Will You Take the Challenge?

This is not a perfunctory question. I challenge you to count up the number of your actions or behaviors over the last two days that would qualify as perfunctory.

I’ve been thinking about this since a recent conversation with my neighbor. She walks daily and is in good shape, but somehow she fell on her stairs and injured herself. I asked how it happened. She had on good shoes. She wasn’t carrying anything. But, she admitted that she had placed her hand on the handrail loosely and was not holding or gripping it. She was holding the rail in a perfunctory manner. I immediately recognized myself. I did this all the time…sometimes to avoid touching a cold or dirty rail and sometimes because I was distracted. I convinced myself that I was doing the safe thing by sort of holding the rail. 

Perfunctory is an adjective used to describe any action or behavior that is done without much interest, thought or enthusiasm, sometimes to fulfill an obligation or to please another. Mindful, focused, thoughtful and caring are descriptions of the opposite type of behavior.

I took the challenge. My count was 3.

 I rinsed the broccoli so quickly under the water that part of it might not even have gotten wet. But I did my duty—I rinsed my produce.

Before eating, I said the blessing so quickly and automatically that I don’t even know what I said. 

At the gym, I realized that I was lifting the weights to the side in a loose and floppy way. I reached the goal of 15 reps, but did not get full value from the unfocused effort.

What a waste of time and energy! Not only are the tasks poorly done, but there can be serious consequences, such as falling down the stairs.


  • Take the challenge and seek out your own perfunctory behaviors. To help you get started, here are some examples: a perfunctory thank-you or offer to help; praying by rote with no thought of God; a task done poorly because you just had to get it done; recycling done carelessly….and so on.

  • Read my blog about mindfulness, which I think is the antidote to perfunctory behavior. Jon Kabat-Zinn wrote the sentinel book on mindfulness, Full Catastrophe Living.

Blessings to all,