21 Days of Play Challenge RECAP

by Nikki Mark

Dear Friends and Family,

Today marks the final day of my first 21-Day Play Challenge! If you missed my original blog article explaining the reasons behind it, CLICK HERE. For the rest of you, I hope the recap below inspires you to join my next challenge with me…yep, I’m committing to one more starting NOW.

But first, Play Challenge #1:

For 21 days straight, my husband and I played at least thirty minutes a day, often for sixty. Our play dates included activities like ping pong, puzzles, billiards, riding bikes, playing two on two basketball, and tossing the football around with my 15-year-old son. As you can see from the photo above, we even took Ginger to the beach.

Why does any of this matter?

Because I take it seriously when the Founder of the National Institute for Play, Dr. Stuart Brown, says, “When we stop playing, we start dying.” Given how depressed our world has become, it seems that playing and prioritizing some good old-fashioned “clean” fun might just be the cheapest, fastest, and healthiest remedy for all.

So, what has this 21-Day Play challenge taught me so far?

First, I’ve learned that when I prioritize play, time practically bends over backward for it. Every morning during this challenge, my husband and I asked each other what we wanted to play that day and when. No matter how busy our days got, nothing got in the way of our play dates. And somehow, they never felt rushed or stressed either. Time seems to pause for play.

I also rediscovered my favorite type of play: team sports! Given I mostly gave them up after middle school, this was quite a revelation. I had forgotten how much fun it is to trash-talk on the basketball court and get lost in the joy of scoring for my team. I also experienced for the first time how it feels to properly catch a football. Sometimes we don’t know what our spirit is missing until we find it.

Last, but not least, the more I’ve played these last few weeks, the more reacquainted I’ve become with my own smile. Playing has opened new pathways to laughter. And considering there was a time five years ago when I never thought I’d play again, playing is healing.

Don’t just take it from me. Nine other friends joined this challenge, some couples, and some singles. We checked in on each other regularly and traded play ideas. One couple got creative and took an online dance class together. Another couple played lots of board games, jumped off their diving board for the first time in many years, and established a weekly dance party with their kids while cooking dinner. One friend took full advantage of the outdoors and even ventured out to experience a rodeo for the first time.

“What I love about this is that it puts playfulness in my mind every day, and the forethought alone is a great habit to cultivate,” one participant commented. “The challenge is inspiring me to get creative with my fun.”

Another participant said, “My biggest takeaway is that my husband and I do a lot of fun things together regularly, but the scheduling part of it creates a different connection between us…like there’s an intention behind it…and it’s always nice doing challenges and feeling like you are accomplishing something together.”

So… what’s next?

They now say it takes 66 consecutive days to form a habit. Not 21. Not sure who “they” are, but I’ve decided to do another 21 days challenge starting today to see if the results feel any different and more sustainable.

This time, however, I’m specifically calling on women and moms to join me.  

Of course, everyone is included- male, female, or otherwise, and we can play whatever we want with whomever we want, but the reason I’m specifically inviting women is because so many men I know have already mastered the art of play.

In fact, a Washington Post article dated February 6, 2019, concluded, “Dads are happier than moms.”One reason for this, said the study’s authors, was that out of 18,000 people included in the study, “Father’s reported playing more with their children.”


For every backyard barbecue my friends and I have organized over the years, many of our husbands were in the pool with the kids playing! For every Sunday morning I raced around town stocking up the house, preparing for the following week and sneaking in a monotonous workout, my husband was on a basketball court with friends playing!  And what were many of his friends doing? Cycling, hiking, skiing, and golfing half their weekends away and spending the other half of their weekend talking about it!

I sometimes privately judged them as lazy, irresponsible, and even inconsiderate. Now I see they simply had their priorities straight! It’s time for me to get with the “play first” program and I’m inviting you to do the same.

So…no matter what you are going through or how busy your life is, if you crave a little more fun or need to find a way to persevere, respond to this email and commit to 21 days of consecutive play with me.

When we play, we engage with the world in new ways. We discover something new about ourselves and others. And we feed our spirits something we may not even know they need.

Who’s in?

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21 Days of Play

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