I have been working on myself this year, trying to open myself up to ways in which I can better formulate my life — expanding my bubble, if you will. I have been looking to feel more centered and in charge of my days, rather than run over by them. There are so many areas for improvement… but one tool that has always intrigued me was meditation.
Prayer vs. Meditation
Initially, I struggled with the concepts of meditation mostly because my Christian faith puts me more squarely in the “prayer” corner and these ideas felt out of reach. I could never get the concepts to jive. Until this year, when my health journey ran me head on into the “health benefits” of meditation and my curiosity got the best of me.
I have lived a pretty chaotic life (4 kids, full-time job, side hustles, etc.) and doing anything consistently (even exercise) has been a challenge. The thought of a “30-minute morning meditation” was laughable to me. Not because I disagreed that it would be helpful, but because that just seemed impossible. Every time I plan to do anything from taking a shower to getting in a 10-minute yoga video, someone always seems to need me.
But after the pandemic hit, I found myself working from home and alone during much of the day, no kids, no coworkers. So starting last summer, after I ate my lunch I decided I would try to fit in a short meditation. I had read a book called “Mini Habits For Weight Loss” where the author talked about how setting a goal for just one push-up a day was the key to building a solid, long term daily push-up habit. On the days when he only had the time to do one push up, he met his goal and was motivated to keep going, but on most days, if he took the time to do the one push up, he’d inevitably do more. I decided to try this method and commit to just 5 minutes a day, promising to increase each week until I could make meditation a 30-minute practice.
I sat on my deck in the sun, set a timer for 5 minutes, closed my eyes and tried to “meditate.”
I cannot tell you how hard it was for me to sit for 5 minutes and do nothing! The chatter in my brain screamed at me! The laundry list of “to do’s” playing in front of my eyes like the opening credits of Star Wars. And the stress of all the things I “should” be doing right then. Birds chirping, dogs barking. This was going to be harder than I thought.
I tried off and on over the course of the summer to keep up this “practice” of just 5 minutes. But in the middle of the day, with work deadlines looming, I just squirmed to try and quiet my mind. I didn’t see the point. False start.
Fast forward to this month and I have finally made some progress, but I have learned a few things along the way. First, meditation is much more than sitting quietly. There’s a science to it. There are actually logical exercises and strategies. Before taking on something like this, you should do your research. There are endless books on the subject and research articles eschewing the benefits. It is easy to get lost. So here are my very novice tips if you would like to get started on a meditation habit but like me, are starting from zero.
1. Use a guide.
I found out that my insurance company gives me free access to the “Calm” app. Here I found a guided 30-day series called “How to Meditate” by Jeff Warren. I really love this guide. It walks you through the components of meditation from how to find a “Homebase” to the concept of Equanimity. Each session is only about 10 minutes long and is totally manageable. There are endless options, though, and if you don’t have Calm, you can check out other free options like Insight Timer.
2. Get up early.
At this point in my life, the hours between 4:45 and 6:00 am are a pretty safe bet that my crew will all be asleep. Maybe yours will sleep until 7:00 and your time might be 6:30. Whatever the window is in your house, give yourself the gift of rising 30 minutes before they do. Sneaking in a 10-minute meditation session, a 10 minute yoga video and a cup of coffee before the chaos starts in my house has been a gift of “self care” so impactful to my mental health, I can barely find the words.
3. Set up a habit stack.
The key to introducing a new habit is habit stacks. Slide the new thing you want to do in between a series of things you already do. For example, if you want read more, set your book on your pillow so before you get into bed, you have to pick it up and move it, that will be the queue to your brain that it is time to read. Do the same for your new meditation habit. If you are aiming for a morning meditation, stack it between things you already do, like brushing your teeth and making your coffee.
4. Psych yourself up.
To be honest, it takes a lot for me to convince myself to get up in the morning before the kids. Sleep is precious. But I know from much personal “research” that if I don’t fit in my “me time” before everyone gets up, it just won’t happen. I spend all day putting out fires and I just won’t get it done. My subconscious brain tells me on repeat, “Get up, this is YOUR time!” “This is THE ONLY time today you will get for yourself. DON’T WASTE IT!”
5. Give yourself some Grace.
Building a new habit is hard work. It takes a lot of energy to be consistent in your efforts long enough to make a new idea an automatic habit. In the long run, the benefits of giving yourself the mental space to hear your own voice will pay dividends. But in the meantime, take it easy. Go to bed early, lay your clothes out the night before so you aren’t rushed getting ready for the day after your meditation. The work is real, but you’re worth it!
Do you have a meditation practice? Do you wish you did? Tell us about it in the comments.