Making meditation a regular habit
7 Busy-Proof Tips for Making Meditation a Regular Habit
When I ask my clients what stops them from meditating — what the biggest obstacle is to meditating on a regular basis — the most common answer I get is, “I don’t have enough time.”
I agree wholeheartedly. I don’t have enough time, either — many of us (if not all of us) don’t have time to add a sitting practice to our already-packed schedules.
When your days are already overloaded with school, work, family responsibilities, meetings, and household chores, how can you possibly find the time to meditate?
I’ve created this short little guide for everyone who is having trouble making meditation a regular habit. These steps will help make sitting part of your regular routine, instead of feeling like one more thing you’ve got to squeeze into your already-packed days.
If you’re new to meditation, or you’ve been feeling bad because you just haven’t been able to set up a regular meditation habit, these tips can help you.
TIP #1: Don’t wait until you “have time” to meditate.
One of the biggest reasons we struggle with making meditation a regular habit is that we wait until we have “free time” to sit down and do it.
To be honest, we don’t actually have free time.
Free time is a myth. Our days are packed with all sorts of things, so waiting until you have a free moment essentially guarantees that you’ll go days (or months, or years) between meditation sessions.
And that’s a real shame, because the best way to experience the substantial and proven benefits of meditation is to sit on a regular basis.
So start by saying, “I’m not going to wait until I have free time. I’m going to do what I need to do to establish a regular meditation habit, instead.”
That way you don’t have to feel like you’re at war with your schedule, and you’ll be far more likely to reach your regular meditation goals.
TIP #2: Commit to meditating, even if you don’t feel like doing it.
The other obstacle to establishing a regular practice is waiting until we’re “in the right mood” to do it. That means whenever you’re not in the mood, you don’t sit.
Commit to meditating on the days you feel like it and on the days you don’t. If you only sit when we feel like it, your practice will really be more of a hobby or recreational activity, rather than a practice.
Once you’ve made this commitment, use the rest of these tips to help you keep your word and make it a consistent habit.
TIP #3: Make meditation part of your existing routine.
One of the best things you can do to make meditation a regular habit is to link your meditation time to something you’re already doing.
Choose something you already do every day, and then meditate before or after that already-existing habit.
For example, I meditate in the morning after my first cup of coffee.
The main reason I consistently meditate is that this routine is automatic for me.
Studies have shown that 40% to 45% of the things we do every day are governed by habits, including backing our cars out of the driveway, cooking dinner, or getting ready to go to bed. So ask yourself, “What habit can I choose to partner with a few minutes of meditation?”
You can add your meditation practice to your morning routine, like I do, or make it a part of your lunch, mid-afternoon, or evening routine.
Pick a routine to pair with meditation. Then starting tomorrow, make meditation a new part of that morning/midday/evening routine.
For more information on establishing habits, check out the helpful book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg.
TIP #4: Use a timer, and don’t get up until the timer rings.
A simple kitchen timer can be an enormously helpful tool for your meditation toolbox.
You can pick up an inexpensive timer at kitchen shops, or other household stores. You can also use a timer app for your smartphone – Insight Timer is a popular one.
Set your timer (check out this post for advice on how long your meditation sessions should be) and then begin your meditation session.
Once you’ve started your session, continue meditating until the timer bell sounds. Don’t let yourself get distracted, don’t get up to make another cup of tea, and definitely, do NOT interrupt your session to answer your phone. I recommend you turn your phone completely off (not just on silent mode) while you meditate.
If you get caught up in distractions – no matter what they those distractions are – your meditation session will most likely get completely derailed, and you won’t return to meditation. Be disciplined with yourself, and trust the timer to hold you.
Think of it this way: If you get up and interrupt your session, you’ve missed an opportunity for growth.
Something was probably happening right before you got distracted that needed caring, curious attention and mindful awareness. Because you got distracted, you avoided that moment – and dodging those moments can become a habit if you do it repeatedly. And that’s not a habit you want to establish!
TIP #5: Make time for meditation by cutting back on something else.
When you’re trying to make meditation a regular habit, it’s important to prioritise the things that are most important to you.
If you’re having trouble figuring out where you can carve out time to insert a daily meditation session, examine your current schedule objectively and try to spot places where you can cut back on activities that are lower down on your priority list.
For example – you might enjoy watching TV shows on Netflix. If you’re in the habit of “binge watching” (or watching more than one episode per viewing session), consider cutting back a little. If you watch just one fewer episode per day, you can give yourself an extra 20 to 60 minutes in your daily schedule!
Another place to try to take back some precious minutes is in your online time. How long do you spend on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook each day? Could you spend 10 minutes less on those sites each day, to make room for meditation?
Do you write lengthy replies to every email message you receive? If you wrote shorter replies, or delegated some of that work, would that open up some time in your schedule?
Family, work, and personal responsibilities will always make demands on our time, but it is possible to make time to meditate if you make it a priority and are willing to make small changes in your daily schedule.
TIP #6: Have a plan for what to do when you absolutely can’t meditate at your regular time.
It’s inevitable. There will be days when it just isn’t possible to meditate at the usual point in your day.
I want to offer you kind and resolute encouragement not to skip meditating on days like this.
I understand the urge to skip a day. Sometimes at the end of my day, I feel tired, and all I want to do is go to sleep. Then I realise I haven’t meditated yet, and I groan internally.
What I find helpful on days like this is to meditate just for 2 minutes, then recommit to meditating on my normal schedule the following morning. That way, I don’t skip meditation entirely — I meditate for just a few minutes. That feels better than going to bed without meditating at all that day.
Even if you’re really tired, you can almost always manage two minutes of meditation time. Think of it as an investment in your practice, and remember that meditating for two minutes at night – even if you really don’t feel like it – will help you stay on track and make you considerably less likely to skip the following day. Doing a two-minute meditation can stop one missed meditation day from turning into two weeks of skipped practice.
Meditation is an art and a discipline, so give yourself permission to be creative, flexible, forgiving, and committed when you’re trying to set up this new habit — all of these skills are necessary for success!
TIP #7: Be gentle with yourself when you slip up.
When you slip up and miss a day (or even two days), be gentle with yourself. Berating yourself doesn’t help bring you back on track, and it only makes you feel worse.
I’ve been meditating since 2008, and there have been times when I have fallen out the daily meditation habit. It’s normal.
On the days when you don’t meditate, offer yourself forgiveness. Meditation is an important mindfulness practice, but it’s not the only form of mindfulness practice.
Kindness and generosity are also important practices for integrating mindfulness into your life as a way of being. So, if you haven’t meditated for a little while (or perhaps a long while), remember to relate to yourself with a generous heart. Forgive yourself for not engaging in the formality of meditation practice, even though you recognise the value of the practice.
Admonishing yourself and giving your inner critic the authority to measure the quality of your meditation practice is inherently unkind, and therefore not mindful. So if you slip up, forgive yourself wholeheartedly, then recommit to your regular meditation practice. Have a clear intention and decide to engage in formal meditation practice daily for a certain amount of time every day. Make sure you set a goal for the same amount of meditation time every day.
These two things (forgiveness and recommitting) must happen together for you to get back on track.
If you notice that are consistently having problems meditating for the amount of time you want to, you may need to reexamine your goals and ask yourself if they are realistic for your current situation.
If you plan to meditate for 45 minutes every day and usually don’t succeed, you might consistently beat yourself up for it, and that doesn’t help move you forward. It’s better to start small at the beginning and add minutes as you get a little bit of success. Check out this post for some advice on setting meditation goals.
When you’re setting a daily goal, ask yourself what will truly work for you. Remember, it is the regularity that’s important — the daily practice that is supportive of developing and deepening mindfulness in your life – not the number of minutes you sit for. So set a goal that is realistic for you.
The Enormous Benefits of Creating Your Own Meditation Habit
There is some great news about regular meditation, too – many people discover that they become more productive as meditation practice develops because they develop a greater capacity to focus and recognise when they are caught in distraction.
Even if you feel like you absolutely cannot find time to create a regular meditation habit, you may want to use the tips in this article and try it for a few weeks. You may find the more time you meditate, the more time you’ll have to sit!
Meditation isn’t an instant fix, and it isn’t a magic bullet – but it can be transformative if you commit to the practice and sit on a regular basis. Use these tips to take a disciplined, thoughtful, yet gentle approach to creating your own sitting habit, and start experiencing the enormous benefits of consistent meditation.
(Originally written in 2018)