They’re everywhere — the 21-day challenge. I’m sure you’ve seen them, and you’ve probably started to ignore them. It is said that repeatedly doing something for 21 days straight can form a habit. A habit, such as brushing your teeth before bed, putting on your seat belt and taking the same route to work.
I recently challenged myself to use my elliptical for 21 days straight. This coming from someone who averted her eyes each time she passed it. I wanted to know if I climbed aboard every day for 21 days if we would magically have a beautiful bond — a newfound friendship that we would share for years to come.
Well, I’m happy to say that I stuck with it, although it wasn’t easy. The mental block was real. But as each day passed I felt a little stronger and more confident. I began with whatever I could do and slowly increased my time or resistance. Some days I only had 20 or 25 minutes, but instead of saying “I don’t have time, maybe tomorrow,” I took that time, however brief, and did my workout.
I flexed in the mirror after each workout, like a teenager. I felt so much stronger! I looked the same.
The second week was the hardest. The first week I still had the motivation. On Day 10 I almost forgot. I was gone all day and had church that evening. I remembered late that night and began at 11 p.m. Day 13 was busy and I began after midnight. On Day 14 I finally started noticing a mental difference. I felt stronger and I wanted to get on the elliptical rather than trying to push it away.
How to Make the Most of Your 21-Day Challenge
I’ve read these tips before, but things often stick when you experience them yourself.
1. Make it fun
First, I recommend finding a way to entertain yourself so you aren’t exercising in silence, watching the clock. I was watching Netflix on my iPhone 4s — I’m high-tech. My husband casually asked why I wasn’t using our iPad. (Like I said, “high-tech.”) I switched to the iPad. If you’re like me, distracting your brain is the best way to keep moving forward … in place … on a stationary machine.
2. Switch up your workout
If you’re only using the elliptical, like I did, you probably aren’t working every muscle in your body. You’ve heard it before: Throw in some strength-training days. Switch up the activities — go for a walk outdoors instead of using the treadmill in the basement. You want to feel engaged, not bored.
3. Rest is important
I figured out what this means around day 7. Your body needs a break. I began my challenge on a Monday and by Sunday I craved a day off. I wanted one day where I didn’t feel like I had to exercise. It’s definitely more enjoyable and motivating when you get rest days — the same reason we don’t work seven days a week (I hope). Everybody needs a break!
4. Don’t exercise before bed
Try not to anyway. Sometimes it’s unavoidable. Exercising gives you energy and that’s the last thing you want when you’re trying to wind down to sleep.
5. Don’t let small issues become barriers — find solutions
One of my dogs, Harvey, has separation anxiety and must be in the same room with either my husband or me. I usually exercised when I was home alone and Harvey couldn’t figure out how to be right beside me, and I didn’t buy the “doggie sidecar” model. He nearly got knocked in the face a couple times. He began tearing things up so I would have to come down and talk to him. Finally, I moved his bed into the room. That was the ticket. We did this each day and he napped peacefully there until I was done.
I don’t believe I created a habit after 21 days of using my elliptical — trust me, I wish I had. I’m not sure how long it takes to truly form or break a habit. But, I can definitely say I’m stronger and no longer have a block between the machine and myself. We have an understanding now. I can come and go as I please. The machine no longer controls me. I’m a strong, motivated woman. Hear me roar!