugging at you to add to your routine? Is it a meal routine? A new morning routine? Working out? Meditation? Sleep? A task system? A family ritual?
Whatever it is for you, give it a try. Set your 30-day challenge and go!
This article originally appeared here.