Starting a regular meditation practice can be hard.
I speak from experience on this. In 2001, I traveled to Thailand and spent three weeks in a Buddhist monastery in Chiang Mai, living according to the daily schedule of the monks. Most of my time was spent alternating between sitting meditation and walking meditation, and the experience was transformative.
I experienced first-hand the benefits of meditation. Yet, upon returning home, my meditation practice languished…for years. I would try meditating every once in a while, but never as a regular practice. It wasn’t until 2011 – a full 10 years after I had initially experienced the benefits of meditation – that I was able to establish a regular daily meditation practice.
What changed in 2011 that made it easier for me to start meditating regularly and to make it a habit that has stuck for more than two years now?
Here are a few things that helped me – perhaps they can help you, too:
- Make it a priority. I knew that, of all the changes that I can possibly make in my life, developing the habit of meditating was at the top in terms of the benefits to me of becoming more mindful and happy and to the world at large by helping me to be a better person. It would also be important to help me find balance in life. Once I made this a priority, I shifted both my time and my thinking to ensure that I did it. When we say that we don’t have time for something, what we are actually saying is that it’s not a priority for us. Once something becomes a priority, we make the time and do what we have to to accomplish it.
- Identify a trigger. The science of habit formation has taught us that, for a habit to stick, you need a trigger that will prompt the habit to occur. Basically, you want to find something that you already do every day – a habit that you’ve already established – and tie your new habit to it. My trigger became my morning shower, which is the first thing that I do every day upon waking up; after my shower, I sat down to meditate. In contrast to what I did from 2001-2011, which was only to meditate when I remembered or felt like it, having a trigger helped me to make it part of my daily routine.
- Reward yourself. It takes effort to start something new, so it helps to reward yourself! Especially in the early days of developing your new meditation practice, you’ll want to acknowledge the steps you’ve taken and reward yourself for putting forth the effort. In my case, my reward was simple: after my meditation, I would have my morning cup of coffee. It became my reward for meditating, something that I could look forward to once I was done. What can you do to reward yourself after you meditate?
- Start small. When I started meditating, I started for only 5 minutes each day. When the meditation timer went off, I might meditate for an extra few seconds or a minute or two, if I wanted to; otherwise, I moved on to the rest of my day. After a month, I bumped it up to 10 minutes each day, and then I added another five minutes every month after that until I got up to 45 minutes per day. This allowed me to slowly build up the new habit. As with any new skill, it takes time to feel comfortable with it.
- Give it time. Research into habit formation shows that it can take from 21-66 days to establish a habit. It’s important to keep this in mind because it’s all too easy to give up after just a week or two. However, if you take up the practice and remind yourself that you’ll need to do this regularly for at least the next month, then you’ll be preparing yourself mentally to get past the initial resistance you might feel to starting something new. When I started, I committed to meditate Monday-Friday for the next two months; sure enough, after that initial time period, it was much easier to keep the practice going!
- Track your progress. It takes energy, effort, discipline, and motivation to develop a new habit. We all feel good when we have accomplished something that we set out to do. Tracking your progress allows you to see how far you have come. When I started my meditation practice, I used a calendar to mark off each day that I meditated. Now I use the Lift app. I can add notes to each day and over time, look back to see my progress.
- Get support. I’ve had support from both individuals and a community. My boyfriend also took up meditation at about the same time that I did, so we were able to support each other as we started our practices. We also participated in classes and sittings offered at the East Bay Meditation Center, so became part of a community (known as a sangha). Having people around you to provide support is always helpful.
Meditation is one of the best practices that you can take up. Commit to making this a priority. Think of a trigger, something that you do every day already, and use that as a reminder to meditate. Start small, even with only 5 minutes a day, and add more time as you go. Learn more about other meditation tips for beginners.
Have you tried starting a regular meditation practice? What has been your biggest challenge?