I was already in the habit of meditating most mornings and writing down what went well most nights, but would skip them when I was busy or tired. Participating in the 30-day challenge allowed me to make these exercises a priority again, and they became easy daily habits after about a week. Meditating every day made me feel like I was starting the day ‘tuned in’ to myself and my experience; even when my experience was stress or anxiety, it felt good to be aware of it.
In March, a friend of mine challenged friends and family members to join her in establishing a new behaviour or extinguishing a bad habit (http://beyondyourcomfortzone.blogspot.ca/2012/02/how-it-all-started.html). The idea was that it takes 30 days to make or break a habit, so everyone involved picked an activity to initiate (e.g., yoga three times per week) or a behaviour to eliminate (e.g., drinking coffee), and committed to it for the month of March.
I dubbed March “Mindfulness Month” and chose the following 30-day challenges, all designed to increase mindfulness (http://mindspaceclinic.com/30-mindful-days):
1) Meditating every day; 2) Doing the What Went Well exercise every night (i.e., writing down at least three things–big or small–that went well that day; 3) Not eating standing up; 4) Not crossing against the light; 5) Not talking on my cell phone while walking
I was already in the habit of meditating most mornings and writing down what went well most nights, but would skip them when I was busy or tired. Participating in the 30-day challenge allowed me to make these exercises a priority again, and they became easy daily habits after about a week. The WWW exercise cultivated mindful appreciation for random pleasures that I might not have otherwise savoured. Meditating every day made me feel like I was starting the day ‘tuned in’ to myself and my experience; even when my experience was stress or anxiety, it felt good to be aware of it.
Not eating standing up was so hard that I gave up after one week! The exercise drew my attention to the frequency with which I buy a snack at the metro dépanneur and eat it standing on the platform—usually while also reading my book. I didn’t realize I was buying dépanneur snacks most days, maybe spending $10-$15 per week! Although I didn’t break the habit altogether, I definitely gained awareness of my behaviour and decreased its frequency.
One of the challenges with the most interesting (and most mindful) outcome was no jaywalking. The three stoplights between my apartment and the metro became mindful moments every morning. My walk took a few minutes longer every day, but the extra minutes never once made me late, teaching me the lesson that I never don’t have time to wait for the light to change. Any time I was out walking, every red light became a chance to stop, notice my environment, observe my state of mind, and enjoy 10-15 seconds of stillness and non-doing.
The other most interesting and mindfulness-inducing challenge was not talking on my phone while walking. It was great! I noticed that that I made fewer calls altogether, but that I was more present on the phone because I waited until I had the time and freedom to talk. Rather than returning a call to a friend on the walk from the metro to the gym, or waiting on hold for Bell customer service on my walk to work, I made eye contact with passersby and enjoyed stopping to read posters in store windows and to pet neighbourhood cats. I learned that there are very few calls that can’t wait a few minutes, and completely eliminated the stressful situation of pacing around outside my destination repeating “Okay, but I’ve arrived at the [work/metro/gym/] now—I really have to let you go.” My sister, who I talk to most days, noticed that we didn’t talk as frequently but that she didn’t miss our distracted en route “catching up.” I didn’t either.
On April 1, did I go back to my former habits of jaywalking while talking on the phone? Sometimes. But I was more mindful of it. Mindfulness awareness provides the clarity necessary for making choices rather than acting automatically. So rather than unthinkingly crossing on red lights when no cars are coming, I now stop at every light and decide whether or not to jaywalk. I quickly evaluate whether or not I feel rushed and whether or not my rushed feeling is an accurate reflection of my timing/schedule; I usually decide that I can afford to wait 10 seconds. The same goes for making calls while I walk; I still have the impulse every day, but now I take a mindful moment to evaluate whether it’s a quick no-brainer time-saver call that makes sense to make while walking (e.g., to tell someone I’m on my way, to listen to my voicemail, to confirm a plan) or a longer call that requires my full attention and makes more sense to make at home or at work (e.g., discussing work with my supervisor, catching up with a friend, sorting out an error in my Internet bill). Then I make a mindful decision whether or not to make the call.
Apparently, it really does only take only 30 days to form a new habit—in this case, the habit of applying mindful attention to routine behaviour. Give it a shot!
— Sarah Roberts is a psychotherapist and mindfulness teacher at the MindSpace Clinic.