by Catherine McNeill

After graduating from CiPP and completing my Coaching certification, I was keen to start working on boosting my happiness. For about three months I was good at it, too, doing regular SPIRE check-ins, adding positivity boosters to my days, and planning creative, soul-driven personal projects. Then came the Project from Hell at work. As this project careened along for the next few months, my carefully constructed positivity schedule slid off the table while my workdays got longer, I got crankier, and my positive motivation slipped away. I was overwhelmed, tired, and frustrated that my best intentions seemed to be continually overwritten by other more pressing, proximate “priorities.”

Around this time, a good friend and coworker was dealing with similar challenges. He had projects he wanted to pursue to be happier but, like me, was having a hard time actually doing them with a busy work life and young family. One day at lunch, we were talking about what I had learned at CiPP and our mutual frustration with not doing the positive activities we wanted to do—and our very first 30-Day Challenge was born. We agreed to set objectives for our focus during the month, and first up was adding small positivity boosters to our days. We decided on a daily check-in e-mail to report our progress, support and encourage each other, and ask for help when we needed it. In a few lines, we would talk about what we had done towards our goals the previous day, good things that happened, any challenges we encountered, plus something positive to consider for the day ahead. Often this took the form of a short “ideal life” story, which is essentially the writing exercise created by Laura A. King that Tal taught in CiPP.

We are now in the midst of our 44th consecutive 30-Day Challenge—almost four years’ worth! In that time, we’ve celebrated novels written, yoga teacher trainings completed, significant weight sustainably lost, family relationships enriched, academic degrees attained, and major lifestyle changes adopted. We still follow fundamentally the same format of daily e-mail check-ins. Every 30 days, we review and reassess our goals, celebrating what we accomplished and deciding what to do for the next challenge. We had no idea when we started this process that it would become a scaffold supporting the lives we want to create. Now we can’t imagine our lives without it.

Early in a challenge, we tend to be motivated and engaged, but the gold is often midway through, when we’re no longer “high” on the novelty of our new goals and we may be tempted to pack it in because we’re “too busy” or it seems “too hard.” Here is where an accountability buddy is so valuable—to reflect back to you why you’re doing this in the first place, to remind you of the progress you have already made, to pick you up when you’re down, and to give you a gentle push when you need it. Knowing you have to come up with positive things to report in your check-in keeps you more aware of making progress and of noticing the good things in your day.

The research supports our approach. In her article “Forget Mentors, Find an Accountability Partner,” published on Susan Cain’s site “The Quiet Revolution,” workplace strategy expert Leigh Stringer cites research by social psychologist Robert Cialdini and Tim Church, MD, professor of preventative medicine at Pennington Biomedical Research Center, showing that having a friend work with you on your goals is one of the best ways to motivate change.

Want to try a 30-Day Challenge with the support of an accountability buddy? Here’s what to do:

1. Ask a trusted friend, family member, or co-worker if they are willing to be your accountability buddy.

2. Talk together about your goal(s) for the month. You can each have different ones. Don’t make it too big—one goal is good to start.

3. Be specific about what actions you will take to meet your goal(s). Help each other come up with action steps. Consider asking, “from 1 to 10, how likely am I to do this action?” Anything less than an 8, and that step is too large. Break it down.

4. Set a regular check-in schedule and decide on your format (daily, every few days, or weekly, via a quick chat, e-mail, or text message).

5. At the end of 30 days, celebrate your progress! Review what didn’t work, obstacles, challenges, and what you might like to do differently next time.

6. Repeat with the same goal, or come up with new ones that resonate with you.

Want to try a 30-Day Practice with the support of WBI faculty? Find out more.


Catherine McNeill is a graduate of and Teaching Assistant for the Wholebeing Certificate in Positive Psychology course. She has worked for 20 years in Financial Services IT in a variety of consulting and management roles. Also certified as a Positive Psychology Coach, she coaches individuals and groups in corporate and other settings in the areas of navigating transitions, holistic wellness, creating healthier relationships, and building more “human” working environments.