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The 21 Day Challenge - COVID edition

I created the 21-day challenge in the context of my Vistage work, to help CEO's think through obstacles creatively. I have updated it here for these times.


The Science behind the 21-day challenge

The neurochemistry of the stressed mind

The stressed mind follows a predictable pattern. Faced with an uncertain future, we generate multiple worse case scenarios and then attempt to troubleshoot each outcome. The result is thousands of stressful thoughts, each triggering the fight-flight-freeze system, flooding our brains with adrenaline and cortisol.

​​Blood flows preferentially to the primitive parts of the brain, prompting us to think like lizards: with tunnel-vision focus on our thoughts, exaggerating danger levels, seeing others as threats, and searching for quick fixes. We get hooked into stressful thought patterns.

This response may be helpful when facing a hungry predator but is ill-suited to our modern-day challenges.

To move beyond this stress-induced dilemma, we need to shift our neurochemistry. "Rest and digest" hormones reset our cerebral blood flow and take us out of the spiral of negative thinking. Under this physiology, we operate out of our true nature, which is wise, creative, loving, and happy.

The Challenge

The practices of the 21-day challenge boost our neurochemistry. Each exercise causes a "hit" of beneficial hormones that shift our mindset from self-absorption to generosity, scarcity to abundance, and from fear to love. This mindset shift allows us to be the best version of ourselves and to delight in the journey of life. ​

As the mind is continuously inclined to negativity, frequent course corrections are necessary to avoid the spiraling effects of stress. Recurrent spikes of positive hormones draw us away from the near-constant invitations to stress and negativity we receive from the world. We realize we are far more effective with better neurophysiology.

I am astonished that these techniques have yielded so much concrete abundance and joy in my life and in the lives of my clients. Please commit to a few of them for 21 days with a partner.

I would love for this time to be a positive inflection point in your life, using it to better understand your mind and to deepen your capacity for wisdom, creativity, and joy.

The 21-day challenge

Challenge yourself to one or more of these practices for 21 days.

Media Matters: ​

  • Be deliberate about when you follow the news. Get the information you need to make informed decisions then turn it off. To set a serene tone for the day and to avoid disrupting your sleep, avoid media in the mornings and in the evenings. Do not turn to media out of boredom or fear.

  • Consume as much inspirational material as you do news and social media.

Gratitude: ​

  • Note a pageful of things that you are grateful for every night and or text three things you are thankful for to your partner.

  • Morning Connect: as you wake and before the mind starts to troubleshoot, think of five people for whom you are grateful.

Deliberate Acts of Kindness:

  • Beautify someone's inbox by writing them an email telling them how they've influenced your life, inspired you, or displayed a characteristic you respect.

  • Reach out to someone by phone or skype that you wouldn’t usually call.

  • Adopt a “you first” attitude: yield to others in traffic, open doors for people, pick up trash on the sidewalk, praise everyone who helps you. Look people in the eye, smile and say hello, regardless of their reaction. Always.

  • Write beautiful anonymous notes to people ( which could include small amounts of money or gifts) and leave it in their mailboxes, cars, or desks.

Give: ​

  • Give positivity. Change your interactions by asking, “how are you and how can I help?” Gossiping about food hoarding is stressful. Connection heals.

  • If you need help, ask. This allows others to boost their neurochemistry.

  • Budget gifts to your friends' social media efforts to raise money for those who are struggling. This will connect you to them while helping others.

Meditation/priming: ​

  • Learn to meditate and practice daily.

  • Set your timer for every 30 or 60 minutes where you stop what you are doing to take five deliberate breaths. Check-in with your mind.

  • Wim Hof breathing and cold showers improve immunity and clear the mind.

Nature/body: ​

  • Get outside every day. Get your heart rate up while you are at it.

  • Practice yoga.

  • Laugh. Tell jokes. Trade internet surfing for comedy clips.

  • Sing and dance. Our species craves this. Go ahead, nobody is watching.

Inquiry: ​

  • Events overwhelm us by bringing up our unquestioned beliefs. "There won’t be enough money," "my kids will suffer," and "people shouldn't overreact," are not novel ideas, but long held beliefs. Each thought places us in a spiral of negative thinking as we attempt to mentally troubleshoot our way to a solution. We get "in our heads". Who would we be without all the stories running through our minds? Smart, creative, and ready to help. Questioning our thoughts frees the mind of stress and negativity.

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