The hardest thing about mindfulness and, more specifically, meditation is actually doing it.
It’s also true of other wholesome habits, too. Eating well, exercising, getting a good night’s sleep, not nagging your husband. Oops! That last one is entirely self-referential.
Either way, an essential question tugs at us: How can we make activities we know are good for us long-lasting, life-affirming habits?
It’s a question many are mulling as the New Year begins, and we seek a fresh start with a meditation practice or something else that nudges us closer to the person we aspire to be. It’s also not an easy question to answer.
A few surprising statistics about gym membership provide a glimpse into how our best intentions to get in shape, for example, often fail. Nearly 63% of gym memberships go unused; 82% of people use their gym just once a week, and after six months, 22% of folks stop going at all.
Despite dreary statistics about gym-goers, it’s absolutely possible to begin and keep good habits. You’ve undoubtedly kept several for years and even decades, whether it’s brushing your teeth, making your bed every morning, or donating to charity annually.
If you’ve managed to maintain even one good habit, that’s extremely helpful when it comes to adopting a new one because you can look to it for clues as to how and why you’ve successfully maintained it.
Take tooth brushing. Most of us continue this twice-daily habit because we know it’s vital to our health, good looks, and enjoyment of one of life’s greatest pleasures – eating. We’ve got multiple high-stakes reasons to carry on. We’re also emotionally invested in keeping up with the routine. None of us enjoy it when the inside of our mouths feel and smell like a garbage can.
I’ve observed similar patterns in myself through the decades of maintaining my meditation practice as well as the students I’ve taught. Those who meditate regularly have high-stakes reasons for doing so, and they’re emotionally invested.
Many feel their lives and relationships don’t function as well without a daily practice. They’re too anxious, irritable, or joyless. Ultimately, the cost of not meditating is too high to pay. What’s more, the rewards of meditation or anything worthwhile done regularly add up over time, creating a virtuous cycle that keeps us engaged. Over time we may come to love our healthy habits. Though, that’s likely not so true for tooth brushing.
Meditation, of course, isn’t for everyone. But if you are interested in starting a practice in the New Year, here are three tried-and-true tips. Also, see below for resources to support your practice as 2022 gets underway.
- Keep your Why Close: A teacher of mine once told me that to do anything regularly, you have to “get your heart on board.” In other words, you have to have a meaningful and sometimes desperate reason to begin and keep the habit. Writing down the reasons why you want to adopt a new behavior and the costs of not doing so raises the stakes and keeps you committed. Once you begin, keep your “why” close and continually return to it as a source of encouragement.
- Consistency Over Duration: When a rocket gets blasted into outer space, it purportedly uses as much as 90% of its energy to launch. After that, it only takes a small amount of energy to orbit. The same is true of wholesome habits. It takes a lot of energy to get them up and running, but afterward, you can rely on momentum to fuel them. That’s why consistency is vital. Even if you only have time to practice a minute of meditation each day, doing so consistently is what launches the habit. Once you’ve strung together days or weeks of practice, challenge yourself to lengthen the time you meditate.
- Habit Stacking: Along the lines of relying on momentum, we also can use existing habits to help us create a new one. I once had a student who decided she would meditate every morning after making her morning cup of coffee. Making coffee was already a hardwired habit, making it easier for her to stack meditation on top of it.
On My Mind
There’s a reason why James Clear’s Atomic Habits has been on the New York Times bestseller list for as long as I can remember and why nearly 60,000 folks on Amazon give it a five-star rating. It’s because it offers helpful and sound, scientific advice on how to create healthy habits and break the ones that no longer serve you.
If you’ve tried and failed numerous times to stick with a meditation practice or any other healthy habit, begin again with Clear at your side you’ll likely have better luck.
Here’s one of Clear’s notable bits of wisdom. Hope it inspires.
“All big things come from small beginnings. The seed of every habit is a single, tiny decision. But as that decision is repeated, a habit sprouts and grows stronger. Roots entrench themselves and branches grow. The task of breaking a bad habit is like uprooting a powerful oak within us. And the task of building a good habit is like cultivating a delicate flower one day at a time.”