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21 Day Challenge

Purposeful Habit Design

Taking action to change your habits and change your life.


My name is Dr. Katie and I am a Toronto based rehab specialist Chiropractor and personal trainer.  I am passionate about healthy living, fitness, and motivating people around me to push their limits in achieving what they once thought was imPOSSIBLE.  Today, I challenge you to a create new habit.


A 2006 paper published by a Duke University researcher found that over 40% of our every day actions were not conscious, but habits (Verplanken et al., 2006).


Based on the idea of Dr. Maxwell Maltz, a person needs 21 days to form a new habit and it is widely believed that you can make or break most habits when consistently practicing a routine for 21 consecutive days.  Keeping in mind that each habit is as unique as the person trying to change it, 21 days seems in general, to be an reasonable (and more importantly, realistic,) amount of time to try a totally new experience.  For me, choosing 21 days specifically wasn’t as important as establishing S.M.A.R.T. goal.  I always find that if I want to change or achieve something in life, establishing a well-defined and measurable goal is not only essential in keeping me on track, but in understanding if I succeeded or failed.


What is a S.M.A.R.T. Goal?

Specific – target a specific area for change or improvement

Measurable – quantifiable or concrete criteria for measuring progress toward the attainment of your goal

Attainable – the goal should challenge you, but must still be achievable; define your goal well enough so you can achieve it

Realistic – results must be realistically achievable, given available resources

Time-related – specific the time frame for when your result(s) will be achieved

A peak into my life – my personal 21 day challenge (and life hack!):

My goal: Wake up 21 consecutive workdays at 4:45am.

My goal in choosing this specific challenge was simple.  Increase my productivity and make more of my days.  I am the type of person that is always in search of ways to improve my work and my life.  I enjoy thinking about and planning details, exploring different options and taking action if I think improvement could be a possibility.  So for 2018, my first challenge to myself was to increase my morning time to see if it might increase my productivity.


Here is what I’ve learned in my short journey so far:

  1. If you want to change something in your life, it’s more fun and easier if you have support along the way.  Having support keeps you on track when you’re wanting to give up or having a challenging day staying on track.  Having support and verbalizing your goal holds you accountable.  For me, I am sharing my challenge with my fiancé, J.M., who has gotten up with me every morning and has been my encouragement (or quite literally, my push,) to keep going and hold up my end of the deal.  We have been inspiring each other throughout this process and we motivate and hold each other accountable.
  2. Waking up earlier doesn’t mean sleeping less.  At first, people were concerned that I was depriving myself of much needed rest.  Of course, getting up at 4:45am must be something that is well planned!  As I modified the time that I would be waking up, I also changed the time I would be going to bed too.  It’s simple math really – getting up 2 hours earlier, means going to bed 2 hours earlier.  To be honest, the majority of people that asked me the number of hours that I sleep, sleep less than me!  In fact, I’m sleeping more now that ever before, plus I my body feels great because I’m on a routine and not tricking it into adapting to ever-changing early and late sleep-wake cycles.
  3. Your physical condition helps a lot.  Working in the health and fitness industry, I try to practice what I preach.  I eat well, I workout or play sports every day, I don’t consume alcohol or drugs, I get treated for any aches and pains that come up, and now I can say I am well rested!  I believe that being well-rounded when it comes to your physical condition is a key factor in maintaining good health and a sustainable routine in the long run.  Being in good physical condition has made it easier for my body to recover and adapt to the stressful change I’ve subjected it to, in just a few short days.
  4. I get more quality work done during times when I’m actually alert and productive.  Since I started waking up at 4:45am, I gained 2 hours of “good” work per day.  How, you might ask?  Being a person that is more productive first thing in the morning, I took out 2 unproductive hours of my night, when I would normally be mindlessly perusing the internet on my computer, or vegging on the couch watching Netflix, and replaced it with 2 productive hours in the morning – when my brain is fresh, alert and most efficient.  This means lots of “good” work done!  For me, a well-rested body and mind, combined with 2 hours of quiet while the rest of the city is still sleeping = an an awesomely powerful tool towards getting things done and getting them done right.
  5. I can easily get small, but important tasks out of the way first thing, leaving more room for other things.  Checking a few important things off my to-do list helps me to set the tone for the day to come.  For me, this means starting off by answering my emails and messages and then moving on to planning the rest of my day.  Having an “inbox zero” before 7:00am has been great, but the best part has been my new mini-routine of setting aside a specific time of day to return important messages and emails.  Previously, this was something that broke up my productivity during the day, as I found myself constantly chatting with people and responding to multiple messages, all scattered to different parts of the day.  Now, I set aside 30 minutes at the beginning of my day for this task.  I have learned that the majority of people don’t need an urgent answer (and if they do, they will call you!) and nothing explodes if you wait to answer them tomorrow.  Freeing up multiple “little” moments throughout my day has made it possible for me to spend more time doing other meaningful things – whether it be work related, or spending more time with family and friends.
  6. I am more energized for workouts and have more room for yummy calories!  It took a few days for my body to realize what was happening, but since I started waking up at 4:45am, I am working out and eating with a more structured regime and look forward to kick starting my day with a visit to my trusty friend, the gym!  After coming home from the gym, I make sure to eat a proper breakfast, with protein, carbs and healthy fats, being sure not to deprive my body like I have in the past.  My increased energy levels and increased metabolism is a direct result of my body adapting to working out and eating at the same times every day –  I have always been a creature of habit, but truly believe that our bodies physiologically adapt positively to routine.


As it’s only been a few short days, I’d be jumping the gun to say that everything about my journey will be completely positive – but so far, so good.  Feel free to check back soon for updates on my progress!



Here is my challenge to you:

Throw your new years resolutions out the window this year and instead, choose a S.M.A.R.T. goal and give yourself an honest 21 days to achieve that goal!  What do you have to lose?


Here are a few 21 day challenge suggestions:

  • Eat breakfast before leaving home
  • Exercise for 30 minutes
  • Eat protein with every meal
  • Meditate for 10 minutes
  • Go for a walk during your work break instead of staying in and sitting
  • Be on time
  • Eat vegetables with every meal
  • Call a friend or family member to connect
  • Turn off your electronic devices after 8:00pm
  • Do something you enjoy every day
  • Go to bed before 10:00pm


Author: Dr. Katie Au

B.Sc. Kin (Hons), D.C., D.Ac, CSCS, FCCRS©, ART®, GT®

Toronto Chiropractor | Acupuncture Practitioner | Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist



Bas Verplanken and Wendy Wood, “Interventions to Break and Create Consumer Habits,” Journal of Public Policy and Marketing 25, no. 1 (2006): 90– 103; David T. Neal, Wendy Wood, and Jeffrey M. Quinn, “Habits— A Repeat Performance,” Current Directions in Psychological Science 15, no. 4 (2006): 198– 202.

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