The 15-minute Commitment

Is your life worth 15 minutes of your time? I’ve decided mine is.

Beginning March 15, I’m embarking on a self-help program of my own design, one that’s largely been pulled from the ether. Not entirely pulled from the ether, as it’s inspired by a recent chat over breakfast with an old friend who happens to be a school psychologist.

We were talking about our respective flagging motivation on some long-range projects and, in the course of conversation, I suggested that even 15 minutes spent on an activity of value is worthwhile. It might not yield enormous dividends — it certainly won’t, in the short term — but it’s proverbial money in the bank.

However, like a lot of my ideas, I put it on the back burner and, when I wasn’t paying attention, the flame went out. (Luckily this is just a metaphor. Otherwise, you’d be reading about a gas explosion in my neighborhood.)

This incremental-progress-toward-achievement plan has been dormant for more than a month but, after a brisk walk with the hounds along the Merrimack River today, the scales fell from my eyes. I had a muddy footpath to Damascus moment, if you will.

The 15-minute Commitment is simple: Pick something you’ve always wanted to accomplish but, for one reason or another, haven’t yet. Now spend 15 minutes on it, five times a week.

Want to get in shape, but can’t dynamite your ass off the couch? Grab a pair of dumbbells and spend just 15 minutes a day doing curls and overhead presses. I won’t say it will give you a banging beach body that’s the envy of men and women half your age, but at the end of Week 1(!) you’ll already see larger biceps and improved shoulders, chest and triceps. And at the end of a month, you’ll be well on your way to sporting a stronger and leaner upper body.

By summertime, even if you do nothing else but bicep curls and overhead presses for 15 minutes a day, you’ll be rocking a tank top like nobody’s business.

Similarly, are you worried about your cardiovascular health? Take a brisk walk or break into a slow jog for only 15 minutes a day. Congratulations: You’ve just traversed a mile a day, and it wasn’t that hard, was it?

Who’s got time to cook at home? Nobody, I get it. Well, spend 15 minutes a day prepping vegetables. Grab a pound of carrots, an onion, a head of broccoli and cauliflour and hack away at those superfoods like Russell Crowe’s Maximus character in “Gladiator” and stick the produce in a zip-top bag. After only two days, pick up a precooked rotisserie chicken at the grocery store on your way home from work and, if the spirit moves you, mix up a box of macaroni and cheese and you’ve got at least a couple of meals you don’t have to call the pizza guy for.

Still haven’t finished that furshlugginer novel that’s haunted you for a dozen years like someone I know pretty well? Grab a pad of paper and a pencil and start scribbling for a quarter-hour. Once you really get going, you might produce a page or more in that time and, at the end of a year, that’s a novel-length draft manuscript.

Or maybe you just need to relax, but can’t find the time. I promise, no matter who you are, you can find 15 minutes to take care of yourself. Pray. Meditate. Read “The Relaxation Response” and do one of the exercises. Hell, you don’t even have to read that book: Here’s one of the exercises for you. Watch the video twice, and you’ll still have a couple minutes left over.

If you’re into yoga, that TV show “Namaste Yoga” is really only about 24 minutes long. Perform the techniques shown for 15 minutes, then watch the rest of the show while eating a bowl of ice cream, if you’re inclined to snack in front of the tube. That way, you’re transforming a lactose-laden shame spiral into a trophy for thinking enough of yourself to spend 15 minutes making your life better.

Is your life worth 15 minutes of your time?

11 thoughts on “The 15-minute Commitment

  1. Man, it seems like I’m onto something. During a break from work, I just Googled “15-minute Commitment” and, in addition to the above post, I got a number of returns for similar ideas, some using the same nomenclature.

    One is the now-closed “The Motivation Station,” which breaks down any manner of daily routines into 15-minute increments. It even uses the same idea of illustrating it with a pocket watch, though I suppose that’s a pretty obvious way to go.

    Another is the “15-Minutes-A-Day Challenge” by a visual artist to spur creativity. She also offers some sort of toolkit, presumably for sale.

    Other sites talk about clearing clutter, serving as a church usher and even saving one’s marriage(!) in a quarter-hour.

    I’ll confess to feeling a bit peeved that my “15 minutes” eureka moment is hardly unique, though I suppose I should embrace this fact as some sort of proof of concept. At any rate, beginning March 15, I’m going forward with my own 15-minute Commitment plan.

  2. The “Relaxation Response” video link is fixed. Thanks to my friend and former colleague, Tracy Mallette, for the catch.

  3. I use this technique when I’m tackling projects at work or around the house. It’s amazing what can be accomplished in just 15 or 20 minutes. In fact, I just read your blog while eating a half bag of potato chips. I figure I accomplished two things at the same time — reading and gaining weight.

  4. Great post, John! I really enjoyed the meditation. I think I’ll use that one to help me fall asleep at night. I’ve been wanting to get back into meditation, so I’ll give your 15-Minute Commitment a try. Even if others have already thought of it, it’s still a brilliant idea – maybe just a sign you’re in tune with the collective unconscious. 🙂

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