While not quite “mainstream”, over the past 30 years in the West, meditationhas quickly begun to shift from being perceived as some “woowoo” practice for hippies by most to a useful tool which holds valuable benefits towards cultivating greater well-being.
Nowadays, people of all different backgrounds meditate from executives to employees, doctors to patients, teachers to students, parents to children, and people of all walks of life in between.
It’s no secret that the benefits of meditation aren’t permanent. Meditation is a practice, something which needs to be practiced regularly, if not daily, to gain consistent or continuous benefits from the practice.
And yet I’ve found that, in both my research and personal practice and teaching experience, very few meditators are able to stick to a consistent meditation practice. In fact, most drop off altogether because of their challenge with sticking to a consistent practice.
For years, I struggled to stick to a consistent meditation practice. I had experienced the beauty and benefit of the practice early on and knew what it did for me, and yet, I just couldn’t bring myself to stick to this thing which I knew was good for me (forget “good”, let me speak truthfully: life changing). Something always got in the way, but rarely could I pinpoint it.
It took years before I was able to really deconstruct the central challenges that stood in the way of us and sticking to a consistent meditation practice and create a daily practice of my own.
However, I can now happily say that I’ve meditated consistently for years and enjoy the fruits of that practice, from greater peace and balance in my daily life to improved patience with my family (among other things).
11 Ways to Make Meditation a Daily Habit
1. Keep It Short and Sweet
It’s a common misconception that you have to meditate for some great length of time, such as 20 or 30 minutes. The truth is, even 5 minutes of meditation is highly effective and all you need to begin establishing meditation as a consistent practice.
The reality is, when trying to adopt a new habit or make some sort of positive change, we need give ourselves every advantage possible. A whole host of things will attempt to keep us from making that activity or behavior a regular part of our lives and we’ll give ourselves every excuse as to why we can’t do it, so you need to make the activity as simple, easy, and convenient as humanly possible.
By meditating for, say, 5 minutes for the first few weeks of your practice, you’ll have established a strong foundation with which to build from. You can then begin to increase your sessions from there to 10, 15, 20 minutes and longer (whatever you choose).
2. Set a Regular Meditation Time
This is a simple and, for the most part, easy point (the setting of it is easy, sticking to it often isn’t), but I’ve found that it’s something most people don’t consider when attempting to make meditation a daily habit.
Virtually all of the most important activities in your life are scheduled. Think about it: meal time, work, time with family, important meetings and errands, time out with friends, kids activities, and just about everything else is scheduled.
In order to make something a part of your life long-term, you need to make it a part of your schedule.
3. Be Mindful in Daily Life (Don’t Restrict Your Practice to the Cushion)
It’s easy at first to get the idea that you can only meditate while sitting in a specific way, with your eyes closed, on a cushion. However, you can practice mindfulness anywhere, while doing anything, and at any time.
You can be mindful:
– In a waiting room – In your car (driving and stopped) – While cleaning – In the restroom (yep) – At your office desk – During breakfast, lunch, and dinner – While taking out the trash – While walking to your car – While grocery shopping
Also, it’s important to note that you don’t need some specific environment or set up to practice mindfulness. Sure, these things can help, but they’re not necessary.
First, you don’t have to do something more slowly to do it mindfully. In the beginning, this may be beneficial or even necessary to learn the practice, but once you get the hang of it you can walk at your normal pace mindfully.
Secondly, you can practice mindfulness in a crowded area. The only caveat to that is the voices need to be indiscernible. By that I mean if you can clearly make out a conversation nearby you’ll be likely to lose your concentration. If you can’t make out the words, the jumbled sound creates a consistent backdrop, which is easy to concentrate amid.
4. Meditate for (at least) 11 Days Straight
We all know (or at least believe) it’s best to do something consistently for a long stretch of time, because then you’re more likely to make it a habit or a more “automatic” behavior. However, exactly how that affects meditation practice hasn’t always been so clear.
Coach.me, the goal-tracking app, reviewed data from users who participated in a meditation course and found that meditators who practiced for just 11 days were over 90% more likely to continue in their practice from the 12th day and on.
So, create a streak of at least 11 days straight and you’ll give yourself a strong advantage to making meditation a regular part of your life.
5. Do What You Can
The reality is, if you want to stick to a consistent meditation practice, you need to be flexible.
Somedays, things will come up and block you from either meditating during your regular scheduled session, or, from meditating as long as you usually do.
When this happens, just adapt and roll with it. If you’re short on time (actually short on time, not just convincing yourself you are), meditate for 5-10 minutes instead of your usual 20 minute session.
Whatever you do, the most important thing is that you get yourself on the cushion, even if for only a few minutes. That’s a huge part of creating a consistent meditation practice.
6. Make Friends with Your Critical Mind
Something interesting happens when we start meditating: we come face-to-face with the mind. However, for most of us, it’s not a joyous occasion (at least at first). That’s because, for most of us, all we find is utter chaos.
And as a result of coming face-to-face with the chaos of our mind, we learn that we’re naturally very, very critical of ourselves.
In failing to consistently hold concentration on the breath- because our mind is a crazy unrelenting monkey- we think, “Im not cut out for meditation”, “I can’t meditate”, and “I’m not doing it right”. However, what we don’t know when we’re by ourselves meditating on our cushion is:
- Everyone goes through this and you’re not adverse to meditation.
- This is perfectly natural. Being with the mind as it is, without judgment, is what the practice is all about (whether that’s chaos or calm) and it’s how the practice is supposed to be.
More than being at peace, mindfulness meditation is about being with the mind in whatever state that might be. One day you might feel relative peace, another day might be sheer chaos.
However, your approach to both meditation sessions is the same: be with the mind mindfully and nonjudgmentally, fully accepting of whatever thoughts, feelings, and sensations arise.
This is how, with time, you learn to make friends with your critical mind.
7. Remember Why You Practice
When it comes down to it, motivation is mostly just a measure of how aware we are of our reasons for taking a particular action (and the emotional intensity of those reasons).
Make no mistake, motivation is a critical part of sticking to a daily meditation practice. By identifying clearly what drew you to meditation as well as what meditation practice has done (or is doing) for you, you’ll be far more motivated to continue sitting in meditation.
Get clear on why you meditate and make sure those reasons are emotionally compelling. Once you’ve done this, keep these reasons top-of-mind to begin to draw that mental connection between your practice and these compelling reasons.
This is absolutely one of the most powerful things you can do to stick to a more consistent meditation practice.
8. Let Go of Expectations (Just Sit)
Most of us go into meditation practice with certain expectations. We want to levitate by one year, achieve nirvana and self-combust, or become enlightened and live off the dew of a single ginko leaf and the energy of the universe (yes, that’s a Kung Fu Panda reference- they’re my kid’s favorite movies).
Jokes aside, often these expectations are attached to our reasons for practicing. However, they don’t have to be and aren’t the same thing. One can be utilized positively while the other is generally a hindrance to practice.
Expectations are dangerous because it causes us to judge our meditation sessions and gauge whether or not we’re “progressing” at the speed, or in the way, we believe we should be progressing at.
This is the worst approach to take with meditation practice because it amplifies the already difficult to handle critical mind and makes it seemingly insurmountable, at least until you let go of those expectations. And really, it’s against the practice of “accepting the moment for what it is” entirely.
You may have come to meditation practice for a reason, but it doesn’t mean you need to expect anything in particular, in a particular amount, or in a particular amount of time in connection with that reason.
It may take practice, but you can cultivate a “no expectations” state of mind when sitting in meditation (and outside your meditation practice) by allowing yourself to relax and sit with whatever comes to you, openly accepting the meditation session as it is, and letting go of the desire for anything more than what is now in this moment.
9. Make It a Way of Life
Meditation isn’t a prescription you pick up and use to cure some condition, henceforth being freed from said condition and no longer in need of meditation.
Meditation helps us cultivate important qualities such as peace, balance, and a sense of space and work through many big challenges, which gives the practice a real sense of progression. However, the journey never really ends because you need to continue to meditate to maintain those various qualities and benefits.
Instead of looking at meditation as some new positive habit you want to adopt to help cure something such as stress or anxiety, to make meditation a consistent daily practice and maintain these benefits you need throw out the idea of an “end point” and just decide to make meditation a part of your life long-term.
By the way, doing so really helps remove expectations. This is because, by shifting your mindset for the long-term, you stop thinking so much about “when am I going to get to X point?” and can simply enjoy your practice more.
Meditation is a beautiful practice, one which comes with numerous significant and potentially life-changing benefits, so make it part of your life and simply sit enjoying this beautiful practice.
10. Be Accountable
Accountability is key to creating any new habit and meditation is no different.
Accountability comes in two forms:
- Accountability to yourself
- Accountability to others (single person, group, or both)
In the case of meditation, accountability to yourself can be done via a simple session tracking sheet in Microsoft Excel, Google Docs, or some similar program or even a simple sheet of paper.
Accountability to others can be a simple line of communication between two or more people over email or in person that each person reports to daily to confirm whether they meditated or not.
Why is accountability such an effective tool for sticking to new habits?
Accountability works off of the basic set of pain and pleasure motivators which control many of our actions in our daily life already. By either being accountable to yourself or (especially) accountable to others, a pleasurable feeling develops in connection with the idea of completing the task and a painful feeling in connection with the idea of not completing the task.
This alone can sometimes be all that’s needed to help someone develop a new habit because the potential for pain is such a strong emotional motivator.
11. Don’t Forget- Have Fun
This might seem like a simple or rather obvious tip, however, it seems like a lot of people eventually forget that you should enjoy your practice.
This is an important part of the Buddha’s advice for walking the path of awakening (whatever you personally consider that to be). That is, walking the journey in an easeful and joy-filled way.
If at any point you feel your practice has become a chore, you can be sure you’ll drop off soon afterward. It’s just the way that it works.
You should enjoy your practice, for the most part. If you get to a point where you do feel like your practice has become difficult or cumbersome, and not because you’re sitting through an internal challenge but rather because you’ve just gotten bored or tired of it in some way, switch it up and try something unique like mindful walking, mindful driving, or mindful cleaning (assuming your core practice is sitting in meditation) or an entirely different meditation technique like loving-kindness meditation.
If you’re feeling brave or up to the challenge, this boredom or frustration is also something beneficial to sit with. When you feel it arise, sit down and notice the feeling, and whatever arises along with it, a few times before getting up. Doing so will help you bring clarity to what’s going on.
The challenges that face us in sticking to a daily meditation practice consistently are numerous and varied. However, we also have numerous tools which we can utilize to work through these challenges.
With the proper motivation and the right tools in hand, you can make meditation a daily habit.