Mindfulness Primer Part 3 (Establishing a Practice)
The Meditation Habit
Meditation in various forms has been practiced for many many centuries by all kinds of people. Over the last 15 years there has been an explosion of scientific research that has produced a compelling case for the benefits of practicing meditation which marry the anecdotal accounts from history. However, starting a new habit is difficult, especially when it is unfamiliar to us. Here are some practical tips on creating and continuing the habit of meditation.
1. Be clear about what you are doing and why
Meditation is a term that refers to a whole range of activities. You can think of it like the term ‘sports.’ A wide variety of activities fall under that category. It is important to find specific instruction in what type of meditation you would like to practice. Likewise, it is best to have at least a working understanding of why you have chosen to practice meditation, and what you hope to get out of it. A great place to start is with mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation is the most simple entry point, has a range of benefits associated with it, and supports any other meditation practice you may engage with.
2. Don’t make a big deal out of it
If we treat meditation practice as a peak experience, or approach it from the attitude of guilt, we will have a hard time establishing a habit of meditation. It is best to regard meditation as an ordinary activity that promotes our well-being, like having good hygiene, getting some exercise, or cleaning up our kitchen.
3. Make it work with your life
As with all habits, consistency trumps short term intensive efforts. Going to a week long meditation retreat can be wonderful, but can also be put off indefinitely until the “right time.” Even if we make it to a retreat, we may revert back to not meditating after the retreat is over. It is best to establish a simple routine (preferably daily, although not always) that has as few external obstacles as possible. You do not need a special cushion or tranquil environment (although these can help). You also do not need to carve out hours in your day. Even 10 minutes a day of mediation can produce welcome benefits.
4. Give yourself a reminder
All habits begin with some kind of cue, trigger, or reminder. This can be as simple as a note you leave somewhere you always look, such as by your toothbrush, or a post-it on your computer. Take advantage of what you already do regularly by turning it into a reminder to meditate. You could, for example, leave a note on your computer, and do 5-10 minutes of meditation before you open it.
5. Make a commitment and be specific
Any habit can be fortified by a specific and articulate commitment. “I’m going to start meditating” is vague and unhelpful. It is better to set a specific goal. “For the next month I will practice meditation for 10 minutes a day, in the morning before I have my coffee” is more tangible and real. There is no definitive or magic number of days for establishing a new habit, but it is good to start somewhere, preferably with something you find manageable, and then recommit based on your own findings.
6. Be kind
It is important to understand that habits are powerful. If you are initiating the practice of mediation, it is good to recognize that you have many more repeated experiences of not meditating. There is also the well documented phenomena that ‘shit happens.’ Your success in establishing a habit of mediation will greatly depend on how kind you are to yourself, and subsequently how quickly you resume your routine. Disregard any thoughts of failure. Meditation can be hugely compromised by a performance mindset.
7. Think about other people
We can derive a lot of motivation to meditate by connecting the dots about how our own wellness might improve, but also how our own wellness positively impacts those we care about, and come into contact with. Thinking about benefiting others is an antidote to self-doubt, cynicism, and all unhelpful aspects of self-absorption.
In short: know what you are doing a why, make it manageable, give yourself a reminder, and don’t take yourself or your meditation too seriously.