THE BLOG
10/22/2014 03:34 pm ET Updated Dec 22, 2014

6 Lessons I Learned From Finishing a 21-Day Habit Challenge

Tom Merton via Getty Images

Over the past few years, I've really focused on growing my financial planning practice, my blogs and my other online ventures.

After enrolling in a coaching program and talking with mentors and other successful entrepreneurs, I realized that successful people make strong positive habits part of their daily routine to help them achieve great things.

Dan Sullivan, the founder of the Strategic Coaching Program, developed what he calls the 21-day positive focus. The basic concept fairly simple: focusing for 21 days straight on one key habit that you want to either introduce into your life or get rid of.

I chose two habits to acquire -- doing push-ups and reading the Bible -- and started the 21-day habit challenge on my blog, hoping to inspire my readers to incorporate new positive habits into their daily lives, too. I was surprised at the results.

1. It's Possible

Many people want to do good things -- like working out, eating right or writing in their journals -- but instead, they just talk about them. My public commitment made my goals much more attainable, and having the clear idea that I was going to finish the 21 days or bust also helped make it possible. While some days were harder, I'm excited to say that I completed the 21-day habit challenge successfully.

2. Writing It Down Makes All the Difference

As part of the challenge, I had my readers print off the Bad Habit Destroyer worksheet. It's a simple PDF that has 21 boxes that were to be crossed off for each day that you accomplished your daily habit goal. This was huge for me.

Simply having to mark an X each day was a constant reminder to stay on point and finish this challenge. If it was late in the day and I was short on my push-up goal or hadn't read my Bible yet, I kept thinking about having to mark that X off, and it pushed me to get it done. What has since made incorporating those habits more effective is when I give myself a deadline during the day.

Science backs this, notes James Clear, who blogs about habit transformation and shared research that reveals a simple trick to double your chances of achieving any goal. In a study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology, researchers were trying to determine the most effective way to get people to work out. The study found motivation wasn't the largest factor for people to work out more; it was having a clear plan about when and where they were going to work out that had the most significant affect.

"Over 100 separate studies in a wide range of experimental situations have come to the same conclusion: people who explicitly state when and where their new behaviors are going to happen are much more likely to stick to their goals," he writes.

3. Why Didn't I Do It Sooner?

These habits are ones I could've easily integrated into my daily routine months, if not years, sooner. For whatever reason, I didn't. I'm now thankful that I went through the challenge, because I feel like I now have introduced positive habits in my life that I hope never go away. Is there something that you've been wanting to get started, there's not a better time than now. I love this quote from Zig Ziglar:

"You don't have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great."

4. Make It Public

Many people who joined the challenge were sharing what they were hoping to accomplish via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Any time you want to accomplish something new -- such as working out three days a week, for example -- I think it's a good idea to share your goal with your friends, your family and your co-workers. Heck, put it on Facebook. Why? You now have others who will hold you accountable.

5. Don't Let Your Goals Out of Your Sight

When I was working on my bad habits, I made sure that I carried the Bad Habit Destroyer worksheet with me everywhere. I made sure that I would see it each day to remind me what the habit I was focusing on. It's so important to constantly remind yourself what exactly you're trying to achieve.

A good buddy, Ben Newman, author of the best-selling book Own Your Success, keeps the positive habits he's working on listed in his bathroom so he's reminded regularly what he's striving to achieve. When you don't have a visual reminder of the habit you're trying to break, you forget, tend to get lazy and fall back into your old rut.

6. Be Realistic

Each time you try something new, you have to be realistic with your goals. For example, a few challengers who hadn't exercised at all in the last year were trying to work out 30 minutes a day, seven days a week. They were setting themselves up for failure.

Darren Hardy, the author of The Compound Effect, suggests dividing your goal by two. Say, for example, you want to work out six days per week. Make three days your minimum goal achievement. People who tend to set their goals too high will end up giving up if they don't meet that goal for that week. Same thing applies with this habit challenge.

It's Your Turn

What's one new positive habit you would like to add to your daily routine? Reading more about personal finance, writing in your journal, tweaking your budget, stop biting your fingernails, exercising more?

If you tried before with little success, make the 21-day habit challenge part of your daily routine. But also keep in mind that it may take up to 66 days for a new habit to become automatic.