habits

The Why and How of a Daily Meditation Habit

Practicing meditation is a new habit that I want to develop and add into my daily schedule. I tried this earlier in a casual whenever-I-find-time kind of a way but it didn't work. Thus, I have decided to create a more formal plan this time. Hopefully, you can use these steps to create a new habit for yourself, whether it be meditation or something else.

 

THE WHY

The first critical step is to answer the question of why do you want to build the habit. At certain times in the habit forming process, you will have weak moments where you would want to give up for various reasons. Your answer to 'The Why' should help you persevere through the struggle against quitting. And the more objective this answer, the more undeniable the benefit of the habit becomes.

A few years ago, I would have scoffed at the idea of daily meditation. This was because I couldn't see a tangible causal relationship between meditation and improvement of life. At worst, I thought of it to be an elaborate scam. And, a placebo at best. This idea changed because of two Whys.

First: To improve my life by 10%. Where did this number come from? It is an arbitrary number which is the bottomline of the book 10% Happier. I don't claim that it is scientific by any measure, but I am willing to believe it to be true if it is backed by something less subjective such as my second why.

Second: All the positive results of the scientific studies conducted on the benefits of mediation. Some highlights of the findings via Headspace:

  • According to Neuroscientists as you continue to meditate your brain physically changes, even though you’re not aware of it re-shaping itself.
  • Research has found meditation to promote ‘divergent thinking’ a type of thinking that allows many new ideas to be generated.
  • Neuroscientists have also found that, after just 11 hours of meditation, practitioners had structural changes in the part of the brain involved in monitoring our focus and self control.

Further Reading on Science behind Meditation: Buffer BlogForbesWikipedia

I got one such test done myself when I was at Auroville. My brain activity chart as compared to a regular meditator looked like a busy intersection of an urban city at office hours. It was messed up. 

Along with this, I read personal experiences of people and spoke to some friends who sing praises of the technique - technique, yes, that is what it is. Once I started thinking of it as a technique to sharpen the mind, along with the scientific studies to back the claim, my rational mind warmed up to the idea.

So, I thought of giving it a shot. And it felt pretty good. Not like out of the world good, but decent. Like my life became 10% better. If something which takes up only 10-15 minutes of my day (which is about 1% of the day) makes my life 10% better, I think it is a good deal to take. So, now that the intention is set, motivation is high, let's find the next step.

 

THE HOW

1. Trigger

If you read my post about creating an exercise and reading habit, you would know what I am talking about. A trigger is an activity which is already present in your daily schedule that is followed by your new habit. For example, my exercise is triggered by brushing my teeth. Or my morning reading is triggered by the end of my exercise. When the trigger goes off, I instinctively know what I have to do next since it is already planned. I save myself the struggle of trying to find ways to fit it into my schedule. 

Meditating at the start of the day makes my morning too rigid and leaves me with a late start to work. So, here's what I plan to do: I will meditate in the evening right after having a shower. It is a perfect time for me since that is when I usually take a break from work and go have a bath. The meditation right after shower will hopefully refresh me enough to take on the second half of my workday with more energy.

The Trigger = Taking a shower

2. Quantity

I'll start small. Not an hour a day, or 30 minutes or even 15. I am going to start with 10 minutes a day. I want to gradually increase it to 15, then 20 and top it off at 30 minutes. 10 minutes isn't actually that small for a start. If you were to do it, I would recommend starting with ridiculously smaller amounts like 1 or 2 minutes. But since I have been doing it infrequently over the last few months, I know that 10 minutes is good for me.

3. Accountability

While building a new habit, it helps to have an accountability partner. It is someone who you feel answerable to if you feel like taking a day off. Even though I am the kind of guy who likes to be self-reliant and likes to do things on his own, I realised the usefulness of this while trying to quit smoking. My girlfriend is my accountability partner there and she keeps reminding me certain things whenever I have the urge. By writing this post and sharing it with you all, you have become my accountability partners. We may not meet or speak frequently, but I would know that I have promised to do something and hopefully it will keep me on track. 

4. Tools

I plan to use an app called Insight Timer to keep time and track my progress. It is a nifty app which shows how many people are meditating at the same time as you. It's a nice touch and helps me stay on track.

There is another useful app for guided meditation called Headspace. Or you can use Coach.me for tracking other daily habits.

5. Technique and Study

From what I read so far, there seem to be multiple techniques of meditating. I am going to start simple by focusing on my breath. As I progress, I plan to learn new techniques and include them in my practice.

The study is optional for a meditation habit. But, I recommend it and it comes from my philosophy that learning about a trade deeply improves the experience. For example, if I enjoy a movie, I tend to go online and read about the stories behind its production and trivia associated with it. I spoke about it in an earlier post called How to Have More Fun at Fun.

 

END NOTES

Much like the rest of our body, the mind needs exercise as well. You could solve puzzles or do brain games & training. Meditation is another such thing to strengthen and train your mind. I would recommend giving it a try and then judge it based on your own experience. I did a meditation session yesterday and it was tough. 10 minutes seemed long. I felt both physically and mentally uncomfortable. But, I'll treat this as the initial pain when the brain muscle is jerked awake from its sleep and I'll persevere. 

Any regular practitioners out there? Would love to hear your experience so far.

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Read Next:  Mindfulness - An Introduction

Living One Perfect Day a Week

Last night, I lay awake in bed with a sickening feeling in my stomach that everything I am doing right now is going to fail. It made my head hurt and I couldn't sleep. I doubted my decisions and imagined all the worst case scenarios. 

Then morning came.

Like a bad habit, my first instinct was to look at my phone to check messages, social media, etc. For me, that's not the best way to start the day. I pondered upon the good habits I have developed (ref: Start With Art) and want to develop (Meditation). And during this reflection, I had an insight: 

What would my perfect day look like? And once that is figured out, can I live that day, today?

I don't need to do this everyday. But, just for today, I would live a perfect day of my life. The definition of perfect day for me is: Attaining maximum contentment within the practical constraints of the present situation.

So, I listed out all the things that would pass my test to become an ingredient in my perfect day. Here's my list of things I want to do:

  • Wake up and not look at the phone (Failed)
  • Exercise for 10 minutes (Success)
  • Eat a fruit (Success - Watermelon)
  • Read for 45 minutes (Success - Einstein: His Life and Universe)
  • Write something original and publish it (If you are reading this, then Success)
  • Meditate for 15 minutes
  • Work
  • Go out in the evening, get some air, run errands
  • Work
  • Learn something new - a language/skill/work related
  • Find a nice new music album
  • Chill with the friends and partner
  • Have a beer or two while listening to that nice new album
  • Indulge in dreamy conversation

Points to note: 

  1. Failing to do a certain activity is OK. This is an aspirational list, not a mandatory one. (As you can see, I failed my first activity outright, but that's alright. The critical thing is to get back in the game.)
  2. The perfect day doesn't mean doing the most things you can. Go back to the definition. If, at the moment of your life, the perfect day means sleeping in all day, then by all means. The key is to be deliberate about that decision.
  3. A tip - Add an amount to your activity (15 minutes, 3 reps, etc.). You must have heard of TAG - Time and Amount goals and how they affect the chances of your accomplishing that goal. Well, this is pretty much what that is. 
  4. The constraint of our daily life is our friend. Do whatever is possible within its scope. 
  5. 'Once a week' is an out of the blue recommendation since it makes for a good title. Find your own frequency.

The reason I am doing this is to feel more in control of my life, even if for just one day. I don't yet know the full effect of this but I imagine that if we feel like shit and want a way to get things in order again, this might serve the purpose. I am about halfway done with my day. Let's see how the rest of it goes. So far, all good.

I hope you find it useful and I would love to hear your experiences with this technique. All the best! 

Cover Image via Unsplash