Twenty Minutes

Sometimes I get daunted thinking about committing to something for the rest of my life, like eating healthy.  Sometimes I can’t get motivated to do something that I know will take me a measly hour, like working out.  Sometimes I am overwhelmed at the idea that I have several hours worth of work ahead of me, like cleaning the house.  But thanks to some casual words describing a little game of basketball, I have decided to put on blinders and focus on only the next 20 minutes.  I can do (almost) anything for 20 minutes.

I’m not usually a basketball fan unless my son is playing.  But this past spring break I was a captive audience to much of March Madness.  On the long car ride home from our ski trip, my husband and my teen were listening to the game on the radio; I was bored enough to listen with half an ear.  The University of Kansas, considered by many to be the front-runner to win the NCAA tournament, was playing underdog Northern Iowa.  (Full disclosure:  I live in Kansas and my husband and I both attended grad school at KU.)  Both ears perked up when I heard the commentator say that the underdogs did not have to think about being a great team – they just had to be better than the Jayhawks for 20 minutes.  How empowering!  And my mind, which loves a good analogy, immediately started thinking of all the ways this might hold true in my own life.

My first thought was about eating.  (Of course it was.)  While I have subscribed to the theory that I am implementing a lifestyle change and not a diet that ends, sometimes I am a bit daunted in thinking about the eternity of the commitment.  But maybe I should stop worrying about what I am going to eat (or not eat) months from now (or this weekend even) and just focus instead on the next 20 minutes.  Surely I can control my eating for 20 short minutes!  Then I can think about the 20 minutes after that, and after that.

I thought about all the other things in my life that take time and motivation to complete.  Like how often I just don’t want to get started with my boring elliptical workout, knowing that I have set a goal of an hour of exercise.  What would happen if I told myself that I only need to get on for 20 minutes?  I would be less deterred from starting and very likely to stay on past the 20 minute mark once I got going.  Twenty minutes seems a lot more doable some days.  Twenty minutes gets me started.

And sometimes 20 minutes is a great interval for breaking a larger, more time consuming project into smaller parts.  Like tackling my dirty house.  Sigh.  I can’t remember the last time I carved out the time to clean the whole thing  in one fell swoop.  But I can pick up a dust rag and swipe away.  Twenty minutes here, twenty minutes with the vacuum, twenty minutes later cleaning the kitchen, twenty minutes nagging reminding my son and husband that the bathrooms need cleaning.

And then, like Northern Iowa, I can overcome the odds and win the game.  Doesn’t matter what game I’m playing.  I don’t need to be great, I just need to do well for 20 minutes.  Twenty minutes!  And the same principle applies to so many other things.  Forget about the clock and 20 minutes and consider the analogy.  Lots of weight to lose?  Focus on just 5 pounds at a time.  Training to run a marathon?  Take it in one mile increments.  Finishing a degree program?  Once semester or class at a time.  Packing up your house to move?  One box or closet at a time.

Twenty minutes.  Shoot, it took me longer than that to write this post!  What can you do?



Filed under dieting, exercise, making a change, optimism

37 responses to “Twenty Minutes

  1. Great post as usual, Karen. This is right in keeping with “one day at a time”, only it is even more applicable and universally doable, at least for this girl! I’m going to put the 20 minute notion at the top of my strategy list for getting through either doing or not doing things I don’t want or should be! Esp. with the exercise – yesterday at work I thought all day about doing a 4 mile walk when I got home. When I got home I didn’t want to go 4 miles. So guess how far I went? ZERO! I’m going to have to use this today in my post, and will credit you for your brilliance!

  2. This will help me today. More “stuff” with MIL and she has timed it perfectly so lunch will be involved. As per our agreement, I pick the place, but it’s still a temptation I’d hoped to avoid this week. So, I can handle 20 minutes between sitting down, making a choice and ordering then 20 more minutes of slow eating and getting the heck out of wherever we are!!

  3. Karen, I love this thought process! Hope it works for you!

    I am not a cardio fan but I do tons of it. I tend to think at first about how long I have to be on there before I get to do my beloved weights… BUT, I tell myself to just start & sometimes I talk my way thru it by saying just 5 more minutes at this speed.. and then it sort of works its way thru like that…

    I do like your 20 minute approach though! Just looking at things differently makes a huge difference!

  4. love the post! I don’t try to eat the whole elephant either. I take baby steps too. Once the ball gets rolling I enjoy doing it longer. Like exercising. I say I am going to quite right after this song. Then another good song comes on and it’s no after this song… before long its been over an hour…lol

  5. I totally subscribe to this method! I break up my time too in order to manage my life better. I even go down to 5 minute increments- it’s amazing what I can do in 5 minutes- fold and put away laundry, vacuum the kitchen, empty the sink, get myself put together before I run out the door, etc.

  6. LOVE 20 minute approach…I think I will tell myself that today. thanks

  7. You won’t be surprised to read that I adore your ‘smaller step’ thinking! I do something similar, in 15-minute increments, for housekeeping or other to-do items.

    E.L. Doctorow has a great quote intended to describe the writing process, but just so happens to work well for our purposes: [Eating healthy/exercising/Life] “is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

  8. I have the same mentality – the magical 20 minutes. I need to remember that 20 minutes is all it takes – and it’s not THAT big of a deal.

    I DO have that mentality for running. I’ll tell myself “I’ll just do a quick 2 miles and then stop.” Then, when I’m in my running gear I’ll decide if I want to go farther. Usually I do. But for some reason, the 2 miles is enough to get me off my duff.

  9. Genie@dietof51

    Very well said and so applicable to the eating/exercise game. Bravo!

    Twenty minutes increments are great if you have control over your time. I think I’ll be taking my new job hour-to-hour at first. If I don’t run out screaming after the first hour, I’ll set my sights on surviving the second hour. And so forth.

  10. sunnydaze

    I do this, as well, or I get too overwhelmed. I’m hoping that one day (soon, lol) that this will become habit and I won’t constantly worry about food/exercise.

    I keep telling myself to think about where I want to be and what it will take to get me there, and that’s what keeps me motivated.

  11. I agree with you. We can all find those smaller increments that make the things we think we can’t do – doable. Like the one day at a time approach.

    What struck me though…your husband and son clean the bathrooms? Wow!

  12. I had my first day at the gym today. I was there for about 1/2 hour, and was sweating for 20 minutes. I figure I could do 20 minutes there every day in addition to my minimum two miles/day walking. I can do it! It’s ONLY 20 minutes!

  13. That’s a great way of thinking – I am definitely going to incorporate it into my own planning. I can do 20 minutes for sure 😉


  14. Thoughtful post.I like it. Twenty minutes. It’s about Incremental improvements (sorry Tish) and baby steps in this journey and anything else. You can get through most anything if you think about it in increments of 20 minutes. Pulling weeds, walking, grading papers, answering emails, jog/walking, cleaning out old computer files, sorting through old pictures, cleaning out closets and drawers…..

  15. I am TOTALLY going to start doing this. I needed this right now as I’m completely unable to face an entire day at a time.
    20 minutes is perfect.

  16. Such a great reminder, Karen. My tendency is to be an all nothing kinda gal – totally on plan, totally off; completely focused; acting as if I had adult ADD. Twenty minutes at a whack is totally doable – even in the presence of a MIL who keeps shoving food at me, food she knows that I no longer chose to eat.

  17. Mon

    Great thoughts!

    Looking at the ‘big picture’ really is way too overwhelming,I find. It can be frustrating to think of your overall BIG picture but just taking things in bite-sized pieces makes them much more manageable and achievable!!

    I am very much into goal setting and getting things done step by step – even if those steps are sometimes small (and slow), at least we are moving in the right direction.

    It’s how I managed to lose weight myself and also finish writing my ebook(the house cleaning however is another issue altogether !!)

    Anyhow, just wanted to cheer you on Karen – love your ideas. Very wise.

  18. Great idea, Karen. I guess that’s why I like 30DS … that it’s only 20 plus minutes and I know I can at least do that.

  19. Karen, as always I needed this post to motivate me today! What a great post!
    Have a pretty day!

  20. Yup. You are brilliant. I knew that, but I thought I should point that out to ya. Just to make sure you know.

    I’ve definitely been looking Too closely at the elephant’s disgusting thick skin and too widely at the whole picture. I need to just break it down into the consumption of it for twenty minutes. Much simpler.

    Thank you for breaking it down for us. It always helps to refresh, renew and revitalize!

  21. I so agree, Karen! Sometimes it’s too overwhelming to think about things “for the rest of my life, especially when you’re still in the losing weight stage (and after, too!) I used to say that I can take it one meal at a time.. and I guess I still do! It definitely lessens the blow of “forever.”

    Thanks for thinking of me this week.. I had planned on running after work today but ended up working an unplanned 11-hr day. I’m definitely feeling anxious about not having time after work right now to do the things I want to do, but hopefully things will settle down next week.

  22. I agree, when you break anything down into smaller segments it is much easier to deal with!

  23. I love the logic. It’s 20 minutes. ONLY 20 minutes – out of 24 hours. There is no way I could say I honestly don’t have time for 20 minutes to do something I need to do.

    Focus on the 20 minutes I’m in the grocery store or the 20 minutes I’m preparing a meal. The 20 minutes to sit down and really enjoy the meal. 20 minutes of tidying the house. (Imagine if I spent 20 minutes, every day, doing something to make the house cleaner – I’m sure it would be spotless within a week or two!)

    It’s amazing what you can get done in 20 minutes… and how easily, once you commit to it, finding 20 minutes can be. (Now if only I can follow this advice…!)

  24. i think you’re right: sometimes we worry too much about tomorrow, when we should be concentrating on here and now. i know when i run, i always look for small benchmarks, like, “just need to run to the end of the street…just need to get to the next stop sign…” focusing on small goals definitely works (and makes the time go by faster.)

    fyi, my last post was about eating and mindfullness, and it made me think of you! lookin forward to hearing your thoughts! 🙂

  25. At one time, I too was daunted by the thought/reality that I was going to have to do this “eat right/exercise” thing for the rest of my life too. It *is* rather daunting. But for me, that’s when I started to find balance, which some people would call lazyness. 🙂

    I started doing Zumba, which is still a workout, but not a hard-core, wish for death workout, which I did for one reason: it makes me happy! I love to dance, and if I can use dance to get a good workout in, why not? I also dropped my notion of working out to be “perfect”, aka, I can do an easy workout. It’s still good for me to move my body, I don’t have to kill myself every time. I stopped wearing my HRM that monitored how many calories I burned, and started working out for me, to be HEALTHY. I gave myself more leeway to eat what I really wanted to eat, even if it is not all that nutritious. I know I don’t eat as much as I used to. I’m finding that I’m a lot happier that way, with some fun injected into my routine. I love food, and I love to dance. Why not enjoy the journey that is life?

    Looking back this post sounds rather preachy and ha-ta-ta look at me, but that’s not my intention! Anyway, while that worked for me, you’ll find your own equilibrium at some point, where it becomes enjoyable for you, and doable at the same time, I’m sure, and you’ll realize it’s not so daunting, although some days will be better than others. 🙂

  26. Not that this would EVER come as a surprise to you, but I, too, LOVE a good analogy!!! Thanks for this post. As always, I needed it!

  27. Jo

    I like the concept of just 20 minutes, Karen. I’m going to try it out on a few unpleasant things I have on my list.

  28. Great post – love the sports analogy. I’ve been putting off cleaning out my very crowded closet. But in 20 minutes, I can make a huge difference in sorting out that space. Will do it tonight…unless I get pulled into another work deadline for 20 minutes instead. 🙂

  29. This is a good idea, Karen!

    I’ve done some surgeries in 20 minutes that worked really well. Then there are some things that I only wish I could do for 20 minutes 🙂

  30. amazing post! Exactly what i needed to hear, or rather, read today. Thank you!

  31. In 20 minutes I can either eat half a tube of cookie dough, or burn 300 calories on the elliptical, or clean my bathroom.


    Polar’s Mom

    Go UNI! 😉

  32. In OA, it’s one day at a time, but I rather like beaking it up a bit more, like one meal at a time or as you suggest 20 minutes at a time. My best friend cleans like that… one hour… whatever she can accomplish in one hour and then she can call it quits. But the interesting thing is that after doing one hour, she is often more than willing to spend whatever additional time is needed to complete the job. Getting started is often a problem for me with both cleaning and exercise. Maybe I need to try the 20 minute idea. Thanks for hearing it and working up the analogy for us!

  33. Great thoughts, Karen. It really is best to break any great project down into manageable pieces. I sometimes tell myself that I just need to get on my yoga mat for 10 minutes to feel better and often I end up staying 20 or more. There is just so much wisdom in learning to be present in the now. When we are fully engaged it is enough. Thinking about forever is way too overwhelming. It is good to “be prepared” for the day so we are set up for success, but beyond that I try to live for the day. I have posted on my fridge Dear Abby’s list of New Years Resolutions that was adapted from the Al-Anon credo that I try to read every morning. It is called Just for Today. Have you read it? Here is a link..

  34. I totally understand this. I suffer from being a “perfectionist”. If I can’t do it “perfectly” I won’t do it at all. Which is so totally unrealistic. It’s amazing what one can accomplish in 20 minutes.

  35. Love it! This is exactly what I’ve been doing with my exercise. Sometimes I struggle to get to the 20 mins, and sometimes I can go longer, but the 20 minute commitment is what makes it doable to me. I love the idea of applying it to housework (which I hate so very much). I usually try to think of an hour, but that can be overwhelming and prevent me from starting. I’m going to see what else I can do in 20 minutes! Great post.

  36. Thanks for linking to this in your Thumbrise thumbset post! I never saw this one and you make a great point! I often feel discouraged thinking what my eating life will be like if I ever get to my goal weight. There’s no point in worrying and I won’t have to if I take it one step at a time. Love it.

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