Five tips for creating a meditation habit that lasts
The benefits of mindfulness are so widely known now that most of us know we should be doing it regularly, but no matter how much we want the benefits, keeping a habit can be hard.
Who doesn’t want to feel less stressed, less angry, and more emotionally balanced? And in case you’re not already convinced, did you know that meditation increases the size of the hippocampus – the part of the brain responsible for memory?
However, like flossing our teeth, we might KNOW it’s good for us, but that doesn’t mean it’s any easier to actually follow through on intentions – even if we declare to our dentists: “Yes, absolutely, I will floss more from now on!”
Here are some tips to help those of you who WANT to be meditating, but you simply just haven’t succeeded yet at maintaining a habit yet.
1. Start small, gradually increase
In order to establish a new habit – like a daily meditation practice – we have to make shifts in our lifestyle, which can be challenging if we try to go from zero to expert-level-yogi in the course of a day. Instead, we have a much better chance of succeeding when we create tiny habits, which we can gradually increase over time.
James Clear, author of the immensely helpful book Atomic Habits, says it perfectly:
“What if you started thinking of your life goals, not as big, audacious things that you can only achieve when the time is right or when you have better resources or when you finally catch your big break … but instead as tiny, daily behaviors that are repeated until success becomes inevitable?”
Start with creating a very small, achievable habit, and “anchor it” to an existing habit you already have – like brushing your teeth. So, for example, after you brush your teeth each night, make a commitment to meditate for just one minute. Once this becomes something automatic that you don’t need to think about any more, meditate for two minutes, then three, and so on… until you finally achieve 10 minutes a day.
My own research has shown that you only need to do 10 minutes of meditation per day to experience substantial positive benefits to your life and mind. If you would like to be supported into forming a meditation practice, join my Strong Minds 5 day course.
2. Create an appointment in your calendar
If you had a very important meeting with the CEO of a company at your dream job, would you cancel it at the last minute because “I don’t really feel like it right now”?
So why not create an appointment to meditate and put it into your calendar in the same way you’d log any important event, and then show up as if it were just as critical to your life as a job interview or a wedding ceremony or a promise you’d made to someone you love.
It’s so easy for us to put our own wellbeing at the bottom of our lists, but taking care of your emotional and physical wellbeing is vitally important – and always will be. So schedule in time for yourself and treat this appointment with the absolute respect it deserves.
3. Create an environment that supports your success
Along with clearing your schedule, clear a space somewhere in your home that invites you to want to sit down and zen out.
See if you can set up a yoga mat or cushion somewhere quiet in any room where you can close the door and escape for 10 minutes. If you’re lucky enough to have a nook for this, you could even create a meditation altar with things like a candle that burns a scent you love, incense, singing bowls you can play to mark the beginning and end of your practice, and any small ornaments or pictures that might inspire your practice.
We don’t have to be spiritually inclined to benefit from this. When you burn incense or a candle each time you meditate, you’re using scent to create an association between the activity and the smell. The more you pair the two together, the more your mind will associate that smell with the memo: Now is the time we sit in silence and tune into the breath and body.
In time, this association will lessen any restlessness you might have.
If you don’t have a space in your home, don’t despair. People within my community have said they’ve found all sorts of uncommon spaces to practice, from in their car in the parking lot at work, to out in the forest under their favourite tree. Wherever you go, try to do what you can to help it be a space that bests support your success.
4. Make plans for distraction and falling off course
While none of us want to begin a new endeavour expecting that we’re going to fail, we can help ourselves succeed by making plans ahead of time for the moments when we might fall off track.
With a paper and pen, take some time to think about what might come up for you that will get in the way of this new habit.
- It might be sabotaging thoughts that you often have when you try to make changes.
- It could be getting called into work.
- It might be a knock on the door from a spouse who needs something urgently.
- It could be interruption of children.
Be realistic about all the things in your life that have the potential to derail you.
And now, for each of these, create a plan for how you’ll work around it. It might be along the lines of: If I’m called into work during a meditation session, I will make a commitment to practice just 5 minutes of meditation instead before bed tonight.
Know that as you build a habit, you are most likely going to fall off track now and then. This isn’t failure; it’s part of the journey. Mindfulness meditation is the practice of returning your attention to where you want it to be – over and over.
So if you fall off, just get back on that horse as soon as you notice you’ve strayed from your intentions, and keep going.
5. Reward yourself
Make a list of small rewards that bring you joy. It might look something like this:
- A single cube of chocolate.
- A hot cup of your favourite beverage.
- Taking some time out with a magazine you love reading.
- A phone call with a beloved friend.
- An episode of a TV show you love.
Each time you meditate, remember to give yourself a small reward. Like training a dog, we can train our own brains to behave by creating neural pathways, so that instead of a difficult task being hard and boring, the brain comes to see that difficult task = fun treat!
Once you’ve established that pathway, you will not have nearly as much resistance when that appointment alarm goes off on your phone and you know it’s time to settle into your meditation nook.