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Scientific formula to get you meditating

Science that can help you sustain a meditation practice you have been longing to adopt

We have all heard the benefits of meditating and read articles on how to get going. Many people start the process of daily meditation with lot of vigor that starts losing it luster between daily chores and early office meetings. All is not lost.

Below is a list of three simple and scientifically proven steps to get meditating! Based on Charles Duhigg’s Power of Habit (see HBR IdeaCast), it takes three things for habits to form and sustain

“THE FRAMEWORK: • Identify the routine • Experiment with rewards • Isolate the cue • Have a plan” 

Charles Duhigg

The framework is also known as CCR (cue, routine and reward). Scientists figured out this magic formula by enabling people who had brain injuries to learn new habits!

As John Bruna (a Dharma and mindfulness teacher) said

“The only thing that separates the person you are from the person you want to be are the actions you take.” 

So let us identify the actions we can take using the magic CRR formula to establish a sustainable meditation practice

Cue (the trigger)

The cookie jar that makes you dig in, the phone that makes you scroll through social media every 15 min – yes, these are the triggers that enable the habit to start unfolding. Cues can be positive and constructive, for example, a bottle of water sitting on the desk might cue someone to drink every hour or so.

 In case of meditation, cues can be set-up the night before. Yes, just as you would prepare for a critical meeting the next day, it serves to prepare for mediation.

Some easy ways signal your brain to meditate include – keeping a small quote or sticky note that reminds you of your intention or motive to meditate. When you get up in the morning and look at the note/quote, after a few days your brain would start associating the cue with the intent to meditate.

Some other ways to add triggers can including setting up a scared space to meditate and preparing it the night before with cushions, candles and everything else you might need. When you walk by the space, it would direct your brain to get meditating.

Routine (the habit)

This is a critical element of meditation and also the hardest for people. With our busy lives, it is important to make the routine as simple and uncomplicated as possible. Routine can be broken down into 2 phases – routine before meditation and routine during meditation.

Routine before meditation is the set of activities you normally do right after getting out of bed. Think of ways to simplify those activities as much as you can. For example, set the coffee maker on auto (if possible) the night before and set down a clean cup/ carafe under it; if you have a morning skin routine, set all the things you need the night before so that you do not waste time looking for the items.

Routine during mediation focuses on establishing a consistent practice. You can meditation for 5 minutes or 25 minutes, but what is important is to do it the same way and nearly same time every day. For example, if your practice involves a body scan and attention to breath, keep the steps simple and consistent day in and day out. Similarly, if your practice involves sitting on a cushion or chair, keep the posture and place consistent.

Reward (incentive to neurologically encode the pattern)

Finally, our favorite part! Incentivize your meditation! Many people will quote long term benefits of meditation, which are great, but not often readily visible when you start the practice. It is during those first few weeks when you start, that you need the most incentive to continue. In order to make the benefits tangible, you can try a few things.

Reward yourself with 5 to 10 min of guilt free screen time after meditating each day. Many people might argue that it contradicts the goal of meditation, but if this gets you to the cushion the first few weeks, I would say it is better than not meditating at all.

One other very popular approach used by people is marking off each day you mediate on the calendar. The act of following through each day brings a sense of accomplishment and starts your day off on a positive note of having followed through your commitment.

Most importantly….

Be kind to yourself. Breaking old habits and adopting new ones is hard. It is okay if your mind wanders or if you miss a day. What is most important is that you try! So, if you have felt called to meditating but pushed it to the back of your mind because it never worked before – sit down right now to write down ways to make your mornings simpler, consistent and comfortable.

If you show up for yourself on your mediation cushion or space each day, give yourself a pat on the back and prepare to show up the next day!

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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.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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