I was invited to join a group of friends, family, and colleagues in designing and implementing a “30-day challenge.” The point is to take something you’ve always wanted to do, something you’ve been wanting to stop doing, or something that will make your daily life more fun or more interesting, and do it for the month of March. I accepted the invitation and decided to make March a month of mindfulness.
According to popular wisdom, it it takes 30 days to make or break a habit. A friend of mine has decided to test the theory by designing a personal 30-day challenge. The point is to take something you’ve always wanted to do, something you’ve been wanting to stop doing, or something that will make your daily life more fun or more interesting, and do it for the month of March. Consistent with psych research about the power of social support and accountability in facilitating goal-attainment, my friend invited her friends, family members and colleagues to design their own 30-day challenge and to share their struggles and successes.
I accepted the invitation and decided to make March a month of mindfulness. I deliberately chose five behaviour changes designed to make me more mindful—that is, more present, aware, and attentive. The challenges are:
1) No crossing the street on a red light 2) No eating standing up 3) No making calls on my cell phone while walking 4) Meditating every day, no exceptions 5) Doing the What Went Well exercise (writing down three things that went well that day) every night.
The first three goals are designed to increase mindfulness by decreasing the exaggerated sense of time urgency that sometimes creeps in and promotes multi-tasking and mindlessness. Behaviours like dodging traffic because I can’t wait 17 seconds for the light to change, drinking my breakfast smoothie while I blow-dry my hair, and “maximizing” my time by returning phone calls on my walk from work to the metro reinforce a fast-forward mode that prevents me from being in the present and noticing what’s happening now. I miss out on the warmth of the hair dryer on my head and the different textures and flavours in my smoothie. I miss out on the weather, the shop windows, and the people passing by because I’m on the phone as I walk; at the same time, I’m only half present with the person on the phone as I nearly get run over because I’m jaywalking.
The fourth goal—being more disciplined with my meditation practice—is to help me practice being present, aware, and attentive, in a structured environment. The fifth goal—before bed, jotting down at least three things that went well that day—is to increase my awareness of the positive things that happen in my life, in real time and in retrospect.
So far, I’m enjoying not crossing against the light, even though it makes my daily walk to the metro a couple minutes longer. Instead of calling people while I walk, I text them if it’s quick or important, and otherwise wait until I actually have time to talk. This means I’m more attentive and appreciative of my environment while I’m walking, and more present when I’m on the phone. Meditating every single morning between coffee and breakfast has become an easy routine, and doing the What Went Well exercise every day has left me with a (so far) 19-day list of small pleasures and successes that feels good to read over.
To my surprise, however, not eating standing up is really hard! I failed at this goal for the first five days of March and about every second day since then. I am, however, becoming more aware of just how frequently I mindlessly snatch a cookie from the lunchroom at work and eat it as I walk back to my office or eat an apple on the metro without even tasting it. I have started sitting down in the morning with my smoothie, and hope that my increased awareness will lead to fewer and fewer vertical meals/snacks.
12 days to go!
Sarah Roberts is a psychotherapist and mindfulness teacher at the Numinus Clinic.