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It takes 30 days to build a habit. At least, that’s what most people believe. The exact number may actually be quite different. But a 30-day habit challenge actually makes sense. Here’s why.
It’s easier for us to keep track of 30 days because most months are that long. Last month I wrote about how a 30-day blogging challenge opened my eyes about habit building and goal setting. A dear friend commented that it would help if I could actually track my goals right here on the blog and I thought, hey! Why not? Remember, I’ve done it with ‘yelling less‘, after all.
So, that’s what I did. Since I was anyway reading Gretchen Rubin’s ‘The Happiness project’, I decided to go with her principle (and also that of Leo Babauta) of picking a single goal for 30 days and trying my best to stick with it.
My 30 day No-Gossip Challenge
We all gossip. Yes, you do. And I do. Or, at least I did until April 30th, 2017.
For most of us, gossip is that thing which breaks the ice, builds relationships, lets you vent and rant about people who have gotten on your nerves and let off steam about stressful situations.
Research claims that gossip is good for you, if you do it right. There’s an equal amount of research that suggests it is bad for you. Don’t believe me? Google ‘Why gossip is good for you’ or ‘Why gossip is bad for health’. Tell me the results that come back.
For the longest time, I believed ardently in the former. I told myself gossip was helping me cope, letting me face my demons and release pressure. Something happened in mid April to change my perspective about it, though.
During a casual dinner with friends, one of them remarked how something I’d said to her about a person (let’s call that person X) had completely changed her opinion about the person. Mind you, this wasn’t something X had confided in me. I don’t share secrets that people tell me in full confidence.
No, this was a public comment on a public platform by X, where I was targeted and I’d been upset by the way it had been framed against me. Everyone I knew had already seen it. Some of them were uncomfortably aware of the barbs directed at me. Naturally, I was hurt by X’s actions, but didn’t confront X about it. (That’s because I am terrible at confrontations).
When we are hurt, we react in a few different ways. We withdraw into a shell. We confide our feelings to close friends and confidants. We deal with the emotion of hurt for a while and then move on.
I had shared my feelings about X’s actions with this friend. I’d done it with the motive of ‘letting off steam’, to be honest. To be clear, I have nothing against X any more. We all make mistakes. We say things we don’t mean or we do things we regret.
But, that night, at that dinner, I was horrified to realise that my opinion of X had changed the way someone else perceived the person. That wasn’t just wrong. It was unnecessary.
In this case, I had unwittingly influenced a person’s point of view and I wasn’t happy about it. Not one bit.
That’s when I decided I would not gossip any more. Or at least, I would refrain from gossip for 30 days. By that, I meant I would not share anything negative/ talk ill of/ malign other people either online or offline. I wouldn’t rant or rave about them, in public or in private.
How hard could it be?
How I did it
If you are a blogger, writer, social media user, you probably know the answer to that question already. How hard? Turns out it’s extremely and excruciatingly hard!
How did I fare, then? Here’s what I did each time I felt compelled to share a juicy bit of information about someone. This is a mental checklist I used to confirm if it was really necessary to do so.
- Will this actually help another person? If not, don’t talk about it.
- Am I focusing on the negatives? If yes, look for the positive and don’t talk about the negatives.
- Am I talking about the person or talking about a circumstance? If the former, it’s gossip. If the latter, it’s empathy. That’s a crucial difference.
Every time I felt the need to pick up the phone or ping a close friend and say, ‘Hey you know what happened with X?’ I resolutely turned myself away from the temptation.
I reduced my time on Facebook. Through May, I posted all of 12 personal updates. If you know me, that’s a drastic change. I usually post 12 times a day, not 12 times a month.
I stopped engaging in contentious topics on social media. I will still talk about subjects where I hold strong views, but I will limit them to my blog. Why? On social media, people are instinctive. They (We) react almost on impulse. People who read a blog and leave comments usually take their time to be more circumspect in their opinions.
I took a couple of friends into confidence about my 30-day challenge. I told them that this was something I needed to do, as a way to change myself. They helped keep me in check.
What I learnt
At the end of 30 days, I’ve discovered a very interesting thing.
I am happier.
Thanks to not indulging in gossip, I am far more productive. I have time to engage in deep, thoughtful discussions with friends I value and care about.
Thanks to not ranting on social media, I use it now as a tool instead of an addiction. I’ve stopped scrolling to discover what’s the latest outrage item of the day.
Giving the other person the benefit of the doubt is one thing I’ve tried to do. Gossip used to defeat that intention. This month has brought me back on track.Self-awareness is something I’ve aimed to enhance and I’m hoping this habit has helped me on that path.
The reason for writing this post is not to pontificate on the idea that gossip is bad for you. Honestly, I still believe that some amount of gossip is good. But, the main takeaway I hope this conveys is that any bad habit can be broken in 30 days. All you need is the intention, the right motive and the accountability that will help you achieve your goal.
The really interesting challenge would be to see if I manage to sustain the no-gossip mode beyond this month. Spurred by the success, I am planning another 30-day challenge that begins tomorrow.
Why don’t you join in too?
Pick a goal, any goal, and stick to it for 30 days.
Who’s with me?
- If you are looking for a list of self-improvement goals for yourself, here’s a wonderful set of 15 unique goals by Jeff Boss.
*A great website for more such goals and pretty much anything related to habit building is Zen Habits by Leo Babauta
If you’re really interested in breaking a bad habit and building a new one, it’s important to understand that it doesn’t depend on willpower, but something deeper and more enduring.
I came across this book by James Clear and was blown away by the simplicity and effectiveness of his tips.
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