Two of the most common obstacles I hear that people face when trying to build a consistent meditation practice are not having enough time and forgetting. There’s often a strong enough intention to want to practice; however, these obstacles can make even the best of intentions fall short.
A few more barriers are waiting for the perfect time, burning out quickly by meditating too much too soon, impatience, unrealistic expectations, and the uncertainty of how the effects of a long-term practice will affect one’s life.
Over the next two posts, we’ll explore eight things you can try to overcome these obstacles by building habits that help you consistently show up for your practice.
A Note on Consistency
Before reading on, commit this to memory:
Consistency lies at the heart of your meditation practice.
Without consistency, the benefits of meditation are just as inconsistent. If you’re looking for instant gratification and fast hacks to mastery, disappointment awaits.
Meditation is a long-term game. Just like putting away money for retirement, the interest in your practice compounds. But unlike not being able to touch your retirement funds until the future (or being able to but getting penalized), with consistent practice, you can experience the benefits of meditation sooner rather than later. And it’s these benefits that, once experienced, will serve as a powerful incentive to keep you coming back. It just takes a little time and effort to get there. But it’s a little time and effort that goes a long way.
Meditation Habits: 1 – 4
In this post, we’ll cover the first four things you can try out to build your meditation habit today.
1.) Plan. Remind. Repeat.
We’re starting with something that’s both obvious but easy to forget. If you’re having trouble establishing a consistent practice, one of the first things you should try is planning a time to meditate.
Some people choose a time and practice at that same time every day. If this is an option for you, that’s great. If you’re in this boat, remember to be flexible because unexpected things come up. And if something comes up and you miss that window, you’ll likely put it off until the next day. But keep in mind that just because you missed the time, that doesn’t mean you’ve missed the rest of the day. Try your best to fit a session in at a different time that day and then resume your regular schedule the next day.
Some people don’t have the option to meditate at the same time every day. If you have trouble finding time, you have options. You can adapt your schedule. Something that helped me early on was waking up a few minutes earlier and using that time to practice. I prefer meditating early in the morning because I know I’ll have time and there will rarely be any interruptions. But we’re not all morning people. There’s also time in the evening, too. (Note: If you meditate too close to going to sleep, it can affect your sleep cycle.) Most of us are awake for around 16 hours each day. That’s a big window to fit in a few minutes of practice time.
Something else you can try is replacing times in your day watching tv or scrolling through your phone with a quick session. Sometimes activities we do to “unwind” can be quite distracting and even cause anxiety. It’s always good to have time to rest and reset, even if it’s only a few minutes.
Once you’ve chosen your time (in whatever way works for you), remind yourself to do the work. Place a note somewhere. Set an alarm. Create an event on your calendar. Then repeat this process until showing up becomes automatic.
One last note here: There’s no such thing as a perfect time to meditate. If you set out to find the perfect time, you’ll procrastinate your efforts even further. The best time to meditate is the one you pick to show up to meditate.
2.) Identify a Meditation Trigger or Stacker.
I learned about this one in “Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones” by James Clear. Essentially, you hold your meditation practice after you do something that is already part of your routine.
Here’s an example: Meditating after you brush your teeth in the morning. I’m assuming most of you do this. Because this happens every day, you can remind yourself: “After I brush my teeth, I will meditate for 10 minutes.” And each morning as you perform this action, the second you put your toothbrush away, you’ll know that your next action is to practice.
One of my students stacked his practice right after his commute to and from his office. With kids at home and coworkers in the office, by parking his car and turning the key to switch off the engine, that ritual led to a few minutes of quiet meditation time before gearing up for the workday and winding down for family time.
The trigger (or habit stacker) you choose can be anything that works best for you, as long as it’s something you already do every day.
3.) Make Your Space Visible.
Have you ever set something out the night before to remind yourself to do something? For instance, have you ever put out workout clothes so that when you see them first thing you’re reminded to workout? You can do the same thing with meditation.
Even if you don’t have a designated cushion for your practice, you can set up your practice space in the evening (or morning) before. That way, once you see a pillow tipped over on a chair or couch cushion in the middle of your room, you’ll remember to practice.
The simple act of making your space visual will remind you what you need to do. Otherwise, if it’s invisible, you’ll be more likely to forget it’s there. Out of sight, out of mind.
4.) Practice the 2-Minute Rule.
This is another tip that comes out of “Atomic Habits” (it’s a really good book). The 2-Minute Rule states “when you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.” (Read more.)
The general idea here is to only practice for two minutes and then stop. Just two minutes. No more, no less. It might seem strange at first, but what this does is get you into the habit of showing up. You show up, have a two-minute session, then stop. Then repeat the next day.
This is a manageable amount of time, too. No matter how busy you are, you have two minutes to spare. (You’ve probably spent more than two minutes reading this post. And if you’ve read this far, thank you.)
The aim of this rule is not to master the practice but master the art of showing up. Practice this rule as often as you need to build the habit of showing up to your practice every day. Once you’ve achieved this and showing up becomes second nature, you can begin slowly adding more time.
Try It Out
Hopefully, something within the first four tips above will help you on your way to building your own meditation habit.
Whether it’s a plan you can stick to, trigger, a visual reminder, or commitment to a two-minute session, remember that the most important part of building a meditation habit is consistency. Consistency is key. Even if you meditate for two minutes every day, that simple and repetitive process will create a solid foundation.
In the second post of this series, we’ll go further into solidifying a habit for consistent practice. Until then, keep practicing showing up for your practice. It’s worth the effort!