After one hiking trip, my husband and I visited a friend. He was a founder of a local hiking club and that night they were throwing a party. He told us not to worry about the accommodation since there was a plenty of space in the club. The party was great and when it was over we asked where we can sleep. He brought us to a storage room and said: “Here.” The room was full of… well everything. There were camping chairs, tables, tents, disco balls, glassware, different tools, paintings, tons of random stuff. My husband and I looked into each other’s eyes, shrug the shoulders and got to work. We cleaned up a bit, made a rectangular space on the floor in the middle of the mess, put our mattresses and sleeping bags and spent a relatively comfortable night.
I thought about that night many times. I couldn’t forget that picture: making a small, clear space in the middle of the mess. And yes, that is how I perceive meditation. Our minds are crazy and messy, full of tools, furniture, and disco balls. If we don’t have a regular clean-up practice, our minds tend to turn into a total chaos. The meditation helps clean-up, relax, shrink mess a little bit.
For years I was intrigued by the idea of meditation, however, I could not establish the practice for longer than a week. But this time, I decided to do it for real. I pulled out all the ideas from my habit-formation arsenal and… I guess it worked. I’ve been meditating for about 3 months now.
Here is the list of exact strategies that worked for me. I hope you’ll find them useful for meditation and any other habit you’re trying to form. And I hope this list will inspire you to shift at least one little habit. (Today.) Enjoy.
1. I am not meditating alone
Probably the greatest motivation came from my husband, who is my accountability partner for the meditation. I know that if I’m not meditating, I’m not just letting myself down, I’m letting both of us down. And if I do meditate, I am doing something great for both of us. (The same goes for him.)
We are social beings. We thrive in communities of like-minded people. (Thus I love my idea group.) If you’re trying to form a new habit, try to find someone to accompany you. If your friends, family members or partner are not interested, there are tons of Facebook groups. Local groups. Try Stickk.com. You don’t have to form new habit alone.
2. I scheduled the exact time
According to Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, a crucial part of habits is a trigger. A trigger is a time, event or situation in which you need to start doing whatever is your habit. That’s one of the reasons why it’s the best to do the new thing in the morning, right when you wake up. Stepping out of your bed is the trigger, which indicates that it’s time for you to journal/write/exercise/meditate.
The strategy of scheduling is one of the best strategies in habit formation. If you don’t know where in your day you’ll fit in the new habit, you’ll probably skip it.
I couldn’t schedule my meditation practice as the first thing in the morning because that’s when I create my list of 10 ideas and write before I head to work. Next best time was the time when I come back from work. As soon as I come home and take off my shoes, I know it’s time to meditate. My mind is a bit tired after the work, but the meditation helps me relax and step into an evening fresh and focused.
3. I made a small reward for myself
Ben Austin describes the habit in three steps: 1) trigger, 2) action and 3) reward. We already talked about the trigger and I’ll get to the action in a moment. But let’s talk about the reward.
Rewards can be tricky. I essentially believe that the reward for the good habit is simply doing a good habit. However, I came up with this: since I’m not checking my social media during my work time, I decided not to check it again before I’m done with my meditation. (I also added a 5- to 10-minute break between these two activities. I certainly don’t want to fall right into a rabbit hole of Facebook right when my mind feels clear.) But honestly, checking the social media after a disciplined day, followed by a meditation does feel rewarding and fun. And the more I meditate, the more I’m able to use my time on social media in a mindful way.
4. I bought a Headspace membership
Headspace, meditation program created by Andy Puddicombe, is the essential thing that made my meditation practice possible. I have never paid for meditation programs before, but I had tons of free samples of guided meditations from different people. However, if you want to get serious about meditation, having a complete, nicely organized program, with tons of options is definitely worth paying for. Headspace has hundreds of hours of guided meditation, different styles and genres, basically something for everyone.
After you complete the initial (FREE) meditation package called “Take Ten”, you will proceed to a foundation course, where you’ll learn basic techniques and become aware of most common stumbling blocks. After you’re done with the foundation course, you’ll be able to unlock the entire Headspace library. A lot of them are packed as 30-day mini-courses and topics cover everything, from coping with anxiety, sleep problems, to the stimulation of creative thinking and better relationships. Besides, there are numerous brief exercises that you can do on the go. I love Headspace. (Note: I am not their affiliate, just a happy user.)
5. It is super convenient
The strategy of convenience, as Gretchen Rubin defined it, means that your new habit should be as convenient as possible in order to stick. Headspace app made my meditation super convenient. Once I choose the program, it takes literally one click to start the next meditation. I don’t have to think, plan, decide because Andy has already done that for me.
After a long day at work, I prefer to do something easy. Having to search and decide would make me more likely to say: “Hmmm, I am tired now, I can wait a bit to make up my mind about which meditation to choose. Let me check my Facebook quickly…” And I would end up skipping it. Knowing how easy it is, makes it impossible for me say no.
6. Every day I am reminded of why I am meditating
A terrific part of a Headspace experience is a daily reminder of the purpose of meditation. In each meditation, Andy prompts us to think about why are we doing this practice and how it will benefit us and the people around us. Then I usually think about how I can become calmer, happier, more focused, patient, productive, loving with my husband, better friend, and so on. Knowing why you do what you do is the best motivation. Especially when you’re reminded of it daily.
7. I love letting my mind go
In each exercise, your focus is deliberately directed. Sometimes you’re focusing on your breath, sometimes on the sensations in the body, sometimes you visualize. But at the end of each exercise, there is a brief time period when you let your mind do whatever it wants to do, without focusing on anything in particular. That’s the part of meditation experience that I really love and that helps me learn a lot about my mind.
What I’ve noticed is that my (rebellious) mind is usually the calmest and the most silent when I let it do whatever it wants to do. It resists to focus according to directions, but when it’s free it actually focuses easily. Ironic. I’m looking forward to seeing how much more will I learn from these brief periods of letting my mind go.
8. I am tracking my progress
Another gem from Gretchen Rubin’s arsenal is the strategy of tracking. When we see our progress in a visual form (on the calendar or in any other way), it boosts our motivation and makes us more likely to stick to our habit. We can improve on things that we can measure. My husband and I track our meditation progress on a simple calendar (along with other habits). Orange circle represents the meditation (inspired by Headspace logo). You can see how our April looked like below. A whole bunch of orange circles. This success (especially in a visual form) motivates me to keep on meditating.
Another cool feature: Headspace app will congratulate you whenever you meditate for 3, 7, 14, 30 days in a row. (Not to mention a Headspace vouchers that you’ll be able to send to your friends).
9. I finally feel the benefits of meditation
One thing that can make a habit sticky is the tangible and visible progress. We seem to be addicted to instant or relatively quick gratification. Yet, for the most of the valuable practices, meditation included, it takes a while to see a tangible progress. However, after a couple of months, I can feel the benefits. I am more serene. I sleep better. I am more focused. I work slowly and I am more curious.
The key is to persist even when you don’t see any benefits. Find the way to enjoy the practice. Focus on showing up and doing the work. Benefits will come eventually, providing new motivation.
10. I embraced the mess of my mind
Did I ever say that I am doing a great job in terms of meditation? Hell, no. My mind is still like a jungle. I have the days when I meditate pretty well and I have other days when it’s terrible. How do I know if I’m doing the right thing? I don’t. I am basically showing up every day and trying to follow Andy’s instructions as close as possible. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s terrible. (Andy points to the most common stumbling blocks, which also helps.)
I am learning to embrace the mess of my mind and create a small oasis in there on a daily basis. If nothing, my meditation practice taught me how messy and crazy and obsessive our minds are. But if you train yourself to declutter and open up some (head) space daily (as at the beginning of this story), you’ll be able to translate that into other areas of life. You will be happier, calmer and more focused. And that’s the whole point.
Do you have the meditation practice? If so, which one of these ideas could make it even better? Let me know in the comments below.
And if you know someone who would like to form a new habit or start the meditation practice, please share this post with him or her.
P. S. Cookie of Wisdom: “Meditation is the discovery that the point of life is always arrived at in the immediate moment.” Allan Watts((Tweet this!))