The first couple of days it works great. You start your morning sitting with your thoughts; you feel your breath and resonate with the present moment. When a week passes, you are comfortable enough to skip a day, because what could possibly happen for once? And then, before you know it, you snoozed your reminder for so long that you don’t even think about practising anymore. Until one day, something about the benefits of meditation pops out and the whole cycle starts again. Does this sound familiar? Well, I was talking about me. But if the shoe fits you…wear it, Cinderella!
How come we find it so hard to stick to a routine, even when it is a good and healthy one? And how can we finally stick to it? Psychologist Pia Linden sheds light on these questions and shares some simple tips to get things rolling and make mindfulness a consistent habit.
Why meditating (daily) is good for us
We are probably all aware of how beneficial meditation can be. Many studies showed that practising meditation helps to reduce stress and develop concentration.
Meditating can also influence your mood, self-awareness, emotional control, sleep patterns, and even pain tolerance.
One more fun fact? Recent research reported that a daily meditation practice can literally change your brain for the better, improving its functions such as memory and attention.
When talking about meditation, explains Pia, it is also important to notice that there are many different forms of this practice. In this article, we specifically refer to mindfulness meditation as an attitude which can be practised, for example by meditating, but also independently from the formal meditation exercises.
Mindfulness practice consists of one’s personal choice of practising a non-judgmental attitude in the present moment. Sounds fantastic… but then why do we find it so hard to turn it into a habit?
It’s all about the mindset
“It often happens that when we begin a new project or find a new resolution, we start off very motivated”, explains Pia. “With time, many people notice that the initial excitement drops and sticking to a new routine becomes harder and harder. We fall back into “old” patterns that are often not as good and healthy.”
This might happen for many reasons. Doing something new and different is always more challenging for the brain than doing what has been done many times before. Humans are creatures of habits, after all.
You might also have the feeling that you are not doing much when meditating. And, in turn, you might be worried that you are taking precious time from other things you could be doing instead.
Needless to say, this is not exactly the case. Mindfulness meditation allows you to quiet your mind and regain clarity and calmness. It is a way of grounding your thoughts and bringing more awareness and insight into your behavioural patterns, responses, and emotions.
Once again, consistency here is key and it is how you gain the rewarding feeling we all aim to ultimately achieve.
💡 Also interesting to read: Six Tips for Living a More Mindful Life
“The neural connections in our brains grow stronger the more and the longer we have performed behaviours”, Pia clarifies. “Over time, they become like a signalling highway. In contrast, a new connection is like a dusty road. Which one is easier to drive? Especially when life gets in the way and we get busy with our everyday tasks.”
Make it real
A Zen proverb goes: “You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day – unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.”
I feel this gives a good overview of the time we live in. We are busier than ever, constantly ticking our to-do lists, setting goals, and being always on.
In this ocean of stimuli and information, setting a mindfulness routine can help us experience a state of awareness without judgements and focus our attention on the here and now.
“Being aware of the moment is almost always a good idea,” says Pia. “But this does not mean you have to sit on a meditation pillow all day to do it right. That isn’t realistic either.”
So, if you find yourself stuck when it comes to practising mindfulness, here are a few useful psychological tricks you can use to make the performing of a new behaviour more likely to happen and stick to your set routine.
1. Baby steps
The ideal is to start exploring different mindfulness techniques and try out what works best for you. Start small and be realistic about what you can actually fit into your daily schedule.
You can train your attention by taking just a few minutes every day to focus on what is happening inside and around you.
2. Better together
One of the simplest ways to make a new habit stick is to couple it with an already existing one, for example practising mindfulness in the morning just after brushing your teeth.
When you associate these two actions together they easily become a routine. The fun part? You can do that with pretty much any habit you already have!
3. My mindfulness date
A fundamental tip is to schedule a fixed day and time in which you won’t perceive meditating as a chore. For example, if you are not a morning person, meditating when you just woke up might be a little stretched.
Instead, why not set aside ten minutes before sleeping to clear your mind? Be understanding with yourself and respect whatever routine works for you.
💡 Tip: Schedule a mindfulness session with one of our psychologists to help you stick to your practice
4. Choose your whys and hows
Defining the reason for which you want to start a mindfulness practice can be really motivating in sticking with it. The stronger and clearer your plan is, the more likely you will stay consistent.
Take a moment to set your intentions before starting: ‘today I want to meditate because…’
5. Treat yourself afterwards
As a beginner, giving yourself a reward each time you practise mindfulness meditation can help turn it into an enjoyable habit you’ll stick to.
In fact, after a while, your brain will start associating the reward’s pleasure with the meditating act, helping you get into the right state of mind every time you start the practice.
✨ Feel like trying some mindfulness practice? Check out our guided mindfulness exercises (they only take five to ten minutes!)
Go with the flow
As a final (and maybe usual) reminder, we would like to stress the importance of being kind and patient with yourself. Notice the moments in which you might benefit from your mindfulness practice and don’t feel unsuccessful if you miss a day or two.
Is meditating regularly a good habit? For sure. But missing a day won’t be the end of the world. Check-in with yourself and keep listening to messages from your body and mind. There is no failure in meditation.
And if you stumble along the way, OpenUp psychologists are here to help you – book a consultation, the first session is always free.