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  • Matthew Young

The Power of 30 Days

I’ve seen it happen countless times. When guests would come and stay at our cospaces in Thailand, the difference between the experience of a 3 day guest versus a 1 month guest was profound. The latter would become our repeat visitors and dear friends, seasonally coming to stay with us for longer and longer durations. When we gathered a group of strangers together for 30 day residences at Experience House, the transformations and relationships formed were astounding. It would be far too easy to sit here and say “trust me, I’ve experienced it for myself”. But that really doesn’t answer the question I receive all the time;

“Why are your events 30 days long? Why not a week or a weekend?”

There’s never been a good answer or an explanation for the power of 30 days. So I thought I’d do a little research and pinpoint what it is about this chunk of time that has such an impact on us as humans. To start, we need to design the container.

There’s a clear start and end point

The power of a container is everything. I often use the fish tank metaphor when describing what we do in that our job is to ensure the ecosystem we’ve built is designed for human thriving. Is the temperature alright? Things are clean? Enough food to go around? All the little fish are getting along? They have ample Wifi? Great. The basics are there. Now let's set this container up.

Opening the Container

To kick off any event, it’s most important to focus on its purpose. As Priya Parker writes about in her book The Art Of Gathering, before you gather, you should be crystal clear about why you’re meeting. You may think you know why you’re meeting, but Parker says: “A category is not a purpose.” In other words, a purpose is not: “I’m getting married” or “I’m hosting a meeting about our new product release.”

Parker urges readers to get really specific about what they want to accomplish and achieve through a gathering. She says: “drill baby drill” — ask “why?” until you find an articulation of what you truly need to accomplish. By doing this, you will move from a “basic, boring purpose” to one that is “specific, unique, and disputable.”

“The purpose of your gathering is more than an inspiring concept. It is a tool, a filter that helps you determine all the details, grand and trivial.”  — Priya Parker

Closing The Container

As the old adage goes, all good things must come to an end. Just as there are plenty of reasons our events are not less than 30 days, they are also never any longer. Why’s that? A sense of “too much of a good thing” does set in after a while, and putting a hard stop at the end of the event creates an opportunity to close it out with a bang.

Parker urges us to think carefully about how our gatherings end so they don’t peter out with a whimper. “Close with a closing,” she says. She tells us never to start a meeting with logistics and we shouldn’t close with them either.

“A good and meaningful closing doesn’t conform to any particular rules or form. It’s something you have to build yourself, in keeping with the spirit of your gathering, in proportion to how big a deal you want to make of it.”  — Priya Parker

Space to Create Habits

Now that we’ve set off with a purpose and defined the start and the finish, we design the intent of the 30 days. A lot of people view this time as an opportunity to create new habits. Write in the mornings, meditate, exercise, etc. I will say that from my experience, too much intentionality puts pressure on yourself to keep up with all your goals. I am more in favor of

James Clear’s book Atomic Habits that says goals are problematic because they are binary, you either obtain the goal, or you don't. You either ran the marathon or you didn't. You either lost 50 lbs or you didn't. You either made $100,000 or you didn't.

In this way, a goal can punish you even if you achieved the desired lifestyle (becoming fit, financial security, etc.). In short, you can be more successful than ever and still feel like a failure.

That sucks.

My view is always that of spaciousness, openness, and surrender. What do I mean by that? I mean givinging myself the time and the space to explore my desired outcomes while staying open to their evolution. They may change over time or new ones may form. Then surrendering to the process, and trusting that this new behavior will lead to unexpected and potentially greater results later down the road.

Identity > Habits

Habits are all about identity. Marathon runners show up every day because they view themselves as runners. Wealthy people invest in the stock market because they view themselves as investors. Songwriters create music because they view themselves as musicians.

It's your identity that allows you to confront the inevitable challenges that arise when mastering something. One exercise from the book is to simply ask yourself if your desired identity lines up with your actions. For example, if you go to a fridge and see cake, you can ask yourself:

"Would a healthy person eat this?"

It's easier to change a habit if you try to emulate someone else.

The 21 days to form a habit myth

If no one has broken the news to you yet, sorry to say that new habits can not be formed in 21 days. This idea originated from a plastic surgeon in the 50’s named Maxwell Maltz who reported in the book Psycho-Cybernetics that his patients took 21 days to start feeling comfortable in their new face. The results were clearly miss interpreted and became the base of many self help books over the next several decades.

The truth is, it takes more than 2 months before a new behavior becomes automatic — 66 days to be exact. Phillippa Lally is a health psychology researcher at University College London. In a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, how long it takes a new habit to form can vary widely depending on the behavior, the person, and the circumstances. In Lally's study, it took anywhere from 18 days to 254 days for people to form a new habit.

Where does that leave us? I find that 30 days is the right amount of time to explore new habits. Like a test drive, if it takes 66 days to create a real one, our container can get you halfway there. More importantly, by dedicating a 4 week period of your life to experimentation, you can leave knowing that you’re onto something. Maybe you don’t want to exercise every morning, maybe a few times a week is fine.

The trick is by placing yourself in a new environment, and keeping an open mind, you’ll be surprised what transformations can take place and stick with you once you leave.

30 day challenges

There’s a reason why 30 day challenges are so popular, and not 5. They follow all the same rules as our containers do. There’s a clear start, and finish, it’s measurable, and we can pivot during them to ultimately create or lose the habits we want. Do they actually work though? The answer is yes and no. The challenge in and of itself may not yield the promised results, such as six-pack abs, but the act of practicing a new behavior daily can help you develop better habits.

Whatever habit you'd like to make—diet, exercise, skincare, meditation, gratitude, etc.—you are likely to find a 30-day challenge for it. Here are 30 examples of 30 day challenges if you’re on the hunt.

There are two basic types of 30-day challenges: ones that introduce and strengthen new habits over the month and ones that offer something unique to try each day. Both can be effective ways to start a new healthy habit.

Given that it takes an average of 66 days to make a new habit, doing a 30-day challenge isn’t a guarantee that a new behavior will become part of your life. Committing to a 30-day challenge has three main benefits:

  • It provides the boost you may need to get started making a change.

  • Once started, the daily repetition boosts momentum to implement the desired change consistently.

  • As you keep going, achieving small successes can help motivate you to keep going.

Suffice to say, any challenge that’s less than 30 days can feel rushed or forced. We’ll desire too many outcomes and sprint through it, leaving us pretty drained on the other side. Seeing as we’ve designed our entire calendar around 4 week periods of time. It’s a pretty easy metric to work with.

Now that we’ve talked about the individual power of 30 days. Let’s take it up a level now and explore what happens as a group.

Meaningful Relationship Building

Work was a place where we all used to build some of our closest relationships outside of our families, but that is changing. As we’ve seen in recent studies, there is a serious crisis of connection today, and it’s having an effect on everything from employee happiness and wellbeing to organizational attraction and retention.

Feeling connected at work is a factor of both quality and quantity of relationships. People have reported that both have been in decline. A study by BetterUp, found people need to have relationships with five friendly colleagues at work to feel connected, and they require seven to really feel they belong.

When people were more connected, they reported 91% more personal growth and 101% more professional growth.

Friends provide feedback and coaching, and they are those from whom you can learn. They share information about new opportunities and encourage you to reach for new levels of career growth.

Employers also benefit when employees have stronger connections at work. In fact, when they do, organizations tend to have 32% higher overall ratings on Glassdoor, as well as 14 times more likelihood to be a top place to work. They also benefit from a 25% greater likelihood of employees saying they would recommend the company to a friend.

In times of low unemployment and challenges with attraction and retention, these kinds of returns are significant.

How long it takes to make friends

University of Kansas researcher Jeffrey A. Hall has helped demystify the process of friendship-building in a studypublished in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. Unsurprisingly, the more time two people spend together, the closer their relationship. Through his analysis, Hall was able to approximate how many hours it took for different levels of friendship to emerge:

  • It takes students 43 hours and adults 94 hours to turn acquaintances into casual friends.

  • Students need 57 hours to transition from casual friends to friends. Adults need, on average, 164 hours.

  • For students, friends became good or best friends after about 119 hours. Adults need an additional 100 hours to make that happen.

“Everyone wants to have friends, but you can’t have friends without making them,” says Hall. “Making friends takes time.”

If you’re doing the math, it takes adults 258 hours to move from an acquaintance to a friend. Over the course of 30 days, that would come down to 8.6 hours per day. So in a traditional office setting, that’s a pretty standard amount of time to be with your colleagues. Meaning that after one month working with someone, you got yourself a friend!

Now that we’re all remote, that number has plummeted as our interactions are reduced to messaging or virtual meetings. Even if we spend 1 hour a day casually interacting online, it would take almost 9 months to move into the friend zone. (The friend zone is a good thing in this context by the way.)

To Clarify, I am not advocating for the return to the office movement. On the contrary, I am very remote first. But that doesn’t mean we can ignore this issue. I am advocating for a third option, one where teams dedicate 30 days to forming these connections, essentially hacking the system and seeing the benefits of both sides of the issue. Staying remote while intentionally gathering.

Community as a method in mental health

The final factor here can be a bit meta, so I’ll ask you to zoom out now. We have a group of individual people committed to a set amount of time to work on themselves. By sharing space, time and resources, they are organically connecting and supporting each other in their own progress. Now we have momentum, there’s a buzz in the room and everyone is feeling the movement forming. All that’s left now is to scale up and decide, what are we doing as a group? What is our intention of being together?

What do you call a group of people that work together to achieve shared goals by sharing space, resources and time? Ding ding ding, a community. The most profound thing I have witnessed is this- there is a healing that comes from being in community. It's extremely simple and all natural. No need for prescription medicines our soul searching retreats to the Amazon. We evolved in tribes, we thrive in tribes.

“Community as a method” means that the community is both context and mediator for individual change and social learning. Its membership establishes expectations or standards of participation in the community. It assesses how individuals are meeting these expectations and respond to them with strategies that promote continued participation.

Community, the Individual, and the Process of Change

Everyone uses the expectations and context of their community to change and learn. Living up to the expectations of their community requires that an individual continually change their behaviors, attitudes, and emotional management. Conversely, avoidance of, or difficulties in living up to community expectations can also result in an individual’s growth through continual self-examination, re-motivation to engage in trial and error learning, and re-committing to the process of change. Thus, the drive to cohere to what the community expects for participation compels residents to pursue personal goals of psychological growth and socialization. The whole process can be summed up in the phrase: if you participate, then you will change.

This is what we do, we build communities. And we do it in 30 days. Don’t believe me yet? Dear friend, I invite you to see it for yourself. Our programs are designed just for you. By building community amongst your remote team, you are ultimately developing a well oiled machine. One that builds upon itself from the inside out. If you can’t see the ROI in that, then we’re probably not the group for you. I cherish the communities I’ve built over the years, and wouldn't trade the memories for anything. The power of 30 days for a group of people and individuals in our containers is one of the most remarkable things I've witnessed in my life.

And I live to show you what it can do.

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