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3 simple ways to establish a daily meditation habit

I had been sticking my toe into meditation for decades, but the practice had never stuck. And then 2 years ago, almost without trying, I formed a daily meditation practice that finally took root and over time completely transformed the way I felt and lived.

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Photo by Fabian Moller on Unsplash
Photo by Fabian Moller on Unsplash

The business of mindfulness has boomed in recent years, but meditation, essential oils and yoga isn’t new or trendy to me, I grew up with a mum who made her own tofu in the 80s and went on silent retreats in the 90s. She took me to my first yoga class when I was 10, all grains in our house were whole and incense burning was de rigueur. 

I had been sticking my toe into meditation for decades, but the practice had never stuck (you see, I also like wine and dancing until the early hours). And then 2 years ago, almost without trying, I formed a daily meditation practice that finally took root and over time has completely transformed the way I felt and lived.

This article is not about the benefits of meditation (those articles are plentiful, many of them written by people with far more knowledge and research behind them than me) – I’m simply going to talk about my own experience and share the 3 things that took me from decades of unsuccessful attempts to a daily, often twice-daily, habit.

1. Create a shared experience

It was March/April 2018 and I had heard about a 30-day meditation challenge called Mindful in May on a podcast. At the time a loved one in Australia was going through a really difficult time and I thought it might be something we could do together, from our opposite ends of the world. The idea behind the challenge was that it takes 30 days to develop a habit. Each day in May, you would receive a mediation or talk from a range of different mindfulness practitioners and experts, including Thich Nhat Hanh and Tara Brach.

Lots of great speakers, lots of great content… but great content is never a guarantee you’re going to show up. Life happens, people get busy. I could have just as easily signed up to this challenge on my own but, looking back, I can’t guarantee I would have got up every morning and done the meditation or listened to the talk. The thing is, I did want to show up for my loved one and I wanted to share the experience with them. So, on those mornings when I might not have showed up for myself, I always showed up for them. That was the right incentive for me at that time – it worked.

2. Attach your new habit to an old one

In addition to the challenge’s overall premise of it taking 30-days to establish a habit, there were expert talks on habit-forming techniques. The most useful one for me – and what helped to make it stick – was attaching this new practice to an established habit.

Every morning I have coffee, I brush my teeth and I shower. Those things always happen – Every. Single. Morning. Other things might happen (exercise, make-up, reading, journaling) but coffee, teeth and shower always happens. And so, I attached my meditation practice to one of those things. The first and most cherished one – my morning coffee. I would do my meditation and then I would have my coffee, that was the reward. Eventually it stuck and meditation became part of my morning ritual. Now, sometimes I will meditate after the coffee, sometimes after the shower – but the habit is established, and I am (almost) as sure of it happening now as I am that I will brush my teeth.

3. Commit to just 5 minutes (it’s enough)

This was the absolute clincher. Five minutes of meditation was enough. For years I had been trying to establish a habit by biting off way more than I could chew (even spending the occasional Friday evening at a local Buddhist temple doing an hour in complete silence, stillness and discomfort). Once I realised that just 5 minutes was ok, I stopped talking myself out of it, I stopped bargaining with myself that I was just too busy that morning, I’d do it later or I’d definitely do it tomorrow. It can be hard to find 20 minutes, or 15 minutes or even 10. But 5 minutes I can always find. And once the 5 minute practice was established, it was easier to build up to a 15, 20 or 30 minute meditation.

These days I meditate most mornings for 10 minutes and most evenings for 30 minutes. If I am short for time in the morning, I’ll do a 2 or 3 minute one over doing nothing at all. And if I miss a morning session or an evening session, I don’t beat myself up about it. Consistency repeated over time – doing it when I struggle to quiet my mind, doing it when I am short on time and doing it when I’ve missed a day. I have branched out too and dip my toe into meditations for all sorts of things on all sorts of topics. I’ve used Loving Kindness meditation when I’m in a tricky spot with someone and it helps with compassion (for myself and others), I’ll look for ones to help me feel uplifted, if I need to do some gratitude work, spend more time on my breath, or visualisation, whatever – there’s guided meditations for everything and I love exploring them all. It all started with a simple 5 minutes before my coffee, showing up for someone I love. Now, I show up for me every morning instead.

Going down the rabbit hole of the variety of meditations might not be your bag, you may have even involuntarily eye-rolled when you read that (I get it), but I promise you – if you take 5 minutes each day to check in with you, be still, be kind and be grateful, it will change the way you feel and might even change the way you live. It did for me anyway. Namaste 😉

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

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