Remembering to meditate, or doing it regularly, however, seems much, much harder. It’s a bit like climbing Everest. Most people fail. Indeed, many people feel ashamed about their failure to meditate regularly. They think they should do it twice daily, with teeth-brushing regularity.
But a daily meditation practice doesn’t have to be a chore. It doesn’t have to feel like a climb to the top of the world. If you want to meditate regularly you just need a plan. Here it is:
Step #1: Stop Making Excuses
I’m too busy. I don’t have enough time. I don’t feel like it. I’m too stressed. I’ve got a deadline to meet. These aren’t valid reasons for not meditating. These are convenient justifications. Be honest. Call them what they are.
If you really do want to meditate, or if you’d like to experience the benefits meditation offers, then excuse-making won’t serve you. A regular practice will remain a dream.
Being honest with yourself is actually a critical but relatively easy first step. When you stop rationalising your decisions not to meditate, you can start making progress…
Step #2: Be Realistic
Meditation needn’t be onerous. It doesn’t have to be an ordeal. You don’t have to maintain a perfect record. If you miss a day, or a week, or a month, so be it.
I’d estimate that 95% of meditators have practices that wax and wane. This is normal, natural, perhaps even necessary.
And you don’t have to meditate for twenty, or forty, or sixty minutes at a time. You can breathe for half a minute in the morning traffic. You can check in as you wait for a meeting or conference call to start. You can scan your body as you go to sleep. The options are endless.
Don’t make your goal unattainable by insisting that you meditate every day without fail, for a certain length of time, in a certain place or in a certain way. Do what’s feasible.
Step #3: Get Motivated
Motivation is a double-edged sword. You need some, but not too much.
People who come to meditation in a lot of pain or following a major health scare often make rapid progress and get good results. You could say that they have sufficient motivation.
Other people find the ‘proof of science’ compelling. Knowing that research has proven meditation to be effective (and that the very structure of your brain is being changed as you practice) offers the reassurance necessary to continue even when things may not seem to be working.
Whether you’re motivated by internal circumstances or external ‘proofs’, you’ll need to know why you want to meditate. You need a purpose; some reason to continue despite the inevitable ups and downs, doubts, worries and challenges that you’ll face on the path.
Each time you’re tempted to skip meditation for something else remind yourself of the reasons why you want to meditate. And remember that you may need to revise these reasons as your needs and skills change.
Finally, don’t get too caught up in the expectation for sudden life-changing results. The benefits of meditation result from persistence and perseverance, not from inspiration or motivation.
Step #4: Take Baby Steps
Learning to meditate is like learning to walk — and for this purpose, baby steps are best!
In other words, you don’t want to rely on motivation alone. You want to create conditions that make it almost impossible for you not to meditate. You do this by automating your choice to meditate (rather than relying on fickle willpower), and by setting the bar low.
You might be someone who finds the very idea of meditating hard. One student got around this predicament by starting out just by listening to a song. That was his ‘meditation’. With some experimentation, he discovered that he could quite easily listen to two songs a day: an uplifting one in the morning and a relaxing one in the evening.
He then transitioned into guided meditations, using a popular app, of which there are many.
From these humble beginnings, a meditation practice developed, and that particular student has just completed his second 100-Day Streak.
See if you can create a little mini-commitment like this for yourself. Make it virtually impossible not to do. This will make it more likely for you to get started and more likely for you to succeed. And these little successes are encouraging in themselves.
For example, you could:
- Let your arms hang loosely by your sides
- Take one full breath
- Scan your body for tension
- Listen to your thoughts for one minute
- Really savour your first gulp of coffee
- Periodically ask: “How am I feeling?”
- Remember to look up at the sky
These suggestions might seem banal or even ridiculous. That’s the point. And that’s why they work. There’s nothing complicated or difficult about them. The idea here is to get yourself to commit to something so easy that it’s impossible not to do. Then, when you find yourself engaged in one of these activities you’ll probably end up doing more than you intended.
Step #5: “Piggyback” Your Habit
Once you have a teeny-tiny little habit in mind — one that you can’t fail to do, (simply because it requires such a short amount of time and such little commitment, and virtually no will-power), hitch it up to another habit: one that you already do automatically on a daily basis.
- As I walk to lunch I will let my arms hang loosely at my sides.
- Just before today’s team meeting begins, I will take one full breath.
- When I cross the intersection of Punt and Swan Roads, I will scan my body for tension.
- After I arrive home from work, but before getting out of the car, I’ll listen to my thoughts for a minute.
- Whilst waiting for my morning cuppa, I will savour the sights and smells around me (and my first gulp of coffee).
- If something stresses me out, I will take a moment to look up at the sky.
- After dropping the kids at school, I will stop and ask “How am I feeling?”
You get the idea. Now be creative. Find something you do daily, then link that habit to your new mini-meditation.
Step #6: Get an Accountability Partner
When you’re accountable to someone, you’re much more likely to follow through. Therefore, if you’re serious about developing a meditation habit, post daily updates on your social media accounts. Encourage friends to join you. Don’t underestimate the power of a partner or group interested in — or happy to join you on — your journey.
Apps like Chains or StickK can also be extremely helpful. Alternatively, download the Insight Timer app, which includes hundreds of guided meditations, a meditation timer, a place to journal, and built-in logs and statistics to track your progress. You can even link up with friends (or random
meditators accountability-partners anywhere). Insight Timer also notifies you when you reach various milestones — and these little reminders can be surprisingly rewarding.
Don’t discount the value of social approval. When you are held publicly accountable for your promises you tend to keep them.
Step #7: Reward Important Milestones
All these steps might sound like a lot of work and not much fun. But there’s not really that much to it beyond start — and keep going.
However, make sure to reward yourself. Take time to celebrate your wins. Get a massage. Check out a new movie. Or just have a day off. Work out a system of rewards in advance. This extra incentive can be surprisingly encouraging.
Step #8: Have Your Contingency Plan Prepared
Sometimes you won’t’ feel like meditating. Things will get in the way. Life will happen. Temptations will beckon.
A little voice in your head will say “Hmm, time to meditate.” Another voice will say Noooooooo:
- I have to plan my wedding, or
- I won’t be able to stop thinking about that nice boy I saw at the pool, or
- It’s too hot to meditate today, or
- I need a quieter space, away from the kids, or
- I could just call Jan instead. I always feel good after chatting with her, or
- I’ll look like a dick with my eyes closed on the tram, or
- Isn’t there something nice in the fridge?
You’ll need to be prepared for these sneaky little obstacles, otherwise they’ll sabotage you at every turn. The solution is to link each potential saboteur with an alternative, in much the same way we linked meditation with existing habits in step five. For example, your contingency plans might look something like this:
- If I’m feeling time pressured, I will meditate for just one minute.
- If I’m feeling too tired, I will meditate in bed as I go to sleep.
- If I’m feeling overwhelmed, I will use my favourite guided meditation App.
- If I’m feeling restless I will do some exercise and then meditate.
- If it’s too noisy at home, I will meditate in the car.
Be creative and flexible. Expect these little hurdles and meditate regardless.
You now have a thorough plan. You can do this. As with anything, perseverance is the key. Keep in mind that these steps work together. They’re not a sequence to complete, but a recipe to use.
If you want further help, sign up to Getting Started a short series of emails designed to help you develop a meditation practice.
Alternatively, check out Brad Warner’s advice on this subject. He’s always worth reading.