Developing the habit of meditating is potentially life-changing.
Andy Puddicombe is a former Buddhist monk; he’s been acknowledged as the UK’s foremost mindfulness meditation expert. In his book, Get Some Headspace: How Mindfulness Can Change Your Life in Ten Minutes a Day, Puddicombe explains that meditation can be used for all of the following:
- To treat a wide range of stress-related symptoms including anxiety, depression, anger, and insomnia.
- To improve your focus and concentration.
- To improve your emotional stability and your relationships with others.
- To be happier. Unhappiness has been linked to a mind that’s constantly wandering. Meditation helps to cure you of wandering mind syndrome by increasing your mindfulness.
In my post, “How to Make Yourself Smarter In One-Hour-A-Day“, I explain that meditation can increase your brain’s gray matter and thicken your pre-frontal cortex, both of which give you more brain power. Here are more ways in which your brain benefits from meditation:
- Meditation can increase the volume and density of the hippocampus, an area of the brain in the middle of the skull that is crucial for memory.
- Meditation improves your working memory, which is the ability to hold and manipulate information in your head.
- Meditation shrinks the size of your amygdala–the brain’s fight or flight center, which makes people feel less stressed and makes them better able to handle life’s challenges.
Doesn’t all of that sound fantastic? Do you meditate? If you’ve toyed with the idea of starting a meditation practice, or if you’ve tried meditating in the past, but failed, this post is for you. Below you’ll find 10 practical tips for creating a meditation habit that sticks.
1. Know Why You Want to Take Up Meditation. In order to give yourself the necessary push to get started with your meditation practice, you need to be clear on the reasons why you want to take up meditation. The stronger your reasons “why”, the more likely it is that you’ll take the plunge and give meditation a try.
As an example, the following are bad reasons to start meditating:
- “Well, everyone else is doing it, so I thought I might as well do it to.”
- “My spouse wants me to.”
- “I love Marelisa’s blog, and she says I should meditate, so I’m going to.” 🙂
These, on the other hand are fantastic reasons to start meditating:
- “I’m unfocused at work and my productivity is suffering as a result. I’m going to start meditating so I can improve my ability to focus and concentrate.”
- “I don’t sleep well at night. I’m going to try meditation to see if it helps with my insomnia.”
- “My mind is always going at a million miles per hour. I’m going to take up meditation to try to calm my mind chatter.”
Knowing “why” you want to start meditating will give you the motivation that you need in order to get started.
2. Start Small. Try Mini-Meditations. I meditated daily for a long time. Then, I stopped. Things got hectic at work and I made the wrong decision and stopped meditating. For the longest time I wanted to take up meditation again, but I just couldn’t get myself to do it.
Then, at the very start of 2015, I made it one of my New Year’s resolutions to start meditating again. However, the first week of January went by, then the second, and then the third, and I wasn’t meditating. Then, one day during the fourth week of January I got fed up with myself and my inability to create a meditating habit. I was having breakfast and I told myself:
“That’s it. As soon as I’m done eating breakfast I’m going to close my eyes right here where I’m sitting and I’m going to meditate for 30 seconds.”
And I did. So I told myself that’s what I would start doing from that day on. That same day I mentioned to my sister that I had started meditating for 30 seconds a day, and she looked at me like I was nuts. But, guess what? It worked. It got me to start meditating again.
After meditating for 30 seconds for a few days, I increased my meditation time to one minute. Then, I increased it to two minutes, and then to three minutes. I kept increasing my meditation time, one minute at a time, until I got to ten minutes.
3. Tie Your Meditation to a Trigger. You can’t just say, “I’m going to start meditating” and leave it at that, because then you won’t do it. In order to create a meditation habit, you have to schedule it. Better yet, tie it to something that you’re already doing.
As you can see from the point above, finishing breakfast became my meditation trigger. Eating breakfast is something that I do every day. And as soon as I finish breakfast, I know that it’s meditation time, and I do it.
4. Set Up Your Environment To Help You. Although initially I was meditating at the table where I eat my meals, I decided to stretch out a yoga mat on the living room rug and start meditating there. Every night I set out the yoga mat for the next day. This does two things for me:
- I walk past the yoga mat in the morning as I head for the table to have my breakfast. This re-enforces that I’m going to meditate right after I eat.
- Once I’m done eating breakfast I don’t have to get up and search for my yoga mat, since it’s already laid out where it should be.
This means that I know when I’m going to meditate, I know where, and everything is set up so I just have to get up from the table, walk a couple of feet to the yoga mat, and sit down. My environment is set up to help me.
5. Choose a Meditation Method. Suppose that you, too, decide to meditate on a yoga mat, in your living room, right after breakfast. As soon as you’re done with breakfast you sit on the yoga mat and are ready to get started. Now what? Well, you have to have decided ahead of time how you’re going to meditate.
Fortunately, there is no shortage of meditation methods you can try. Here are just a few you can choose from:
- Take 100 breaths and count them. Try not to think of anything else.
- Follow along with a guided meditation. Choose one from Amazon or search for a free guided meditation on YouTube.
- Try visualization. Close your eyes and imagine that there’s a door in front of you. You open the door and it leads to a beautiful garden. What do you see? Is it filled with fruit trees? Is there a pond in the garden? What do you hear? Are there birds chirping? Can you hear the breeze ruffling the leaves? Create the most beautiful and peaceful garden that you can, in your mind, and stay there throughout your meditation.
- Try a meditation app such as Headspace–which was created by Puddicombe, the former Buddhist monk I referred to in this post’s introduction. Another app you can try is Calm.
- Chant a mantra, such as the popular “Om Mani Padma Hum“, the mantra of Chenrezi, the Buddha of compassion.
As you can see, there are many meditations methods you can choose from. Try as many as you like until you find one you feel you can stick to.
6. Make Meditation Fun. Let’s face it, if something bores you it’s just a matter of time before you’ll stop doing it. Therefore, try to make your meditation time as much fun as possible. Here are some things you can try to make your meditation sessions more fun and ceremonial:
- Light a candle that gives off a scent that you love. Old Factory Candles are a popular choice.
- Get some incense.
- Turn on some meditation music or nature sounds.
- In some Buddhist practices, singing bowls are used as a signal to begin and end periods of silent meditation. Get yourself a Tibetan Singing Bowl and strike it to signal the beginning and the end of each of your meditation sessions.
The truth is, you don’t need any props to meditate. However, if candles, music, and so on will help to make your meditation experience something that you look forward to, then, by all means, use them.
7. Find a Way to Hold Yourself Accountable. One of the secrets to habit success is being held accountable. If you want to succeed in creating a meditation habit, find a way to create a negative consequence if you don’t follow through.
A common form of accountability is to start a habit with someone else. Then, if you fail to follow through, you lose face with that person. Do you know someone who also wants to start meditating? If so, agree to send each other an email every day right after meditating. That way, you’ll hold each other accountable.
8. Do It Every Day. In order to make your meditation habit stick, do it every day. Andy Warhol once said the following:
“Either once only, or every day. If you do something once it’s exciting, and if you do it every day it’s exciting. But if you do it, say, twice or just almost every day, it’s not good any more.”
By meditating daily you can avoid having the following debate in your head every day:
- “Should I meditate today? I’m not sure . . . I have a lot to do today. I won’t meditate today. I’ll do it tomorrow.”
- “I meditated three days in a row, so I’ll just take the day off today.”
- “I’m not really in the mood to meditate today. I’m just not feeling it.”
Skip the mental debate by making meditation a daily habit.
9. Track Your Progress. In order to stick to your newly formed meditation habit, track your progress. Do the following:
- Put an Om sticker on your wall calendar every day that you meditate.
- Keep a meditation log.
- Use an app that helps you track your progress toward the completion of your goals. For example, you can try Coach.me.
10. Give Yourself a Reward. In my post, “Eight Ways to Build New Habits and Make Them Stick“, I explain that every habit can be broken down into three components:
- The cue: For our purposes the cue is the trigger to start meditating (in my case, it’s finishing breakfast).
- A routine: Here the routine is your meditation ritual.
- A reward: Once you’re done meditating, reward yourself.
For me, meditation is its own reward. I feel calm and at peace while I’m meditating, and meditating gives me a mood boost which I can then carry with me throughout the day. However, I realize that this is because I’ve already been meditating for a few months.
When you’re first starting out you’ll probably want to give yourself a reward each time that you meditate in order to turn meditating into a habit that you’ll stick to. Here are three ideas on how to reward yourself:
- After each meditation session, have a piece of dark chocolate (with sea salt, if you can get it).
- When you’re done meditating switch from the nature sounds to your favorite song and dance along with it.
- Have a cup of flavored coffee.
There’s an infinite number of ways you can reward yourself for meditating. Get creative.
I can tell you from personal experience that meditating is one of the best habits that you can adopt. Make the meditation habit stick by applying the tips I share above. Live your best life by creating the meditation habit.
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