Results of self-improvement: 30-day challenge finish


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Katie Whaley

After 30 days at attempting two new, positive habits and eliminating a bad one, I have discovered more about myself and about habits as a whole.
My 30-day challenge had three components, which I explained in-depth 30 days ago at the beginning of the challenge here. I wanted to start using a planner every day, read for at least 20 minutes every day and spend less time on my phone, specifically not going on it first thing in the morning. There was no goal to accomplishing these tasks; I only wanted to work toward a general path of self-improvement in small ways.

The easiest of the three tasks was, surprisingly, to utilize my planner. Throughout my entire public school education, I have always neglected my planners, opting to instead rely on my memory. Additionally, randomly beginning to organize my schoolwork in the January of my senior year seems ridiculously futile.
At first, it was tedious and irritating to sit down and force myself to write everything down. Yet, in less than a week, the undertaking proved helpful and necessary. Every day, without fail, I updated my planner, inking every box available with assignments, important dates and reminders for myself. It was easier to keep track of which college scholarships I still needed to write, which days I was traveling to visit colleges and whether my priorities for that night needed to be schoolwork or college prep.
Now I can’t help but feel regret that I had scoffed at such a useful organizer for 12 years. As I develop my organization further; however, I am better preparing myself for college. I feel reassured going to college now that I am more confident in keeping track of my life.
As for reading, I am bewildered as to why completing 20 minutes of reading every day was harder than I initially thought. When I came up with the idea, I was excited. I love to read. It’s something that brought me here: to a passion for writing. If anything were going to happen for these 30 days, I thought it would be me disregarding my homework to read more. But that never happened.
Instead, I forgot about it. For the first week of the challenge, I was so focused on my schoolwork —thanks to my handy planner— I didn’t think once about picking up a book. By the second week, I finally remembered and did my best to incorporate reading into my daily schedule. For the first few days, I pushed reading off 

until the end of the night, prioritizing academics and shoving reading to the backburner. In the afternoon, I would reason with myself, saying I would stay up 20 more minutes no matter how tired I was from working because I love to read.  
But boy was I wrong.
At the end of the night, when I was tremendously tired from studying for statistics or writing an article for Bearing News, I told myself it was best to go to bed and get as much sleep as possible. I didn’t realize I was
 doing this until I took the book I was in the middle of on a car trip and realized I hadn’t read a single page of it since winter break. When I could visibly see how little I had done, I realized I needed to be stricter with myself. 
From that day forward, I started my afternoon with 20 minutes of reading. Though it was difficult to put reading before my more crucial assignments, it was rewarding to engross myself into an enjoyable storyline and fall in love with reading all over again. I finished “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas —which was amazing and way better than the overhyped movie— and got 100 pages into Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenhiet 451.” No, I technically did not pass the challenge for reading, but from what I did, I feel content with. I hope to continue reading more in the future and not let myself forget what I love.
For my third part of the challenge, the difficulty increased even more. I wanted to wake up and not go on my phone, specifically social media, the first thing in the morning. Implementing this rule would keep me from wasting perfectly great sleeping time by scrolling through Instagram and ensuring the first interaction I had with another person that day was a face-to-face one.

Some mornings, I could hit snooze a few more times and get up without touching my device at all. Other mornings, I relapsed to my old habits and found myself deep within my explore page before even considering getting out of bed. There were no patterns or ways to predict which days I would succeed and which days I would not.
From taking Advanced Placement Psychology, I know bits and pieces about operant conditioning, dealing with positive and negative reinforcements and how the brain responds to reward, but nothing specifically about why I was sporadically failing to stay off my phone. I, of course, turned to Google for answers.
I found an article that described the psychology and biology behind habits. Rewards reinforce behavior; knowing that studying for a test will get one an A, one will study for tests to ensure he or she receives that reward. That logic explains why using my planner and reading was easy for me to implement, as my brain releases dopamine, a chemical messenger in the brain that facilitates the connections between actions and rewards, whenever I receive the reward.
Similarly, when I go on social media, my brain also releases dopamine, and I associate social media with feeling good, which is why the habit of going on my phone first thing in the morning is a difficult habit to break. The prefrontal cortex in the brain controls this urge; its job is to keep track of current situations, planning and goals. To discontinue a bad habit, I learned one needs to activate another section of his or her brain and override the habitual tendencies of the prefrontal cortex. Physical reminders can help one overcome bad routines, as external cues lesson the burden of the prefrontal cortex to think about the change of routine. For instance, I could bring a different wallet shopping to remember I am trying to not spend a lot 
of money.
A physical reminder was something I was missing for these 30 days. If I had put a paper crane on top of my phone at night, in the morning I would have remembered to not go on it. Or if I had charged my phone in a different place at night. If I try another 30-day challenge, I will add a physical cue for any negative habit I was trying to break because that is what I was missing in this one.
In the future, I am positive I will continue to use my planner, as I have been satisfied with all the ease it has brought me these past few weeks. I want to maintain my daily reading, but I am unsure if I will adhere to it strictly. Though I enjoy reading for pleasure, I do not have much time to spare for it. For my phone, I fear I am too attached to it. I may try my paper crane strategy to see if it would remind me not to use it in the morning, but I am unsure how great that strategy will be.
In all, this 30-day challenge was half a huge success and half failure. Now, however, I know my strengths and weaknesses in habit building and breaking. If I try another challenge, I have confidence that I will end with better results.
If you did a 30-day challenge, what would it be? Comment below!