Getting into the routine of meditating every day has sometimes been a challenge for me, even now when I’m retired and have lots of time. When I worked, I meditated in the evening. Now that I’m retired, I decided meditating in the morning is the way to go.
I set a goal, sharpened my intentions, focused on the positive rewards that I experience from meditation, and still didn’t consistently follow through. There were so many things on my “to do” list. I woke up in the morning wanting to get going with all sorts of activities. I resisted meditating even knowing first hand all the positive benefits. I had the best of intentions. Something just seemed to get in the way.
I started by bringing curiosity to the process itself. I realized that making this change required a change in habit. My getting-out-of-bed routine, getting breakfast and starting my day felt comfortable. It was automatic. Adding something new didn’t feel natural. I began to notice that much of my life seems to run on automatic routines, more than I was aware of until I brought my conscious awareness to notice.
I became curious about what research has to say about all this. Through reading, I began to understand that when we repeat behavioral patterns they become imprinted in our neural pathways. We maintain our habitual ways of behaving because that’s just the way our brains work. We could never survive if we had to consciously control all our behaviors.
So how can we establish a new habit? Here’s what the research shows:
Repeat the behavior in the same context, until it becomes automatic and effortless which can take up to 10 weeks. (Both repetition and a consistent context are necessary to help the habit become automatic.)
Here’s how to put this into practice to establish a meditation practice that lasts over the long term.
- Always meditate in the same place. Fix up a corner of a room with familiar and pleasing objects.
- Practice at the same time each day and tie your practice to something you already do on a regular basis. For example, every morning, no matter what time you get up, if you take a shower and then meditate, taking a shower becomes a cue for meditating.
- Give yourself positive reinforcement every time you meditate. Consciously appreciate yourself for remembering to meditate.
- Meditate for at least a half hour each time. Use a guided recording if necessary. If you meditate for an extended time, you will start to see positive results a lot sooner than if you meditate only for short periods.
- Practice every day, no matter what, especially during the initial 10 week learning period. On days when you don’t have a half hour, take a few minutes just to tune into your body and your breath.
If you persist for the initial 10-week learning period, then the routine will become imprinted in your neurons and maintaining the practice will become close to automatic.
Meditation is in the news. Every day a new article comes out about the benefits with lots of research to back it up. Don’t be one of those who start a meditation practice that doesn’t last. Find a teacher for instruction, join a group for support, and then develop a meditation practice that lasts.