The farther we get from the New Year, the easier it can be to lose sight of our resolutions. Often it’s because they aren’t specific enough: We often resolve to do something amorphous like eating “healthier” or exercising “more”. By far the most transformative practice I have found is to commit to doing something for 40 days.
Last January, I started a 40 day meditation practice. I was given a meditation from my teacher the previous January but hadn’t been able to meditate for more than five days in a row (I’d meditated off and on for the last few years but never had a regular practice – and wanted to develop one).
Something would happen around that third or fourth day and I would give up. I just didn’t want to do it.
But then in mid-January I finally committed to a 40-day practice. On day 5 I wanted to stop, but pushed through it. I went on a journey during those 40 days, swinging from absolute delight in my practice to complete dread, and every feeling in-between, and it was the most transformative personal growth experience I have ever had.
A 40-day practice is an invitation
By committing to doing something every day for 40 days, you turn a magnifying glass on your avoidance, procrastination, and self-deception strategies. By doing the practice in spite of those strategies, you invite a new way of dealing with with challenges and emotions. You see patterns of behavior and thinking that were unconscious before. The commitment to yourself and your growth both invites lessons and support for your learning. You will see resources in people, places, and things you didn’t see before. And the lessons may come from places other than your practice – just so you can really learn them.
When you start a practice, you are showing up and declaring that you welcome something bigger than yourself into your life: change, inner-knowing, transformation, healing, inspiration.
A 40-day practice is a lesson in humility
All that stuff that comes up when you don’t want to do your practice. It makes you see all the ways you avoid difficult things. You get very real about yourself, where you’re at, and where you want to go. This, of course, invites even more lessons.
A 40-day practice is a challenge
Even if your practice is something that sounds delicious and delightful to you now (like singing in the shower every day), I guarantee there will be days that you don’t want to do it. You will procrastinate and negotiate with yourself until you finally end up doing it. Half the time you’ll start to enjoy it once you begin; the other half you’ll hate it all the way through.
But by doing your practice when everything in your being is telling you not to is when you begin to transform. It’s not easy, but it’s not supposed to be.
A 40-day practice creates new habits
Here’s the usual progression of a 40 day practice for me: The first few days I love it, then I hit a hurdle around day 5. I miss my morning meditation and it’s a struggle to make it up in the afternoon. I often have to start over right around five days because of this. But if I can make it past that, the next few days are great. And then another hurdle. But if you can make it pass your personal threshold – for me it’s around two weeks – it’s pretty much impossible to stop. You don’t want to start all over again. In fact, I ended up doing my teacher’s meditation for 88 straight days! The habit of meditating was ingrained through the repetition over 40 days.
A 40-day practice boosts your self-esteem
Once you hit the finish line, you feel amazing. I know that I feel proud, like I’ve gone through a tough journey or initiation and come out the other side stronger, clearer, and happier.
I recommend using something to keep track of your progress. It can be as simple as a post-it where you tick off the days, or you can use an app on your smartphone (I use the now defunct Streaks). It’s critical that you do this: seeing your progress maintains your motivation.
Choose your own 40 day practice
This year around this time of resolutions consider a 40 day practice: 40 days of meditating, going to a yoga class, singing in the shower – you can make a 40-day practice out of anything. Here are a few ideas based on different month- and 40 day-long practices I have done:
- Meditate (simple meditation or using a mantra or visualization)
- Yoga (minimum 5 sun salutations)
- Give one genuine compliment
- Journal at least one page
- Sing in the shower
- Dance to at least one song
- Books: May Cause Miracles, Calling in the One, The Artists Way
Also consider joining a group 40-day practice through Yoga Tree. Going through a practice like this with a group can really help with your motivation and push you even further into your practice than you could do alone. Pete Guinosso is leading Nourish – Awaken – Ignite: 40 days of Yoga to Personal Transformation at the Valencia Studio from March 15th to April 26.
I would love to know in the comments: What 40 day practices have you embarked on, and how did they change you? What are your strategies for successfully finishing a 40-day commitment to yourself?
Martine Holston believes the world needs visionaries – they propel our evolution. As a Vision Cartographer (and consultant to visionaries), she’s been featured on The Daily Love, Tiny Buddha, Mind Body Green, Live in the Grey, and Brazen Careerist.
When she’s not creating strategy maps for visionaries, Martine is zipping up and down the California coast running through vineyards, hiking through forests, and doing yoga on the beach.
To learn more about Martine and Vision Cartography, spend some time exploring visioncartography.com.