You’d be hard-pressed to come up with a single new habit that has the potential to have more positive impact on your life, than meditation.
The scientific research on mindfulness meditation in particular is kind of astonishing: rewiring your brain to spend less time stressed out, and more time thinking clearly, has benefits that go way beyond lessening anxiety and sharpening focus (although it does that, too!). As your body spends less time in stress mode, your immune system gets a boost, making it easier for you to fight off illness and get better quickly when you do get sick.
When you’re less stressed out, you also experience a deeper appreciation for life, getting in touch with what really matters to you. It becomes easier to find the motivation to change the parts of your life that just aren’t in line with what you want your life to be about, and let go of the habits that aren’t serving you.
How You Make It a Habit
Meditation isn't a silver bullet, or a quick fix. It's something you keep working at, the way you would work at learning to play an instrument or training for a marathon.
The key thing is to start small, and build your practice over time.
#1: Be real about how long you'll meditate each day.
Pick the smallest amount of time you can realistically commit to meditating every day, for a week. Maybe that's just 3 minutes, or 3 breaths. The length doesn't matter - and in fact, choosing a shorter time will make it more likely you'll stick with it!
#2: Tie that daily meditation to something you’re already doing.
If you start out by saying to yourself, “Meditating first thing in the morning is a good idea. I’ll set my alarm to get up 20 minutes earlier and that will make sure I do it every day," I can pretty much guarantee that you'll sleep late after day 3.
Instead, say to yourself, “What do I already do every day, that I can add meditation into?”
For example, if you commute, could you meditate while you’re on the train or the bus? You’re definitely going to do your commute (at least 5 days a week...), so when you find yourself sitting there, it’ll be that much easier to fit in your meditation.
Or, if you’re a night owl, you could make meditation part of your wind-down routine: after you watch that last show or spend those last minutes online, sit for 10 minutes and then get into pajamas and go to bed. If you do happen to be an early riser, fit the meditation in-between other parts of your morning routine.
#3: Put your daily meditation in your calendar.
We are much more likely to do things that we’ve scheduled, than things we just say we’ll do. Use this to your advantage, and put your daily meditation into your calendar - especially if it's at a time when you're likely to get pulled away to do other things.
#4: Track how long and how often you're meditating - and celebrate!
Seeing how many days in a row you’ve stuck with your habit is super motivating for continuing with it. Use Insight Timer to track your meditation sessions, or just an old-fashioned tick-mark on a paper calendar for every day you do it.
Give yourself rewards for hitting certain milestones: a week of sitting every day, or a certain amount of time spent meditating.
You can amplify this effect by having an “accountability buddy”: sharing your goals with someone else and letting them know how you’re doing. They can help you get back on the wagon if you fall off, and provide motivation to keep going.
#5: Find other people who are meditating, and a teacher, to guide you and cheer you on.
When there are so many reasons not to sit down and practice (especially working and raising a family), I've found having other people along with me on the journey really helps keep me going. One of the reasons I started WITHIN Meditation in downtown San Francisco was to build a community of students and teachers for people who were just starting out meditating.
There may be meditation groups that meet near you, and getting support live and in person is so helpful! That said, I know first-hand how difficult it can be to leave the house for an evening. So, I've also created two ways for you to get virtual support, through WITHIN: a 28-Day Online Meditation Challenge, and livestreamed meditation classes. Check them out, and see if they're helpful resources for you as you build your own practice.
This week, choose how long you're going to meditate (for real), when you're going to do it, and how you're going to hold yourself accountable. Then, do it! Let me know how it goes. I'm always happy to answer any questions you have about building your practice - just comment below!