21-Day Mindfulness Challenge


My Mindfulness practice stumbled a bit over the holidays. And after slumbering through the first week of the new year, I am finally ready to apply myself to re-invigorating my meditation practice. Over the course of the 21 days, I’ll be sitting every day and occasionally sharing some reflections on the experience on this blog, Facebook, and Twitter. Feel free to join in.

It’s Monday, January 9th. And after slumbering through the first week of the new year, I am finally ready to apply myself to the pursuit of my goals for the year. First up? Re-invigorating my Mindfulness practice. My meditation practice stumbled a bit over the holidays. A schedule full of social events, a little bit of travel, and (the real killer) a nasty gastro bug that put me out of commission for a few days all conspired to disrupt my daily routine. So, I haven’t been sitting very much. To get back on the cushion, I have set the intention to sit every day for the next 21 days.

Why 21? Well, apparently, that is the magic number of days required for establishing a daily habit. (Re)Making meditation a habit is essential for me to keep my Mindfulness practice alive and meaningful. Meditation cannot be a decision. For one, my life is busy and I have a lot of day-to-day commitments. So if I have to decide to whether or not I want to meditate, there is a greater chance I will do something else – like write one more email. If it is programmed into my day (like eating or brushing my teeth), it becomes tougher to decide not to sit. Also, research has shown that all the complex decisions we make every day tap a some small (but measurable) amount of mental energy. And, as decisions accumulate over the course of a day, they drain our mental energy stores. At the end of the day, we can find ourselves in a depleted state, known as “decision fatigue,” feeling tired, irritable, and even hungry (literally and emotionally). That said, if you want to be sure you’re getting something done every day and don’t want it to drain your emotional resources, make sure you don’t have a choice. (For other tips on making resolutions stick, see my secrets of successful behaviour change).

So over the course of the 21 days, I’ll be sitting every day and occasionally sharing some reflections on the experience on this blog, Facebook, and Twitter. You are invited to join in and re-invigorate your own Mindfulness practice! Feel free to share your experiences online. It’s more fun when we do it together.

Day 1: I just finished my meditation for the day: 15 minutes of sitting. It had been a while and I was definitely tense about getting back to it. Hard to say why exactly; something to do with accepting that I am starting over again, at the beginning, after 12 years. I definitely noticed a lot of tension in my body, especially my breathing, which was jerky. It took a few minutes, but the tension eventually dissipated and I settled into a very calm and peaceful state. Only then did I notice the lovely sound of natural quiet coming through the window onto the back yard. That’s what happened.

Day 2: Busy mind. Lots to do & think about. Woke up a few times to calm, uncluttered experience.

Day 3: Feels so good get grounded in the body. Builds emotional stability and confidence.

Day 4: Sound and breath awareness helped tame monkey mind this morning. Can literally feel the shift – back and forth – between my Conceptual Self and Observing Self. Very interesting. Finding a pull to get involved in the “story about my meditation” especially because I get up and then tell a story about my meditation online…

Day 5: Slower, sluggish, and sticky mind today. Had to work at letting go.

Day 6: Didn’t get a chance to meditate on Saturday. What does that mean? The weekends are tough: less structure, more spontaneity, less momentum for practice. When I realized on Sunday, I was shocked and disappointed. I failed the Mindfulness challenge! What am I going to write online?! It took me a minute or two, but I finally caught myself: Mindfulness is also about acceptance and intentionality. So, dealing with those setbacks is part of the challenge. Instead of feeling frustrated and giving up, I set the intention to meditate on Sunday and keep going. Guess what? It worked.

Day 7: Refocused on Sunday and did a shorter sit. It was important to build some momentum over the weekend.

Day 8: Back into the routine this morning. Appreciated the cognitive benefits of taking a break from work and coming back to it with a fresher and broader mindset.

Day 9: The value of routine: meditation practice is starting to become automatic (again).

Day 10: I found a sweet spot in my schedule: I’m now meditating in the morning in a transition between two routine activities. Reminds me of an important time-management principle: If you want to get something done, do it first thing in the morning. That’s the only way to be 100% sure it gets done. The longer you wait, the more other things get in the way, the lower the probability is that it gets done.

Day 11: Fatigue makes me less vigilant during meditation – and therefore less Mindful of distractions. That’s what happened today.

Day 12-15: Manage to fit in some sitting on non-routine days. Surprisingly tough, but happy to be getting it done.

Day 16: Momentum of practice is sharpening my sensitivity, vigilance, acuity, and presence. And ultimately cultivating more Mindfulness! Need to work on maintaining those skills when I’m off the cushion too.

Day 17-18: It is so valuable for me to have contact with my “Observing Self” during my daily meditation. Even if I only get a few seconds of it. It’s a break from all the content of experience (verbal story telling, emotions, sensations) that reconnects me with the backdrop or structure underneath the content. It reminds me who I am and where I’m going.

Day 19-20: Really relishing quiet moments of wakefulness during practice. And trying to maintain patience when I lose them…

Day 21: Amazing how fast the 21 days elapsed. My daily sitting became habitual well before today – probably because I was reviving an old habit. Even as the routine solidifies, I am noticing the distractors and obstacles gaining strength as well. I am more likely to get caught up in email, reading, and other activities on my way to the cushion. Somehow, I felt in greater control of my schedule in the post-holiday period than I do now. But that’s just how it goes. I’m thrilled I took advantage of that period to strengthen my mindfulness practice, so it holds in more challenging times.


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