20 Ways to Set Yourself Up to Succeed in Your 21-Day Challenge

Key to successFor some people, facing and surmounting a challenge is as simple as just doing it. These are the lucky few who can decide to accomplish something and immediately begin accomplishing it. Want to write a book? They sit down and begin writing. Get the girl? They go up and talk to her. Most people aren’t like this. Most people need tips, tricks, tools, and concrete strategies. They require more than the simple inspiration that lies within to get moving and actively pursue the goal – whatever it may be. And even if that internal motivation exists, the tools and tips can still help activate and enable it.

That’s why I’ve compiled 20 ways (some of which were originally published in 2013) to set yourself up for success in the impending Primal Blueprint 21-Day Challenge. Because I know that feeling. While I’m lucky enough to do the things I want to do and hardworking enough to often succeed at them, it doesn’t always come easy. There’s a lot that comes before “just doing it.” We all need a little help getting started.

Don’t think you need to employ all 20 strategies, though. In fact, trying to might just overwhelm you and impede your progress. You might need five, six, just one, or even none! Use what works, what’s applicable to your personal struggles, and discard the rest.


1. Enlist a friend to join you.

It’s one thing to stay accountable to yourself – not the greatest motivator for some people, because failing to follow through means the only person you’re offending or letting down is yourself. But when failing means failing a trusted, loving friend or relative who has pledged to also complete a challenge at your side, failure hits harder. You know how your folks could always make you feel really bad by saying they “weren’t mad as much as disappointed in you”? Failing a friend is kind of like that. It hurts, and in order to avoid the pain, you’ll probably stick with the challenge.

2. Make your challenge public.

Has anyone watched the mid 2000s HBO show Rome? Ian McNeice played the town crier who would announce news and political developments, basically serving as an expository vehicle to keep viewers up to date on the show’s complex storyline. I’ve got to imagine that he’d also be a great way to hold people accountable for their challenges by letting their social circles in on it. We don’t really have town criers anymore (unfortunately), but we can make our challenges public through Facebook, Twitter, forums, apps, or good ol’ fashioned face to face contact.

3. Reward yourself for incremental successes.

We aren’t dogs, but we do respond to conditioning. Every time you succeed along your journey, give yourself a little reward. Not Hershey’s Kisses, not a cronut, not McDonald’s fries, mind you. Contribute a few bucks to a vacation fund. Watch an episode of your favorite TV show. Take a couple hours to go for a hike. Eat a slice or two of bacon. Reward your animal side with something you enjoy (as long as it doesn’t conflict with the spirit and intent of your challenge, like the aforementioned cronut) to establish a positive association with hard work.

4. Print out a calendar and plan your challenge, day by day.

21 days might seem like a long time, but it’ll go faster than you think. Don’t let it get away from you. Get ahead of it from the very start by planning – meticulously or loosely – your approach for the Challenge. Fill out the calendar today, before it starts, and tick each day off as you complete it – but only if you stick to the schedule! Hey, it worked for Seinfeld.

5. Start with a small win.

Big wins start small. When I’m sitting down to write a book, I don’t measure success by drafts, chapters, or even pages. If I can get a solid paragraph down, I’m happy. That’s a win. It’s not the win (I’m not sure such a thing even exists, to be honest) and it doesn’t mean I’m finished, but it’s a start. As you approach the Challenge, break your goals up into little winnable bites, and then prepare to crush them. And make sure to celebrate those wins. You don’t need to bust out the confetti, but you should acknowledge the small win (and give yourself one of those rewards mentioned earlier).

6. Test your mettle.

During the course of the 21-Day Challenge, your instinct may be to avoid temptation. To avoid eating out at lunch, to skip happy hour with friends, to disconnect your cable, to bow out of that surprise party. And while that kind of diligent avoidance at all costs might work for some, I submit that placing yourself in compromising situations where your personal commitments to the challenge are directly tested will help you rise to the challenge and come out victorious – arguably more victorious than the person who just avoided everything all three weeks. Plus, it’ll prepare you for real Primal life outside of the context of the Challenge, where temptation predominates.

7. Don’t overreach. Focus.

Because the Primal Blueprint is such a holistic, overarching way of life and not just a way of eating, I was torn on this one. Should you guys try to address all the Primal lifestyle factors or just focus on one? I worried that a narrow focus might take away from the power of the PB, which depends in large part on its broad vision. Ultimately, I think a focused approach is the best way to tackle the upcoming Challenge. And anyway, whether your personal journey focuses on Primal eating or sleeping better or moving more or spending more time in nature, by accomplishing any one of those goals the rest of Primal living will tend to fall into place. It’s all designed to work in concert, after all, and it’s hard to deny the rest when one particular aspect feels so right.

8. Start a challenge journal in the MDA forum.

Participating in the PB Journal forum is a powerful way to publicize your challenge (and hold yourself accountable to all the MDA readers), plan your challenge (by immortalizing it in writing), and reward yourself for and acknowledge the small wins (by receiving encouragement from other readers).

9. Approach the challenge with an abundance mindset.

If you haven’t read this post about approaching the Challenge with an abundance mindset, do so now. Long story short, instead of thinking about the “deprivation” of giving up foods and behaviors and habits you’ve grown accustomed to, imagine the beneficial changes you’ll be making. Stop fretting over the food you won’t be eating and imagine all the delicious and nutritious food the Challenge will inspire you to eat. Don’t think of how unpleasant the workouts will be; imagine the energy and strength and vitality you’ll feel as you incorporate regular physical activity into your life. Don’t imagine how hard going Primal will be. Think of how good you’ll feel.

10. Download the 21-Day Challenge app.

All those recommendations I just mentioned in the previous nine entries are built-in to the Challenge app. If you want a community of people to compare journeys and track progress, get the app. If you want daily challenges that test your mettle, get the app. If you want to focus on specific goals, use the app to drill down on what really matters to you. If you want small wins that lead to big wins, you’ll see them immortalized in the app. If you need a calendar, the app breaks the entire challenge down, day by day. If you want to make your challenge public, there’s a whole community waiting to see what you’re made of. And if you want to invite friends, that’s a feature of the app. It’s free, so why not sign up? Just be sure to join the app Challenge by Jan. 12th. Joining mid-Challenge is prohibited.


11. Get a Primal cookbook.

If you’re the type to whip up fantastic meals without measuring or reading anything, disregard this tip. Then again, if that describes you, you’ve probably got this Primal eating thing down pat and your personal challenge has nothing to do with food. For the more hesitant among us, a Primal cookbook provides a culinary roadmap as we navigate the challenge. A cookbook won’t tell you what and when to eat, but it is a helpful resource that removes additional guesswork and allows you to focus on what and when you should be eating to succeed. Alternately, check out Primal recipe aggregators like Foodee or Chowstalker.

12. Track your food intake.

Not your calorie intake. Your food intake. Write down all the amazing meats, vegetables, fish, fruit, seeds, nuts, and fats you’ve been eating. Research suggests that the simple act of writing down what you eat can speed up weight loss and promote better food choices by forcing you to confront – in plain writing – what you’ve been eating. And even if your personal challenge won’t be about losing weight, seeing the cool stuff you’re encouraged to eat throughout this challenge will inspire and motivate you to keep eating the right way. Mind you, I’m not suggestion you write down everything you eat forever, just that it can be a useful exercise in the short term. Like, say, 21 days or so?


13. Get new workout clothes.

I’ll admit that I’m a gear fiend. I love having the latest Vibrams, the best standup paddle board, the high tech moisture wicking hiking shirts, and so on. It makes me want to get out and move. I know I don’t need that stuff to be active and fit, but it certainly doesn’t hurt and it seems to help. So go on – grab that Lycra bodysuit you eye every time you’re in the mall. Outfit yourself in neon spandex. Stock up on Karate Kid headbands. Bring back leg-warmers. Buy whatever it takes to get you motivated to move.

14. Without thinking too hard about it, commit to and pay in full for a fitness course you’ve been eying.

Right this instant, click over to that MovNat workshop, PRIMALity playshop, yoga class, CrossFit beginner class, Olympic lifting workshop, Fitwall session, or any other fitness-related course or class that you’ve been considering for awhile and sign up. Quickly, before you get cold feet and back out. The Challenge is coming soon and you need to commit to something.

15. Get a movement tracker.

My rule of thumb is “three to five hours of dedicated slow moving per week” at a bare minimum, with even more being better, because when you also include the trivial movements we do around our houses, to and from the car, while shopping, and so on, it usually adds up to 10,000 steps a day. Counting hours is easier to track than counting steps in your head or calculating distance – unless you get a movement tracker like a FitBit or a Jawbone or a free pedometer app. These devices allow greater precision when tracking your progress. Going fast and loose is usually good enough as long as you’re Primal, but knowing exactly how much you’re moving can be extremely motivating.

16. Join Fitocracy.

Fitocracy turns exercise into a role playing game with points, level-ups, and social acclaim, transforming even the most grueling workout regimen into an opportunity for play. With over a million users, they must be doing something right. Sign up and start playing. Get your account ready before the Challenge begins.

17. Peruse Craigslist for used fitness equipment.

Craigslist is a treasure trove of misfit kettlebells, barbells, bumper plates, power racks, weight vests, Schwinn Airdynes, bicycles, surf boards, snowboards, and weight benches. Whether you plan on pledging to lift heavy things more frequently or integrate fitness into your daily life or even just take up a new sport, you will find something fun and relevant to play with and get you moving on Craigslist. Get on and get inspired without breaking the bank.

Other Stuff

18. Get a sleep tracker.

Sleep-focused challenges generally boil down to “get more and better sleep.” Beyond just going to bed at a reasonable time, limiting (or mitigating) artificial light at night, and doing all the other standard Primal sleep techniques, the sleep tracker might be a difference maker in such a challenge. Sleep tracker apps and devices monitor your movement during the night and use the data to evaluate the quality of your sleep so you can figure out what’s working, what isn’t, and what might be causing the poor (or good) sleep. Check this top five list of trackers for a lead on the more promising options, and note that both the FitBit and Jawbone movement trackers do sleep tracking, too.

And finally:

19. Create a “Check Mark’s Daily Apple” alarm.

Most of you don’t need this (I see the site metrics!). But just in case you need an extra shot of inspiration, information, or reference materials, set an alarm to remind you to check in at MDA every single day. Words have power, words change lives, and you might just happen across a collection of words arranged just so that provides the kick in the pants you require to close the Challenge out strong.

20. Pick a 21-Day Transformation Package.

These packages were expressly designed to optimize your performance and results throughout the 21-Day Challenge. Optimal isn’t necessary, of course, but it sure is nice. With the introductory Digital Package, you get all the books, recipes, daily email tips, and published content you’ll need to make the changes to your lifestyle and meet the challenges. With the Fuel Package, you get all that stuff plus a bag of Primal Fuel, a Primal Fuel recipe book, and a Primal Fuel blender bottle — everything you need to whip up a quick, nutrient-dense Primal meal on a moment’s notice. And then there’s the Essentials Package, a collection of everything in the Fuel and Digital Packages with bottles of each of my essential supplements included: Vital Omegas, our high-quality fish oil; Primal Calm, our herbal stress-fighting blend; and Vitamin D, the nutrient that almost no one gets enough of.

It’d be great if everyone could simply snap their fingers and overhaul their entire lives in a positive way. That’s never going to happen, because we’re humans. We dither and hesitate and procrastinate and doubt ourselves. And we need to lean on each other sometimes, or use tools to move things along, or trick ourselves into doing the right thing. Hopefully the preceding tips prove useful to you as you approach the Challenge.

Now it’s time for a little preliminary contest:

I’m pretty sure I’ve missed a few tips about preparing for the upcoming Challenge. There’s always something — you know? With that said, I’d like to hear from you guys: Do you have any specific tips for people getting ready to take on the Challenge? Divulge your best tips in the comment section! One comment will be selected at random, and the lucky winner will be the recipient of a free canister of Damage Control Master Formula. This mini-contest ends at midnight tonight.

Thanks for reading, everyone!

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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