Danielle has been encouraging me to meditate for as long as I can remember. Not sure what I should think about that exactly. Apparently she observed me struggling with patience and stress from an early point. I can attest that I would definitely lose my cool over things of very little significance. I still do now, though I hope less frequently.
At first, she simply recommended that I should meditate. I’m sure she had specific guidance and suggestions but I certainly wasn’t listening. So I would give it a try. But sitting still for a minute would invoke ideas to race around in my mind and I would fret over forgetting that one super important thing that I just remembered I needed to do.
Then, I think it was my 24th or 25th birthday, she got me a really nice meditation set. A series of guided meditations including information on the importance and benefits of meditation, questions to work through, and a deck of cards for daily meditations. This set, unfortunately, remained unopened somewhere in the vicinity of my desk for nearly 8 years. In fact, I just recently asked her if she knew of anyone that might benefit from it since clearly I was not “ready” for it.
Perhaps, to meditate, I have to actually be open to the idea in the first place.
In order to succeed at establishing a new habit or routine, we have to actually be open to the idea in the first place. And open is key. For a long time, I did not see the benefit of meditation and how it could impact my life. Every time I tried to meditate I felt like I was not doing it right. I could only focus on my breath for so long until I started thinking about something else. It felt like a waste of time.
Then, about a year ago, something changed. Again, for my birthday, Danielle gifted me the 10% Happier Meditation Course. Something was a little different this time. Perhaps, since I knew it was a predetermined length of time, 2 weeks – I could stick to it. The meditations started out at a very manageable 5 minutes. Very doable. I had a nice app on my phone that allowed me to measure my progress as I began and continued the course. It felt like something I could succeed at. Plus I liked the concept. By meditating for just a few minutes a day I could expect to become just a little better. A little calmer. A little more patient. Maybe 10% happier.
I completed the course and I actually continued to replay some of the guided meditations for the next couple of weeks. All in all, I probably had a stretch of about 30 days of continuous meditation following those guided meditations. Pretty good I thought.
But then, I missed a day. And then another. And then it was a full week before my next meditation occurred. Here I had done so well for nearly a month, and just like that my habit was gone.
I tried continuously for the next few months to redevelop the habit – having success for a few days in a row and then missing the next 3 or 4 days. This was frustrating.
It turns out, I was disturbing a key part of the habit development cycle – the cue.
I was attempting to meditate every morning after a run. This worked out great…every time I ran in the morning. But then, when my morning routine changed, my meditation habit slipped. This typically occurred on weekends when the general flow of the day was different than the weekdays. I struggled with a consistent schedule and routine.
Find a cue or trigger that you can link your meditation practice to.
This went on until the very end of October when I decided to change my cue for meditation. Instead of meditating after a short morning run, I decided I would meditate immediately after waking up. I shared my plan with Danielle so that she knew that this was something I was focusing on in the morning. and asked her to suggest an app or timer I could use to track my progress.
I chose to start with 5 minutes. Five minutes is pretty easy to find. Set the alarm for 5 minutes earlier than normal. Don’ hit snooze. Skip the urge to immediately check email or social media. Prepare clothes the night before so that is one less thing to do in the morning.
So, I used the Insight Meditation Timer app set to 5 minutes and meditated before I even got out of bed. I made myself get right back into bed even if I had to quickly go to the bathroom first. And, amazingly, I was able to do this. Day after day after day. Guess what? I was able to do this on the weekend to. Because my cue was always constant.
I meditate for 5 minutes immediately after waking up. I wake up every day therefore I meditate every day. It is as simple as that. Honestly.
And I just hit the 100 consecutive day mark on the insight timer and I have realized that I do like a little extrinsic motivation – the gold stars that are collected within the app. I have gradually increased my time to 10 minutes a day without a significant change needed in my morning routine. Our dog still goes for walk right after this. And Danielle and I still squeeze in a morning run before heading off to work.
To encourage myself to not hit snooze I actually moved my phone across our bedroom so that I physically have to get out of bed to turn off the alarm.
Sure, I had to think about meditating every day at the start. I had to add it to my to do list so I wouldn’t forget. But the likelihood of forgetting was pretty small since I knew in advance that meditation would be the first thing to do.
And at some point within the last 100 days, meditation has become a habit, just part of my morning routine. And now, it really doesn’t require much thought. It is essentially an automatic part of my morning, that happens every single time I wake up.
Meditating first thing in the morning works for me. It works well for Danielle too. She just hit a ridiculous 500 consecutive day milestone. And it works well for a lot of others as well. But, maybe for you, it will be something you do after you brush your teeth in the evening.
The important takeaway is that a new habit has a better likelihood of becoming established when you can link it to an existing routine that you already have.
And, by the way, I do in fact feel just a little bit happier. And being just a little more patient allows me to respond to situations and to stress rather than simply to react to it.
How can you find 5 minutes a day to meditate or practice mindfulness?
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