I’m one of those folks who has started and stopped meditating a hundred times. Maybe even hundreds of times. It’s a habit I always wanted to start but just couldn’t get myself to stick with it. And I have a feeling I’m not the only one!
But this year that changed. In July, I started meditating every day. And by some incredible feat of magic, I am STILL meditating every. single. day.
Except it wasn’t really magic. It was a few simple ideas I put into practice that made meditation, well, doable. Here’s what I learned that really helped me cement the habit of meditating every day:
How I Finally Made Daily Meditation a Habit
1. I Made Daily Meditation for Life My Real Goal
Meditation is like exercising or flossing your teeth – there’s no finish line. You’re never actually done. It’s something that you need to do on a regular basis for the rest of your life to continue reaping the benefits.
Once I realized that my real goal was to meditate every day for life, it completely changed my perspective. Now instead of sabotaging myself with worries like, “Am I doing this right? Am I doing this enough?” I could just ask myself one simple question: “Did I meditate today?” If that answer was yes, then I had met my goal for that day.
The real key to making meditation a daily habit is to overcome the mental hurdles make you hesitate, procrastinate, and ultimately quit.
Once I figured this out, I started finding ways to eliminate those mental hurdles one by one.
2. I Needed to Know Why I was Doing It
I know why I floss my teeth every day: it makes my breath smell better, it helps my teeth stay clean, and also I really, really don’t want gingivitis.
I know why I exercise a few times every week: to take care of my mental health. (Yes, I also want my body to stay functional and strong, but what motivated me to stick with the habit was the fact that I don’t enjoy being anxious and depressed).
So why was I meditating? I honestly didn’t have a clear idea. I knew meditation had a boatload of benefits (it literally helps you grow the gray matter in your brain and can stave off depression), but to start a new daily habit, you have to really know why you want do it.
For me, it was hitting a point of extreme stress in my life. My marriage was ending, I was selling my home, and I was moving across the state. The anxiety was unreal. I knew I needed to take care of myself on a completely new level if I wanted to survive this transition intact. And my intuition was loud and clear about what that should be: meditation.
3. I Stopped Focusing on Doing it “Right”
I don’t believe there’s a “right” or “perfect” way to meditate. The real goal is to just give your mind and body a break. You’re bombarded all day long with information, problems to solve, stress, conversations, etc. Your brain can only process so much input and your body can only handle so much tension.
Meditation is the chance to take a break from the input, take some deep breaths, relax the body, and just let your mind do its thing. That’s it. It doesn’t have to be complicated. If you have to jump through hoops to do meditation the “right” way, then you might not end up doing it at all – and that’s exactly the opposite of what we want.
So like exercise, there’s no one right way to move your body and there’s no one right way to meditate. If the goal is to do it every day, then the important thing is to find a way to do it that you enjoy.
4. I Started with (Seriously Small) Baby Steps
Let me be frank: I didn’t trust myself to stick with meditation. At all. I had tried and failed so many times. Why would this time be any different?
I had to make my plan failproof – something so easy that I could do it no matter how discouraged or tired or unmotivated I was. So I chose 5 minutes.
Is five minutes enough meditation to see real benefits? I’m not sure. Probably not. But remember: my goal wasn’t necessarily to achieve certain benefits. My goal was to meditate every day. I knew that if I just got myself to meditate every day, eventually it would get easier and maybe I could commit more of myself to the practice. But I need to overcome the huge hurdle of self-doubt first.
So five minutes it was. I put some meditation music on my headphones and set my timer for five minutes. It felt nice to take a break and five minutes felt doable for me.
But the best feeling was when that five minutes was done, I realized that… I did it. Yes, it was a small accomplishment, but it was real and worth celebrating.
It took me weeks to feel brave enough to add more time to my sessions, and even then I only increased it by a couple minutes at a time. But eventually I did start experiencing the benefits of this new habit (yes, even a little meditation can make a big difference). Before I knew it, I was excited to meditate and even excited about increasing the length of my sessions.
But don’t worry about that right now. Just get started, even if it’s just for five minutes – or heck, make it two if that’s what you need to make it a daily habit! Take those baby steps and celebrate every single one. The path to success is paved with small wins – because they really do add up. Most of all, those mini accomplishments make you believe in yourself again, which is what ultimately makes you unstoppable.
5. I Stopped Kicking Myself for Missing Days
I’m one of those weirdos who really does floss my teeth every day. And by floss every day, I mean at least 9 out of 10 days. I have never once given up on flossing because I missed a day. I’ve never even considered that an option. Part of making daily meditation a success was applying that same mindset to my meditation practice.
So when I say I’ve been meditating daily for almost six months, I don’t mean I’ve never missed a day. I just mean that overall, it’s been a daily practice. If I miss a day or two, I just get right back to it the next day. Like flossing, I probably meditate 9 out of 10 days. Life happens and a good habit doesn’t need to be a perfect habit. The important part is that it’s a habit.
6. I Stopped Expecting Epiphanies and Enlightenment
I’m not sure what I used to expect from meditation. Some kind of immediate sense of inner peace or enlightenment maybe? Whatever it was, I often walked away from meditation feeling disappointed or confused because it didn’t feel like it was “supposed” to feel… which happens to be a great way to stop a good habit in its tracks.
Realistic expectations are not an option – they’re a MUST.
You might not experience immediate enlightenment just from sitting down to meditate (in fact, I can pretty much guarantee that you won’t), but that’s not really the goal. Just like you don’t go to the gym once or twice and expect to walk out in perfect shape. That’s not how long-term healthy habits work. They work because we make a few seemingly small, healthy choices on a regular basis.
Consistency can often make results seem like they magically happen, but it’s really the outcome of many small steps in the right direction.
Some benefits of meditation can be immediate: I usually come away from a short meditation session feeling a little more calm and relaxed. But more importantly, over time these meditation sessions add up. They start rewiring your brain and activating your parasympathetic nervous system (the calming part of your nervous system). The results are subtle at first – you might not even notice them.
Then, suddenly, things start to add up. I found myself pausing before reacting to triggering situations. I started sleeping for longer stretches (and finally quit Unisom successfully for the first time in YEARS). I weathered some very stressful upheavals in my life without completely falling apart.
I am by no means perfect and I’ve made about a million mistakes along the way. But things are better. I feel better. I feel a little happier, a little more at peace. I have a little more resilience and patience. And sometimes, that little bit makes all the difference.
A Few More Random Tips for Meditating Every Day
These tips also helped me stick to my meditation habit:
- Get a meditation buddy. No, you don’t have to actually meditate with this person. But having someone there for encouragement and accountability has been critical to my success. Find someone who also wants to make daily meditation a goal and check in with each other on the regular. It really does help with motivation!
- Same time, same place. I know exactly when I’m going to meditate every day: right when I wake up. By sticking to a regular routine, I avoid the question of when/if I’m going to meditate that day. I do it right away and then it’s done!
- Be comfortable. There are a LOT of opinions about how to sit or whether you can lay down to meditate. I say do what’s comfortable, because then you’re more likely to follow through. It may take a few tries to find what feels comfortable to you. And don’t be afraid to shake things up and do something different now and then.
Elizabeth is the founder of The Nourished Life and has been writing about natural living for 12 years. Her work has been featured at Shape, Bustle, and Mother Earth Living. Her mission is to help you lower your stress levels and find fun ways to become happier and healthier. Read more about Elizabeth here.