How to Build a Meditation Habit (That Will Actually Stick)
Whether you’ve just discovered meditation or you’ve struggled for years to build the habit, avoid the pitfalls of jumping in without preparation. Try out the following steps to build a practice that will keep you tuned in.
1. Identify your motivation for meditating.
Meditation has been linked with countless benefits, but the only ones that matter for your practice are the ones that you believe will actually make a difference in your individual lifestyle. Do some research, or dig into the the preexisting reasons behind your desire to build a practice, and write down the reasons that most resonate with you.
Personally, my motivation for meditating is to guide my thoughts and actions to be more intentional, instead of letting myself be a slave to natural laziness, emotions, or cravings. I believe this intentionality will be the driving force behind so many of my goals, whether they are related to relationships, health and wellness, or productivity.
Once you clarify your motivation for meditating, it becomes much more difficult to skip or half-ass a planned meditation session. Every time you have the urge to skip your session, or you find yourself only going through the motions instead of really engaging, you can remind yourself of the exact reasons you need to quit humoring yourself and focus. Before I meditate, I remind myself how badly I want to live a more intentional life. I tell myself, “This is the most important thing you will do today,” and I really believe it.
2. Find a practice that suits your needs.
Once you understand your motivation for meditating, you can narrow down the practice that’s right for you. If you’re looking for a specific result, this can be as simple as googling “meditation for procrastination” or “meditation for a happy marriage.” The options available on the internet are boundless.
If you have a more general motivation, there are plenty of options to suit the whatever constraints you may be working around. Meditation apps are an incredible tool — offering you the flexibility to carry around guided meditations in your pocket so you can practice anytime, anywhere. Some of the best include Headspace and Calm.
If using technology to dictate your practice doesn’t vibe with your ideas about meditation, another great option is to find meditation workshops near you. Most major cities, at least, will have a variety of drop-in meditations offered throughout the week, many of which are completely free of charge. You might have to use your technology to find them, though — but this can be as simple as googling “meditation in [your city].” You will probably be surprised by the number of meditations happening around you that you aren’t aware of. Even if you prefer to practice on your own most of the time, these community meditations can be a great way to reignite your engagement with meditation when your solo practice fails to motivate you.
When choosing the practice that works for you, remember the bottom line: If you don’t like it, you won’t do it. If you hate the guiding voice in a particular app, or you dread commuting across town to a specific mediation center, keep looking until you find a practice that you actually enjoy! But remember, this doesn’t mean you have to feel like you’re good at it. We call it a ‘practice’ for a reason. Meditation is always a work in progress.
3. Find a time that will consistently work with your schedule.
The key to building a daily habit is finding a time that consistently works for you. You may have to try out a few different timing options before you find the one that best suits your schedule.
One of the most common options is to schedule meditation as part of your morning or bedtime routine, making the practice as habitual as brushing your teeth. If those times don’t work, for whatever reason, another great option is to choose a daily transition time and schedule your meditation then. This can be right before/after work, before/after working out, etc. — you know your schedule best. You can even meditate during your commute, assuming you are not driving — but even then, there are meditations you can try that are specifically designed to practice while driving.
If you’re concerned you won’t be able to stick to any habits on the weekend, when routines are often thrown out completely, it may be a wise choice for you to schedule your meditation practice on just weekdays.
4. Start small.
Start with ten minutes a day — or even five minutes, or two — whatever length of time you know you can definitely spare in your routine. Building the habit is what matters first and foremost, and only once it becomes cemented as part of your routine should you start thinking about building up to a longer practice. If you start small, there will likely be days you have the motivation to increase the length of your session — embrace them! Practice long sessions on those days. But on the days you are dreading practicing at all, you can remind yourself how ridiculous it is to skip something that only has to last two minutes. When you’re confident you won’t skip sessions, you can gradually start to increase their length — but cut yourself some slack if you have to regress to a short session on occasion. Beware of jumping ahead too quickly, too — you may find yourself deciding to skip sessions entirely if you know you can’t commit the full amount of time.
5. Find a source of accountability.
Having a source of accountability is crucial when committing to a new habit. Luckily, there is no shortage of accountability options. One great option is to find a friend to commit to a daily practice with you. Set up a system for checking in with one another to make sure you’re both practicing.
If you’re going solo here, there are plenty of popular apps available that will hold you accountable for your habits, many of which are 100% free. Check out a selection of the of the best options here.
Alternatively, you can create your own system of accountability by making use of rewards or punishments. Set up rewards by making rules for yourself: “If I meditate today, I can watch an episode of Netflix before bed,” or “I can eat whatever I want for dessert.” If punishments are more motivating for you, try something like: “If I don’t meditate today, I can’t go to happy hour after work,” or “I have to get up early tomorrow and go for a run.”
6. Reflect and reevaluate.
Most importantly, schedule time to evaluate your progress! At the end of your first few days or week, look back on when you meditated and when you didn’t. Identify factors that contributed to or prevented your successes, and then reevaluate your routine from there. Thought you would be able to get up early and meditate in the morning, but couldn’t convince yourself to get out of bed on time? Find a way to get yourself up without fail (I swear by the Kiwake alarm app), or schedule your meditation for a different time of day. Reevaluate all of the above factors — your motivation, the type of practice, the timing, the length, your source of accountability — and make changes to whatever is hindering your practice. Do this as often as you need to until you find a system that truly works for you.