They say it takes 21 days to form a new habit. There is also a “they” that disagrees, believing that it takes much longer. Whatever the day to habit timeline may actually be, I think that, when you’re looking at making a lifestyle change, 21 days is a pretty solid place to start.
Twenty-one days is three weeks, which, to my mind, is long enough to feel as though you’ve done something, while still being moderate enough as to not be overwhelming. You’re not committing an entire month, but it’s no weekend foray either—which is why I really love the idea of a 21-Day Challenge.
Last November, the yoga studio that I had been spottily attending sent out an email proposing a challenge: twenty-one consecutive days of yoga (and/or Pilates) beginning the day after Thanksgiving. There was no reward—no free class, no t-shirt—just your name on a blackboard near the shoe cubbies stating your commitment for all to see.
I decided to take it on.
(Names other than my own have been hidden to protect the identities of innocent yogis.)
With the daily commitment, it didn’t take long for “going to yoga” to start developing into a practice for me. It was definitely challenging to make time every single day, especially during all the craziness that comes with impending holidays, but, by the time I finished, I couldn’t imagine my life without a regular, if not daily, practice. I grew immensely in that time—physically, personally, and emotionally—and I was beginning to see that, if I continued on, the potential for growth and discovery was boundless. Yoga made me feel fulfilled. It made me a better person.
My challenge ended with no fanfare, though I didn’t need it. On the last day, I attended a non-regular class for me, where the instructor congratulated one of her regulars for sticking with it. I smiled and silently congratulated myself as well. Then I took a day of rest in celebration and resumed my practice.
Before we set out for the Midwest to celebrate the holidays with my family, I researched local studios and put some potential classes on the calendar. It was hard to imagine going several days without a little down-dog. Then the actuality of family plans collided with the personal schedule I’d formed in my head and I didn’t make it to a single one. We returned home and left shortly thereafter for more holiday celebrations with Chris’ family, where yoga eluded me once again.
Post-holidays, I found myself feeling stuck outside of my practice. My attendance at the studio became so spotty that, literally every time I went, the girl at the front desk responded to my presence with a combination of surprise, cheer, and concern, accompanied by a chirpy, “I haven’t seen you in forever!” Each time it felt like a blow, because I knew there was no good reason why I hadn’t been. I’m writing and am really in the groove, I should really get those dishes done, I’m having a rough day—the empty excuses filled my head as each class approached and I allowed them to nag me until, oops, it’s too late to go now anyway.
So I pulled myself together and decided that it was time for another 21-Day Challenge.
This time it’s a self-imposed challenge, and Chris is taking it on with me (going to the gym rather than yoga). Since I already did this thing once for personal gain, and since there’s no blackboard proclaiming our commitment for all to see, we’ve set up a reward. It’s a set amount of money to spend on anything of our choosing. I have a couple ideas floating around in my head, but I haven’t settled on one just yet. I’ll keep you posted.
We started our challenge last Sunday. I said Namaste around noon today, which means that we’re seven days in. One week. One third of the way through. I can already feel yoga becoming an essential part of my life again.
Not that it ever ceased to be essential, really. It’s just difficult to get back to something once you’re stuck in that rut right outside of it. The nice thing about a Challenge is that it removes the element of decision from whatever it is you’re trying to do. There can be no excuses. Attending yoga, going to the gym, or eating better is automatically a priority because there is a sense of accountability. It’s sort of an artificial accountability, but it still manages to change the way you think.
If a 21-Day Challenge sounds like something you’d like to take on and you’re also interested trying a plant-based diet, the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM—a great doctor-run organization and resource for plant-based living) offers a 21-Day Vegan Kickstart program. If you register, they provide meal plans, webcasts, daily tips, and a community forum for support. I would highly recommend checking it out. They do the Kickstart three times a year, and the next begins on April 2nd.
PCRM is also headed up by Dr. Neal Barnard, a well-respected advocate of healthful living through nutrition. I know that April 2nd is just around the corner, so if you’re not quite ready to leap but also don’t want to wait for the next Kickstart, grab a copy of Dr. Barnard’s 21-Day Weight Loss Kickstart. I haven’t personally read it, but I am a big fan of Dr. Barnard and I imagine his book will prove to be a great resource for anyone newly embarking on a vegan journey.
Clearly I’m in favor, but I would love to hear what you think of the idea of a 21-Day Challenge. Have you ever committed to one before? If you were to challenge yourself to twenty-one days of change, what would it be?