7 Steps to Start or Jump-Start Your Mindfulness Practice
So, you decided to start a meditation practice … now what?
When establishing any new habit, it is wise to set frequency first, then increase duration and then lastly intensity. So, let's begin.
1. Start small - begin with 5-10 minutes of meditation a day. It takes 21 days to start a new habit and beginning is always the most difficult part. If you begin with a short 5-10-minute meditation each day and increase 5 minutes each week you will be up to 15-20 minutes a day in 3 weeks and that is awesome! I would suggest listening to a guided meditation in the beginning. I like to use the app Insight timer - it is free and has a variety of short meditations by various instructors.
Research suggests that in as little as 8 weeks of meditating 15 mins per day is enough to change the brain increasing calm and reducing reactivity. Add that to the walk, run or yoga you are doing now in a mindful way for 10-20 minutes a day you will be doing 40 minutes of Mindfulness a day in as little as 21 days.
2. Don’t allow any exceptions for the first 21 days. For me, the most important part in beginning any new habit is to not give myself an out – no exceptions. I began running at 50 and I knew I had to do everything I could to avoid having an excuse not to run in the morning so I set myself up to succeed by laying out my running sneakers and clothes the night before so I could just get dressed and go. I learned quickly to not listen to the excuses in my head (e.g., I am tired, I can start tomorrow, it might rain) – I noticed them, acknowledge them, but I didn’t do what they say to do unless they moved me closer to my goal which was going for a run. At one point I remember telling them (being the thoughts in my head) to jump in my imaginary backpack because we were going for a run - and they obliged.
3. Are you a carrot or a stick person? Carrot people are motivated if they know there will be a reward - that’s me! Believe me - I had the best cuticles when I was working on my dissertation for my PhD. Every Friday when I sent my revisions to my dissertation committee, for their comments and revisions (believe me that was not fun) I went and got my nails done. And you know what? It worked I finished my PhD 2 years early.
If, however you are a stick person, you will do better if you know you will lose something dear to you if you don’t do the task at hand. Let me give you an example. I had a client who was very successful but hated doing his billing and he hadn’t done it in 2-3 years. So, we made a deal – he had a week to do his billing and if he didn’t complete it, he had to donate $100 to the opposing political party he belonged to – and guess what it worked! When he came back the next week he was up to date with his billing and very happy. Whether you are a carrot or a stick person and tell someone about your plan so they can help keep you accountable.
4. Practice the same time each day every day. For the first 3 weeks I would suggest you meditate at the same time every day. Some of us are early birds. Much to my husband’s dismay, I pop out of bed totally rolling; my brain is on line and I am ready to go. So, a morning meditation works best for me and actually for him too because I am sitting quietly while he wakes up a bit and heads off to yoga. Meditating first thing in the morning allows me to start my day in an intentional and more centered way.
That being said, some of you are evening people and might do better practicing right after work or before bed. It can be a nice transition from a hectic day to family life to meditate before joining family activities or going to bed. Experiment a little bit and see what works for you.
5. Practice in the same place each day. Find a place you can be uninterrupted and comfortable. Set up a cozy place for your yoga mat or comfy chair with colors, textures and scents and that say “cozy” to you. Invest a bit of time and thought in this process. You don’t need to spend lots of money, you probably have everything you need around the house. Sometimes just lighting a candle is enough of a signal to us that it is now time to settle in, slow down and be present.
6. Ask a friend to be your accountability buddy. Or, even better find a friend that wants to meditate too and you can be each other’s accountability buddy. Maybe send each other a text after you meditate each day.
7. Finally, be kind to yourself. The wonderful thing about meditation and mindfulness is you have a life time to get better at it. Just as the mind wonders during meditation your practice will ebb and flow and that is fine – if you find you have wondered just take a breath and begin again.