How the Mindfulness Challenge taught me how to be more present. </p>
<p>Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash 

I don't know about you, but I am in desperate need of mindfulness right about now. All the time and every day. 

That's why I've created something I'm calling The Mindfulness Challenge. To complete said challenge you have to play each of six improv-inspired exercises three days in a row. That means 18 consecutive days of playing your way sane.

But I also decided to put my money where my mouth is and actually complete the challenge myself.

Here's a play-by-play of my 18 days trying The Mindfulness Challenge

Day 1: Take a Hike

Yesterday, I went on an actual hike with my husband and two-year-old daughter. It was magical. Ella is usually cranky after her nap, but the hike brought her back to life.

She ran and talked to everyone we passed. She found a branch that had lots of little pinecones on it. Basically, she was living her best life.

That's the kind of attitude I hope the everyday game Take a Hike will bring to people's lives. It's a simple game. You just walk somewhere with the same spirit as if you were on a hike. You look and listen and marvel at the world, even if you're on your lunch break in a crowded city.

So, I was excited to start The Mindfulness Challenge with Take a Hike to see how it affected me.

I decided to take my dog along and noticed that reframing walking the dog as taking a hike, totally changed my attitude. I told my dog Tanzen, "You ready for a hike?" And he stared at me. Confused.

how to be more present</p>
<p>The Mindfulness Challenge
Tanzen may not know what a hike is, but he's happy to be outside.

He doesn't know the word "hike," but I do, and I'm excited.

So we head out the door. I lock up because who knows where this hike will take me. The skies the limit.

I notice details about the trees and how a heavy snowfall has made them droop super close to the ground. I take pictures like I'm at Disney World.

Take a Hike Day 1 begins.

Normally, I'm impatiently waiting for Tanzen to poop and pee so I can hurry back in the house, but I'm feeling this hike, so I soldier on.

I hear the wind through the trees, a few planes, and some chirpy birds. All things I normally don't notice.

how to be more present</p>
<p>The Mindfulness Challenge
Never noticed those drippy things on the trees until now.

I see bright red berries and think about the holidays.

Those berries be bright.

What are this?

This tree is adorable, no?

Everything is going well until I get a phone call.

It's the point person for our upcoming geothermal installation, so I get all wrapped up in the idea that people will be coming to my house tomorrow to drill massive holes in my yard with giant machines and then magically make heat and cold out of said massive holes.

Answering the phone totally takes me out of the hike situation. I remind myself I'm on a super important hike and continue.

Then I get a text from a client about logistics for a workshop I'll be facilitating in February. I get wrapped up in details about the different improv exercises we could do and once again forget I'm on a peaceful hike.

It's hard for me to get back into it, so tomorrow I decide I will leave my phone at home to see if that helps me have a more sustained Take a Hike experience.

Day 2: Take a Hike

I remember to put my phone down before heading out for today's hike. Tanzen and I head back out into the wilderness that is our cul de sac. So I guess it's not really wilderness, but we head out anyway.

It's a rough start. I'm thinking about how I have a lot to do, how to be more present, how I miss my phone already, and how I'm bummed that the lasagna is currently overflowing the pan and burning at the bottom of the oven. And I'm certainly not feeling particularly mindful.

But we soldier forth. I notice a lot of the same pretty and interesting things from yesterday, and this gets me back into hiking-mode.

It feels nice to see all these same details from yesterday. Then, I start noticing some new things, too. I see a dramatic curve at the top branch of one of our spruces. Then I notice lots of curves in other plants. I start to see patterns where before I just looked through everything, not noticing anything, totally stuck in my own thoughts.

And then I see some fresh deer tracks. I immediately feel like I've discovered something fascinating and important.

Then, I look up in time to see two whitetail deer bounding away just in front of us.

Photo by Scott Carroll on Unsplash
This is not one of the two deer we saw. I didn't have my phone. Remember? But it's a deer. And a deer's a deer.

I now feel this odd connection with nature and decide everyone should go outside and explore every single day of their lives. Everyone should try to figure out how to be more present and connected to nature. I wonder about what studies have been done on nature and mental health because right now it is really doing the trick for me.

Day 3: Take a Hike

I decide that Take a Hike is a lot like exercising. It's tough to get out the door and get started but once you get going, it's awesome.

Tanzen is much more motivated than I am today. He is wagging his little tail nubbin by the front door a good two hours before we normally Take a Hike. 

I grudgingly head out and deal with a phone call and some geothermal drilling logistics. Then, we're off and running.

My mind is racing for a bit, but then I settle and notice my old nature friends like the weird tree goiter and my tiny pine tree. Then, I notice some fun new things like some purple branches.

Once I see those deer tracks, I'm feeling invigorated. Then, as if on cue, the sun shines on my face. Really warming me up for a hot second.

My takeaway: Take a Hike is like most habits. It takes some doing to force yourself into it, but once it starts becoming more routine, you really start finding the joy in it. It's brain retraining that has made me feel a lot calmer and more in tune with nature.

Day 4: Take the Long-Cut Home

I'm stressed. The geothermal drilling is underway, but it turns out geothermal drilling can cause your water well to start spewing mud water instead of drinkable water. It's rare, but that doesn't make me feel any better since it happened to us.

I'm getting all worked up during a phone conversation with my husband. We have to figure out whether to wait for the geothermal company to try to clean up our water or just bail and find a nearby hotel.

It's a perfect time to Take the Long-Cut Home. I get to Ella's school early so I can meander around instead of just going directly in to pick her up.

I walk out to the main road and start...noticing. The first thing I see is a winter hat, but not just any winter hat. It's being held down by a rock. I wonder what happened to get that little hat under that big rock, and then I notice that I'm not so stressed anymore.

I pause to watch some cars go by and then walk back to the school feeling calmer and happier. So...success.

Day 5: Take the Long-Cut Home

Ella and I get to school really early today, so I decide to Take the Long-Cut Home with her.

We walk all the way around the school, hitting up not one, but two playgrounds. I push Ella on the swing. Eventually, we're actually having fun instead of just killing time. We walk all the way around the back of the school and take turns pointing things out to each other. Pretty purple branches, red berries, the school's compost pile.

The Long-Cut ended up being a nice bonding moment for Ella and me.

Day 6: Take the Long-Cut Home

Instead of just walking Tanzen to the corner and back, I decide to Take the Long-Cut with him. I'm a little annoyed at him because he's pulling at the harness and not at all listening to me. But I should be used to this by now.

Just beyond our usual ending point, I see that the creek I always look at continues on and meanders into the distance. I feel bad that I've missed this for two years; it's quite a view.

Hey there, pretty creek. Where you going?

Taking the Long-Cut has forced me to see more of the world around me and take time to reconnect with my surroundings. It's helped me know how to be more present and in the moment. It's helped me enjoy the journey instead of just rushing mindlessly from here to there.

Day 7: Call It Like You Sees It

I'm walking Tanzen again. I wonder how many times I've walked him in his eight years on this planet. Hold on. Let me do the maths.

8760 times.

Bring on the existential dread.

Anyway, I'm walking Tanzen when I decide to test out Call It Like You Sees It for its maiden voyage. I start pointing to things and saying what they are.

I realize two things.

  1. There are a lot of trees where I live (I say "tree" about a million times).
  2. And as two neighbors drive past, I realize that this game makes you seem insane but also distracts your brain enough to make you not care that you look insane.

Then it happens. I get tired of pointing at trees and saying "tree," so I look up just in time to see a magnificent plane. I've never seen a plane so close to the ground where we live. We're 45 minutes from the closest airport.

This looked way cooler in person. So close!

It's impressive, leaving this big trail behind it through the clouds.

I think about how much I've missed in my time on this planet. Hold on. Let me do the maths.

14,325 days.

Cue even more existential dread.

Either way, I've missed out on a lot of beauty that's happening all around me because I've been stuck in my head worrying about this and overthinking about that.

Never too late to learn how to be more present.

Day 8: Call It Like You Sees It

I'm walking around in the backyard with Ella when I decide to Call It Like You Sees It again. I start by just pointing and naming things. It's less weird when Ella is there because I've been pointing and naming things around her for years. I read somewhere that I was supposed to do that to help her learn how to talk.

I point and name trees, grass, and some leftover snow piles. Then, I see some fungus mixed in with all the moss and grass of our yard.

I point and say, "Mushroom," and Ella, genuinely excited, says she wants to see the mushroom.

I show it to her, and she picks off a piece of it and proudly says, "Mushroom."

Then she throws the mushroom into a puddle, and it floats. I tell her that it's floating, and she seems into it.

She repeats, "It's floating." And I feel like we've had a genuine moment. A moment that was only possible by calling it like we sees it.

Day 9: Call It Like You Sees It

It's pick up time at school one again, so on the way to retrieve Ella, I decide to call it like I sees it again. I'm more subtle because I don't want people to be concerned for me. Pointing and naming can seem...strange.

I point and name the usual suspects: playground equipment, grass, trees. Then I have a revelation.

I look up and see three balls stuck in a tree. It feels like a real discovery. Then I see a piece of firewood, half charred, thirty feet from the school bonfire pit. That's right. Ella's school has a bonfire pit.

I realize that pointing and naming helps me to figure out how to be more present, sure. But it also primes me to make discoveries about my environment and makes me genuinely interested and curious to make those discoveries.

These both feel like enormous wins.

Day 10: Nope, Try Something Else

My first attempt at Nope, Try Something Else is while I'm trying to fall asleep. My mind is racing because there's a lot going on. We're in Florida because Haris's dad is in the hospital and we still don't have any drinkable water back home because of that geothermal drilling snafu. It's a lot.

So I try thinking the word "Nope" every time I have a thought that I don't want. Thinking about Haris's dad? Nope, not right now.

Thinking about the chaos back home? Nope.

I do this for about a minute and notice the thoughts slowing down.

And before I know it, I'm asleep.

Day 11: Nope, Try Something Else

I try  Nope, Try Something Else again when Ella and I are on a walk. We're enjoying the heat and the sun here in Florida, but as we get closer to the house, my mind starts racing again.

Every time I have a rogue thought, I say "Nope" out loud and wait for another thought to replace it. Ella doesn't seem to mind me talking to myself. After all, she does it all the time.

I realize that after a couple of minutes, I start feeling more present and in the moment. I'm no longer thinking about stressful things because I've said Nope to the stressful thoughts so many times.

This game is a nice reset button for busy minds.

Day 12:Nope, Try Something Else

I have a lot of thoughts in the shower, so I try Nope, Try Something Else there to see how it goes.

It has the same cleansing, reset effect as the first two days of the game.

After a minute or two, I am just taking a shower. I'm not worrying about money or family members or mud water that's potentially staining tubs and sinks and clogging pipes back home.

Every once in a while, a stressful thought bubbles up, but I tell it no once or twice and all is well once again.

Day 13: The Museum Game

Ella and I are strolling around Haris's mom's development when I try out The Museum Game.

I take photos of all the things I could pretend to buy and then a close up of the winner. It's my little trick for paying more attention to my surroundings.

Right away, I see a row of potted plants.

Let's pretend I could buy any one of these glorious potted plants...

I study them closely before deciding that this one is my favorite.

I pick this one! Because it's fiery and bold. You win, plant!

The Museum Game definitely helps me slow down and pay closer attention to things. It is a great activity to help learn how to be more present.

Day 14: The Museum Game

I try out The Museum Game on our last walk in Florida and have similar results. Instead of just passing a group of ducks, I stop, take their picture, and reflect on which one I would choose.

What if these ducks were for sale?

I deliberate for a long time before landing on this duck.

I'd pick this one. Such a sassy personality.

I usually struggle with how to be more present, but The Museum Game is a quick, fun way to snap myself into more mindful thinking. It forces me to slow down and really see.

Day 15: The Museum Game

We return home to New York, and, unfortunately, our water is still not totally clear. It's stressful, and it feels like we've been away forever. All I want to do is catch up on laundry and unpack, so the dirty water is cramping my style.

I don't really go anywhere today, so I try The Museum Game at home.

I take a picture of some shelves.

You don't have to go anywhere to play The Museum Game. Which item would I want to re-buy?

Then I decide which item I would buy. I study each item closely, thinking about sentimental value and aesthetic appeal.

I decide on a Turkish coffee set.

I choose this Turkish coffee set. So shiny.

The Museum Game has helped me with how to be more present faster than the other games. I think it helps that I take pictures of the choices. This makes the game more tangible somehow. It makes it more real.

Day 16: Instahike

Tanzen and I head out for our usual midday walk, a perfect time to try out the game called Instahike.

Instahike is really just Take a Hike but with lots of picture-snapping and Insta filters and flourishes. I snap pictures of the geothermal trenches in the yard, Tanzen, and some pretty shots of the creek behind our house.

I even take a picture of Tanzen pooping. It is what it is.

By the way, our water is finally drinkable again and Haris's dad is doing well.

I notice that taking pictures and imagining how I'm going to weave them into my Instagram story makes me enjoy the walk more. For people struggling with how to be more present and who don't want to put their phones down, I feel like this game is a winner.

I'm not hurrying to get back in the house anymore either. Instahike has helped me to slow down and notice what's going on around me.

Join me on Instagram and #playyourwaysane in your stories, so I can enjoy your #instahike experience.

Day 17: Instahike

I think The Mindfulness Challenge is helping Ella with how to be more present, too. It's a great motivator to get out of the house and commune with nature a bit. Because it's a challenge. And that means you have to do it. Like a triple dog dare.

Today we both head out again. We walk around the house and see a leaf with lots of holes in it. Probably an infestation. And a tree that has fallen over and is covered in fresh snow. Probably due to said infestation.

I only concern myself with how cool these things look. It's important to stay neutral with these mindfulness games.

I take some videos of Ella making her stuffed animal monkey walk in the front yard and then sitting down for some coffee talk with him in the backyard. It's a precious moment. She asks how he's doing today and then gives him a big kiss.

I've been noticing that I've been cranky and impatient for a few days but not during these Instahikes. During the hikes, I feel present and calm and laugh with Ella.

Day 18: Instahike

Ella and I head out for our final day of The Mindfulness Challenge. She doesn't really seem like she wants to. The sun is setting. But it's a challenge. So, say it with me, we have to do it.

I notice that we've already seen most of the noteworthy things in the yard, but I double down and keep looking. It's nice to at least be getting some fresh air with Ella today.

I take a picture of deer prints trekking through the snow when Ella says, "I have to go potty."

We hurry back to the house because when a two-year-old says they have to go potty, you motivate and move as quickly as humanly possible.

The Take-Away

I've noticed that 18 days of playing little mindfulness games felt a lot like going to the gym and eating better for a few weeks. I feel like I have a better grasp on how to be more present, and now I throw in the games throughout my day as I need them. It's become more of a habit.

It also feels like a keystone habit, which just means a big habit that is more likely to motivate you to change other littler habits. I want to start running again, do yoga, and meditate again. And I don't think I'd be eager to make these additional changes if I hadn't regularly tried these Play your Way Sane mindfulness games.

So do it.

Point to things and say what they are. Go on an Instahike. More generally, just go outside and get some fresh air.

I think the regularity of The Mindfulness Challenge is better than dabbling with the games, but something is better than nothing.

And if being more present and enjoying the moment more is the payoff, I certainly think it's worth just a few minutes a day.

Learn More about Mindfulness