Have you ever tried to establish a daily meditation practice?
I have! More times than I can count…
Unfortunately, every time I’ve set the goal to meditate every day, I’ve failed to make the habit stick.
On Day 1, I’d say to myself, “OK, you’re going to start meditating every day!” I’d plop down onto a cushion, meditate, and check off that task for the day feeling very self-satisfied.
But three or four days later, I’d forget. Then a few months would go by until I’d once again feel the urge to try to start meditating regularly.
And again, I’d give up before the habit took root.
You might have a habit that similarly haunts you.
Maybe you want to walk more often. Or get more sleep. Or, like me, you want to meditate on the daily.
But every time you try to establish that new habit, something happens and it falls apart a few days in (or a couple of weeks in, if you’re lucky).
Last year, I finally figured out how to make my meditation habit stick. And after 365 consecutive days of daily meditation, I reaped the benefits of that practice — including a few surprise benefits that I didn’t expect (more on that below!).
Keep reading if you’re trying to start a new habit! The 5 lessons I learned last year might just take your habit from feeling utterly impossible to totes doable.
1. Tap into WHY your new habit matters to you
How many times have you jumped into a new habit just because somebody else told you that you should?
Maybe a super organized friend tells you about a new journal they just got – and they LOVE it. So you head over to Amazon and buy the journal (so exciting!). When it arrives, you force yourself to use it for approximately 4.5 days before you inevitably forget about it. The journal then sits on your bookshelf, collecting dust for the rest of its un-written-in life.
Don’t let that brand new journal die without being used! Before you start a new habit, ask yourself this crucial question: “Why am I starting this new habit?”
And don’t give up until you have a real answer.
Like a whiny five year old version of yourself, keep asking: “But whyyyyy?”
If you’re starting a new productivity routine, it might be because you’re solving a specific problem. You’re going to start setting goals each morning so that you know what to focus on (instead of getting stuck in the unimportant stuff). Or you’re practicing gratitude so that you can fix your ‘tude (and enjoy a more abundance-focused life).
When I started my meditation habit last year, it was because I knew that consistent practice would empower me to remain calm in the face of new challenges, stay focused on what mattered most to me, and create the quiet space I need to not burn out.
And every day I reminded myself of why I wanted to practice meditation. When I did that, I couldn’t not practice.
So, before you start a new habit: tap into WHY you’re doing it, then keep tapping back in to that why.
2. Start small (even smaller than you think)
Around the internet, most of the habits that people recommend are big, inspiring, major lifestyle changes.
Which is great for getting pumped up about something new! But big habits almost always need to be preceded by small habits in order to work long-term.
Even habits that seem really simple are actually too big to be sustainable. Here are a few I just saw peddled online yesterday:
- Meditate for 30 minutes every day
Honestly, I’m a meditation teacher and there are plenty of days that a 30-minute meditation practice would make me want to pull my hair out. How about starting your habit with 10 mindful breaths?
- Schedule out your whole week on Sunday
Good idea! But doing this in a way that doesn’t set you up for failure is deceptively difficult. Why not start with planning out Monday morning?
- Walk for an hour every morning
OK, walking is great, but most of us would need to make major schedule changes to make this one possible. What if you walked for 15 minutes three times this week?
My downfall has often been that, as an A+ student who carried that baggage into my professional life, I want to assign myself the hardest possible habits. If I’m more disciplined, that means I’m a better person, right? (oof, no.)
So, when I started my meditation practice, I set the bar really low with a tiny little goal.
I asked myself, “What if I could get a benefit from meditating just a little bit each day?”
And that’s what led to…:
3. Define a daily minimum practice
When I was in yoga teacher training, a mentor of mine recommended that I determine a “minimum daily practice” that I could stick to so that I could maintain my personal practice and grow as a teacher.
So I set a minimum daily yoga practice of one hour every day. You can guess what happened next. (lol)
My one hour minimum daily practice was not sustainable. While it was a great aspiration to aim for, the rest of my life wasn’t set up (yet) to support that much yoga practice every single day.
But I forced myself to stick to my minimum daily yoga practice anyway. Before long, I dreaded my yoga practice because I had to rush other areas of my life to fit it in. I’d get up early to practice yoga from six to seven, then immediately have to get ready and head out the door for a full day. Instead of feeling focused and energized, I felt frenetic and exhausted. And that was on the good days.
So, when I set out to determine my minimum daily meditation practice, I went super small.
I asked myself: “Could benefit from just a few minutes of mindfulness meditation each day?”
After reading so much research on the benefits of meditation (and conducting my own research on the topic), I knew that even a short daily practice could prove to be highly beneficial.
My daily minimum practice was so small that I was embarrassed to admit it at first: just 10 mindful breaths — with my eyes closed, if possible. It took about a minute to practice.
Some days I practiced the minimum. Other days, more.
Over the course of the next year, I’d often sit for 10 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour, all the way up to occasional self-led half-day meditation retreats.
But on days that were packed full of travel or appointments, or client calls, or whatever else, I knew I could still fit my daily meditation practice in. I knew I could sit for 10 breaths.
And that made my meditation habit sustainable.
4. Create space for your new habit
When you first start a new habit, it’s tempting to believe that you can just add it to your schedule. New habit, nbd!
But most of us don’t have tons of extra time and energy that’s just waiting to get used up.
So if you’re trying to add a new habit, there’s a 99% chance that you’ll need to first figure out how you’ll make space for it.
What do I mean by making space for a new habit?
Well, there are a few things that work really well:
- If your new habit requires time (more than 5 minutes), then determine when during the day you’ll create that time. It sounds so obvious, but I can’t count how many times I’ve skipped this step.
- If your new habit involves a change in behavior (like meditating, walking, or sleeping more), you’ll need to choose what you’ll do less. For instance, you might need to add in a break during your work day (work a little less) or call it a night one episode earlier (netflix a little less) so you can get to bed.
- When you start a new habit, consider if there are any old habits that you can remove. Often, we can free up a ton of energy by letting go of useless old habits like over-planning, unnecessary social media, and even commuting.
And it is so much easier to start a new habit when you know that you’ve created the time you need to actually get it done. Stress melts away and you realize that you have exactly what you need to start enjoying the benefits of your new habit.
5. Hold your habit loosely
This one’s been coming up a lot for me lately. It ain’t easy, but it’s super important.
Imagine that your new habit is like a seed that you want to plant.
You believe in the seed’s potential to grow into a beautiful plant, producing fruit for years to come.
Now, if you hold that seed in your hand, gripping it tightly and shutting out all light and air and soil and water, it will never grow to its potential.
But if you hold it loosely in your palm and nurture it with soil and water, the seed will sprout and begin to grow. And before long, that little seed will blossom and take root in ways that you could never have expected.
So rather than trying to force your new habit to be “perfect,” let it blossom on its own. You might end up with a habit that is a little different that you expected it to be, but that might just be exactly what you need.
For me, this meant letting my mindfulness meditation practice be imperfect. Sometimes I’d sit down on my meditation cushion and I would accidently spend the whole time ruminating over a political argument. Other times, I’d fade in and out of sleepiness.
But most of the time, I’d notice something new. I’d focus and let go of distractions. Most days, I’d gain deeper awareness.
By holding my meditation habit loosely and letting it be whatever it would be, I was able to notice and embrace benefits that I never expected.
After several years of attempting to establish a meditation habit, I’m so thankful that I finally did it last year.
I got better at sweeping away distractions and staying focused. My ability to let go of disappointments and frustrations improved dramatically. And I experienced greater resilience when things got tough.
On top of all of those benefits, I also:
- Worked with more than twice as many 1-on-1 clients as the previous year (without burning out)
- Got clear on how to align my beliefs with my business in a way that will lead to long-term sustainable success
- Launched two online courses (stay tuned for more on the next launches!)
- Enjoyed speaking at 20 workshops, trainings, and events (goodbye, stage fright!)
And most importantly, I overcame some major barriers and internal challenges that could have derailed my whole business. Instead, I was able to skillfully navigate around those challenges with poise.
Without a doubt, my daily meditation practice played a huge role in each of these positive changes.
So I will continue to practice meditation each day, holding the habit loosely, and regularly tapping in to why this habit matters to me.