Modern civilization offers an abundance of instant gratification in the forms of entertainment media, consumer experience, and food, which many of us utilize in order to distract ourselves from negative psychological states such as anxiety, depression, and overthinking. Regarding meditation, it can be difficult to make the decision to disengage from the instantly-gratifying distractions that tend to inundate daily life, and to simply focus on one’s breathing in a quiet manner. Since many of us are conditioned to continually receive stimuli at a high rate throughout the day, it can be uncomfortable to intentionally occupy a quiet space (both internally and externally). However, despite how quiet or serene a meditation environment is, the mind will create its own stimuli in the forms of thoughts, memories, and judgements, as well as emotional responses to all of these things.
This article offers a simple program to help turn meditation into a habit. A key factor in the success of any endeavor is consistency. If consistency is not present, an endeavor will become fruitless, and its benefits won’t become a reality. This is true for strength training, weight loss, and in the case of this article, meditation. Therefore, addressing how to stick to a meditation practice is just as important as addressing what the practice consists of. In the initial stages of a meditation practice, it’s more important to simply do meditation than it is to create the perfect environment or to hold the best posture.
Initiating a Meditation Practice
The initiation of a meditation practice can be broken down into 3 basic steps:
Step 1: Personal Importance
- An individual will only be motivated to meditate if they believe that meditation can benefit them in a meaningful way.
Step 2: Building the Habit*
- Once an individual develops a personal connection with meditation, they can then begin to work on developing consistency in their practice (i.e. build a habit), without worrying too much about when, where, or how to meditate.
Step 3: Optimizing your Practice
- Once an individual develops a foundational meditation habit, they are in a better position to start considering and implementing the best ways to meditate in terms of when, where, and how.
*This article focuses specifically on Step 2. For Step 1, my article The Benefits of Breathing Meditation for Stress Management may be helpful.
When it comes to practicing meditation on a daily basis, it is important to realize that the will to meditate may not occur spontaneously, even if you think meditation is important for you to do. In fact, it is likely that you may have to force yourself to initiate meditation, especially in the beginning stages of your practice. That is why it is important to begin your meditation practice in a way that is simple and easy.
The Habit-Building Program
Start meditating in very short durations so that you have no excuse to not meditate. Progressively increase the duration of your meditation sessions in very small increments so that you allow yourself to comfortably adapt to the unfamiliar territory of an unstimulating environment. By repeatedly meditating in short durations, you will gradually develop a meditation habit. With time, you will develop the skills to meditate for longer durations.
- Week 1: Meditate for 1 minute every day.
- Week 2: Meditate for 2 minutes every day.
- Continue the same weekly progression until…
- Week 10: Meditate for 10 minutes every day.
- You are free to not meditate one day per week, if you so choose.
- Each meditation session will be continuous (e.g. on week 10, don’t partition the meditation sessions into x2 five minute sessions, or x5 two minute sessions).
- Use a timer to control the duration of the meditation sessions (ideally a timer with a soft-sounding alarm).
- When meditating, do your best to find an environment that is free of as much external stimuli as possible (e.g. sounds, smells, fluctuations in lighting). However, the environment does not need to be perfect! Don’t let the absence of a perfectly serene environment deter you from meditating.
- Find a comfortable position to meditate in: sitting upright, sitting reclined, sitting cross-legged, or lying down. You can use a chair, mat, meditation pillow, or bed. If you get sleepy easily, avoid the more horizontal positions and bed.
- Eyes closed.
- For the duration of the meditation session, simply focus on the sensation of your breath. When you catch your mind wandering, bring your attention back to your breath.
As you go about the 10 week habit-building program, you will intuitively start to see how you can fit meditation into your life. You will develop a personalized understanding of the best way for you to meditate (i.e. when, where, and how).
If you have a history of practicing meditation, but find yourself lacking consistency, this program can be used to jumpstart a dormant practice. I’ve used it in such a way more than once.
The popular portrayal of meditation (i.e. sitting cross-legged with perfect posture and complete focus in a perfectly serene environment) is largely a romanticized fallacy that discourages people from meditating because it presents an inaccessible idea of what meditation is.
After a habit is established, a meditation duration of approximately 15-30 minutes per day on most days of the week is recommended in order to experience the significant benefits of meditation. However, meditation sessions as short as just a few minutes can make a notable difference. Remember, it’s better to meditate frequently for short durations than it is to meditate infrequently for long durations.