Are you trying to get into a meditation habit?
Habits and routines are curious things. Once you get into one, it becomes generally easy and requires less energy to keep it up than doing something new or different.
Because of this, habits and routines can keep us stuck, going around in the same circles, thought patterns and unhealthy behaviors.
The things we usually consider bad habits — eating too much, drinking too much, watching too much TV or scrolling through social media when we really should be doing something constructive with our time — are behavioral patterns we often fall into through inertia or lack of effort to to something else.
But habits can be wonderful, when applied to more positive behaviors.
Because they take less energy to follow than not, routines can help you stay on course and even improve your life. Regular meditation can become one of these good habits, offering you a space in your day when you can rest briefly, relax your mind and get closer to who you really are.
How can you create a meditation habit?
Maybe meditating regularly feels hard or near impossible in your life. I know it has for me and for many of my students and clients.
The hard part of any new routine or habit is getting over the hump of turning a new activity into a regular one.
Meditation can feel especially hard as it seems like an activity in which you’re just sitting around doing nothing. It can feel hard to carve out the time and stake a claim to it for something that doesn’t appear to be outwardly productive — to others and also yourself. It’s also an activity that can feel hard to cram into a busy life, especially if you’ve got kids, or even a partner, around.
But you already know about the benefits of meditation and want to find ways to make regular meditation a reality in your life, or you wouldn’t be reading this article.
Tips to make a regular meditation practice stick
Here are some tips on how to start and begin a regular meditation practice:
1. Give yourself permission to do something that may not seem productive
We live in a society that demands efficiency and productive use of our time at all times. But that’s not realistic, nor is it healthy. (That’s why we escape to social media and Netflix.)
Give yourself permission to use your time however you want to use it, even if you initially aren’t sure if it’s truly a productive use of your time.
Perhaps you could think of it as an experiment: what happens if you start meditating every day?
Also, because the people around you may not quite realize the benefit of your meditation time, you also need to be willing to stand up for it with them. Let them know when you’ll be meditating, so they know not to interrupt you during that time.
2. Consider your daily routine
Where might 10–20 minutes of meditation best fit? Are you alert enough first thing in the morning? Is it something you’d do better with at the end of the day, relaxing as you wind down before bed? Or maybe lunch time, when the house is quiet.
You know yourself and your routine. What’s the most likely time for you to be successful?
I can’t meditate first thing in the morning as I’ll fall back asleep. I’m not much of a morning person. Mid-mornings, after breakfast, and evening are the best times for me.
Pick a time and give it a try. You can always adjust.
3. Start small
You do not need to start meditating for an hour tomorrow. Start with 5 minutes a day. Or even 2 minutes a day. Whatever you can manage.
You can increase from there as you get more familiar with the meditation habit and realize the very real benefits it has in your daily life.
In my idea life, I’d meditate 20–30 minutes every day. In my actual life, it’s often closer to 10 minutes. But that’s 10 beautiful minutes I’m continually grateful for.
You may also decide that meditating daily is too much right now, but 3 times a week is manageable. Start there.
4. Create your own 30-day meditation challenge (with a reward at the end)
Habits take time to set. There’s probably some research study that says exactly how long you need to do a new thing until new neural pathways form or something like that, but common sense says that it’s probably going to take a little while. Perhaps a few weeks at least.
So create your own 30-day meditation challenge. Use a sticker chart, or mark the days off on a calendar, so you can see your progress toward your goal. When you meet it, reward yourself with something small — a trinket, meal out, a pedicure, whatever motivates you.
I’m not one for committing to doing something every single day for the rest of my life (other than brushing my teeth, I suppose), but I can commit to 30 days of something — meditation, morning yoga, neighborhood walks, writing a daily haiku, etc. — until it becomes a regular habit, something I miss if I don’t do it.
5. Use a habit tracking app
You can set up habit tracking apps, like Coach.me or HabitTracker, to remind you to do your daily meditation at the time you’ve chosen, and then track your success with the app.
I use Coach.me for the things I want to do each week — work on my next book, write a blog post like this, do yoga, go to the gym, meditate, write in my journal, etc. Some goals are daily (e.g. meditate), some are several times a week or even just once a week.
If checking off things from your to-do list makes you happy, it’s likely that checking off your goals in a habit tracker will make you feel good, too. This will help you want to keep going, so you can check it off again and again!
6. Get a meditation buddy
You’ve heard of exercise buddies. Meditation buddies work, too.
Whether that’s someone in your family, a friend, or a meditation group, find a meditation buddy.
I meditate with one of my kids nearly every night. In 5th grade he began experiencing anxiety and I wondered if meditation would help (it definitely can). So we began meditating before bed each night and it’s become a nightly ritual, even though he’s now a giant teenage 8th-grader. He loves our meditation time together, and so do I.
I know that, even if the rest of my day goes wonky, I’ll sit down with Duncan at 8:30 pm and have a few quiet minutes of meditation.
You may not have a kid you can talk into meditating with you, but perhaps you have a roommate, partner or local friend. You don’t even have to do it in the same room, although that’s nice. You could commit to a friend that you’ll each meditate in the comfort of your own homes at 7 pm every day (or whenever works for you). Then you can check in via text and virtually high five each other.
7. Get new tools
Whether you’ve been meditating for years or are just starting, learning new tools and techniques can keep your interest.
Try using meditation apps like Insight Timer, Headspace or Calm to access different types of guided meditations.
Duncan and I have been using Headspace for the last year or so and have gone through almost all of their various packs, focusing on different areas of your life and teaching you different techniques. (We’re working on a pack about Motivation in sports at the moment, even though neither of are playing any sports. We just substitute our own interests — YouTube challenge for him, writing my next book for me).
I also use Insight Timer for my solo meditations, sometimes just using the timer to keep track, sometimes exploring the plethora of free guided meditations available.
8. Give yourself a break
I’m not a fan of the unbroken chain way of creating new habits. Life happens and sometimes you won’t be able to meditate that day. Don’t let that derail you.
I meditate almost every day (thanks to my meditation buddy). I’d like to meditate twice a day and do a 20-minute meditation by myself. At times I do — I’ll go for a long stretch of sweet daily meditation and journaling. But then something shifts and my schedule or responsibilities change and I can’t quite manage it, while juggling everything else in my life.
It’s OK. You’re OK.
You can get back into it at any time. That’s the beauty of meditation. You’re going to lose focus, your mind is going to think thoughts and you’ll wander off with them. And then you come back to your breath, again, again and again.
It’s the same with your meditation practice. You lose focus. You wander off. You come back. It’s always there for you, always ready to welcome you back to your breath, to this moment right now.
Originally published at https://www.alightintuition.com on April 15, 2019.