As the famous adage goes, it takes 21 days to form or break a habit. While in actuality, results will vary from person to person, the wisdom stands that holding yourself accountable for something within a definitive timeframe allows you to set attainable goals and reflect on the results.
I will be the first to admit that the regular grind can be all-consuming. Between work, gym, socializing, and that darn ever expanding to-do list, setting additional goals can seem daunting. Even simple things like drinking more water, setting your alarm 15 minutes earlier to meditate, or reducing white sugar intake can sound great at the start but are hard to maintain. However, if you are spending even a fraction of your day wishing there were things about your life you could change, you owe it to yourself to try and address that.
When I was in the midst of my 9-to-5 grind, living life in the fast lane, I often found myself losing patience very quickly. What was worse was that I often found myself losing my patience with those I care for and love the most. Why could I have seemingly infinite patience for everyone else, but when it came to being at home with loved ones, I would find myself so frustrated? Have you ever called a parent or family member, really missing them, wanting to catch up and see how they were doing, only to find yourself annoyed while speaking with them? I know that makes me sound like a terrible person, but I bet most of you know what I am talking about. I was spending all of my energy on others while not leaving any time at the end of the day to take care of myself and those I care about the most.
I knew this was something that I was ashamed of and I wanted to change. So, I made a goal of setting aside time to meditate daily. Sounds easy enough, right? How hard can it be to find 15 to 20 minutes to yourself everyday? As someone who is a frequent goal setter, from training for a half marathon to graduating from college with the highest honors, I can say this was one of the most difficult challenges I have ever set. While yoga, which includes practicing meditation, has always been a part of my life, this was the first time I took a pragmatic approach to addressing my character and my emotions. I had to find a way to stop letting external factors dictate how my day went and how I reacted. I knew joy and peace had to come from within.
My goal was simple: Meditate every morning for 20 minutes for 21 days; an investment of 420 minutes, or 7 hours, in a little less than a month. I am not going to lie; at first, it was tough. I was naive and believed that I was far enough along in my spiritual journey that sitting alone with my thoughts for 20 minutes would be easy. However, what I came to realize was how noisy my mind was. I would get through a solid 5 minutes and find myself squinting one eye open to see how much time had passed. Closing my eye once more, I would admonish myself for being so impatient, and my thoughts would then start to spiral out of control… What do I have to do today? What am I going to wear to work? I can’t wait for the weekend. I can’t wait for this to be over. Wow, my back hurts! I wonder if that’s a sign I am getting older. I am so excited for my birthday!
Holy cow! When I really started to pay attention to my thoughts, I noticed two things: 1) I may have ADHD, and 2) I am constantly living in another time, consumed by thoughts about my past and my future, living in a strange alternate reality that I completely made up. What started out as a small project to get control of my emotions opened a Pandora’s box of listening to what I was telling myself and how my unchecked thoughts were impacting my reality.
As the first week ended, my revelations kept coming. It came to a point where I not only started to pay more attention to my thoughts during my meditation sessions, but I also started to be more aware of my thoughts throughout the day. I noticed how negative I was at times, especially toward myself. I would catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and think, “Wow, you look horrible!” or I would eat something and feel guilty. Who were these thoughts serving?! Certainly not me, and in a day filled with deadlines, issues at work, traffic, and a number of other roadblocks to my happiness, who needs that?
I also noticed my emotions and what would trigger a bad mood. While I used to think external factors were to blame for my temper with my loved ones, I realized that it was actually how I was perceiving situations and letting them impact me. I really started to practice a mantra of “step back, breathe, and think—is this worth my peace?”
When I started to separate myself from situations, I was able to gain peace of mind that extended beyond my meditation practice to serve me in my day-to-day life. By weeks 2 and 3 of my morning practice, I noticed how much easier it was to quiet my mind. The chatter started to subside more quickly, and my body was more accustomed to sitting. By having the habit start to build in my muscles, my body cooperated with me more easily.
Now, as thoughts come (as they always do), I am able to let them pass through me without judgment and frustration. My ability to tell myself that it is okay to be in the present moment and let everything else go gives me the capacity to achieve a state of calmness.