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21-Day mind diet challenge

Kendra Y. Mims is a full-time writer in the Chicagoland area. When she is not writing articles on health, home, living, travel and fitness for online and print publications, she can be found writing fiction or with her head in a good boo...

A more focused and re-energized you

It’s hard to stay in shape if we constantly feed our bodies junk, and this same principle applies to what we feed our minds. If you spend countless hours listening to tragic news stories or socializing with negative-minded people, your mind will become weighed down with unhealthy thoughts that can take a toll on your psyche and produce negative internal conversation (“I’ll never be able to do that,” “I’m just not qualified,” “I should just give up.”). And the more you dwell on negativity, the worse you'll feel.

a More Focused and Re-energized You

Woman writing in her journal

It’s hard to stay in shape if we constantly feed our bodies junk, and this same principle applies to what we feed our minds. If you spend countless hours listening to tragic news stories or socializing with negative minded people, your mind will become weighed down with unhealthy nutrients that can take a toll on your psyche and produce negative internal conversation (“I’ll never be able to do that”, “I’m just not qualified” “I should just give up.”). And the more you dwell in negativity, the worse you'll feel.

Just as we detox our bodies to eliminate toxins, experts recommend that we cleanse our minds regularly from toxic thoughts that build up and hinder us from a positive outlook.

Dr. David Stack
Dr. David Sack

“A 21-day mind diet can be a way to refocus attention on your mental health. As with any habit, the key to a positive outlook is practice and repetition – like strengthening a muscle,” says Dr. David Sack, CEO of Elements Behavioral Health. “Catch yourself in the middle of a negative thought or self-criticism and re-route your thought process. Rather than berating yourself, recognize the silver lining in a difficult situation, practice gratitude for all that you do have and celebrate your efforts at self-improvement.”

Here’s how I incorporated small positive changes into my daily routine during a 21-day mind diet challenge.

The Challenge

Day 1

Tip: Dr. Sack also recommends asking supportive family and friends for their help in identifying negative thinking and to surround yourself with people who make it easy to stay positive.

Delete negative words from your vocabulary (e.g., "never," "can’t" and "try"). Identify when you tend to use negative words. If you say something negative, follow up that statement with a positive one. For example: "I just can't run." Follow up: "I can walk on the treadmill." Write each positive affirmation you choose on a whiteboard throughout the day.

Day 2

Read something inspirational, such as a devotional, self-improvement or spiritual essay for 30 minutes.

Day 3 

Avoid complaining today (crazy traffic, having a bad hair day, it's raining outside... ). When you find yourself getting ready to complain, say something you’re grateful for instead.

Day 4

Take it one step further and write down five things you are grateful for and tell a close friend. Joy is contagious.

Day 5

Use a dry-erase marker to write down on your mirror five things you love about yourself.

Day 6

Do something nice for a total stranger today (compliment, pay for someone’s coffee, etc.).

Day 7

Journal your feelings: frustrations, joys, fears and dreams.

Day 8

Create three positive affirmations and repeat them at least three times throughout the day (e.g., "Today will be a good day.").

Day 9

Focus on something you’ve been putting off and create a detailed plan on how you will finish it.

Day 10

Catch up with a friend in person. Invite them out for lunch or coffee.

Day 11

Avoid watching/reading/listening to the news today unless it is an inspirational story.

Day 12

Treat yourself today (it could be a new shirt, manicure or a latte).

Day 13

Do one thing today that can improve your finances (make your lunch instead of going out to eat or pay off a debt).

Day 14

Laughter is good for the soul, so find a way to laugh, such as watching your favorite comedy.

Day 15

Relax and release: Get a massage, take a yoga class or enjoy a warm bath.

Day 16

Declutter your space, whether it’s your work area, bathroom or car.

Day 17

Conqueror your fear by doing something that genuinely scares you — ride a roller coaster, hold a snake, give a speech, etc.

Day 18

Engage in concentration exercises. For example, select a positive word and repeat it silently for three minutes.

“Mindfulness meditation is a powerful way to get quiet enough to tune into your thought patterns and to relax enough to begin mapping out a plan for change,” Dr. Sack points out.

Day 19

Engage in an outdoor activity you enjoy.

outdoor activities
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Day 20

Enjoy quiet time alone. Give your phone to a trusted friend/family member or coworker for an hour.

Day 21

(Deep breath!) Go technology-free today and encourage your family to do the same. No cell phones, computers, tablets or TV. Spend time enjoying yourself and your family.

The aftermath

The 21-day mind diet challenge was an eye-opener by helping me become aware of my thoughts, whether positive or negative. I tend to think of myself as an optimistic person but I quickly recognized areas where I could improve. On day 1, I was surprised at how easily the word “can’t” surfaced throughout the day (e.g., “I can’t run another mile” turned into “Yes, you can do another half-mile.”).

As the challenge continued, I had fun doing something different every day during my commitment to become more positive. I enjoyed catching up with a friend, running outdoors, creating positive affirmations, treating myself to an outfit and doing something nice for a stranger. I also paid off a debt! Some days were easier than others — reading something inspirational on day 2 and enjoying quiet time on day 20 were both much easier than giving up technology on day 21 (epic fail!). Overall, this challenge was rewarding. I had fun and felt I gained a clearer mindset at the end. It also took my appreciation for things in life that I’m grateful for to another level!

Developing and maintaining a positive mindset goes beyond a 21-day challenge; it's a process. Dr. Sack says people may be more successful by approaching positive thinking as a work in progress, as it can be a lifelong effort.

 “Although changing something as abstract as the way we think isn’t easy, there is hope. Even when a habit seems entrenched, our brains are remarkably adaptable. The concept is called neuroplasticity. We can re-train our brains and, in doing so, change our lives.”

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