Establishing a daily meditation practice can be tough, but it can be so much tougher if you don't know what you're doing.
When my first son Malik was born I had a very hard time sticking with a consistent meditation practice.
The combination of my son's sleep schedule, my work schedule, and additional responsibilities really didn't mix well to create the ideal circumstances for keeping a consistent meditation practice.
Becoming an early riser definitely helped my daily meditation practice, but what helped me more than anything is a simple bit of insight that has to do with utilizing our natural patterns of behavior.
It's called the path of least resistance.
Don't make this mistake (or you'll easily fall off of your practice)
Before I get into that, I want to touch on a very critical mistake that many people make when beginning their meditation practice.
What is it?
The idea that you have to meditate for a long (or a certain) period of time.
A mistake people often make when beginning their meditation practice is to believe that they need to meditate for 20 or 30+ minutes to get anything from their meditation session. At the heart of it, it's the idea that the individual meditation session is more important than a consistent practice.
This is big mistake.
Here's a key insight. You ready? Here it is:
The only thing that matters in the beginning of your meditation practice is developing it into a daily practice (a daily habit).
That might sound nice, but what exactly do I mean by that? And how do you go about actually doing that?
That leads me to the only thing you need to make meditation into a daily habit...
The ONLY thing you need to make meditation into a daily habit...
I use the phrase "habit energy" somewhat often. When it comes down to it, our daily habitual patterns really are best understood as forms of "energy" of different intensities.
This energy pushes and pulls us in different directions every single day, without considering what we actually want to do.
For that reason it's a pretty basic understanding that to make positive improvements in your life, you need to begin by getting a better grasp on your daily habits.
And if you look at habits as forms of energy, it becomes very easy to see how you can begin to "rewrite" these habits and shift yourself in a more desirable direction.
When you wake up on the weekend, and you're faced with the choice between starting a workout routine and turning on the T.V., do you know why you turn on the T.V.?
Mentally, it feels much easier to do that than to work out.
Part of that is you're used to doing so, but part of it is also simply that it feels easier in your mind (whether it actually is or not).
If the T.V. controller is sitting right there on the arm of your chair or couch, and all you have to do is click "Power" vs. putting on your workout clothes, grabbing water, your bag, your keys, and driving to the gym- what are you more likely to do? Watch T.V., of course!
This is the path of least resistance, and it's our natural pattern of behavior as humans.
We have the natural tendency to gravitate towards that which takes the least amount of energy, or in other words, that thing which is the easiest thing to do in any given moment. That's the path of least resistance.
An important note: While we may be talking about physical actions, what keeps you from acting is very much mental (but it is affected by the physical world, and that's the point here).
Why do you sit down to watch T.V. or surf online (what you could call an "intentional distraction") instead of sitting on your meditation cushion, even though you know how beneficial it is for you to do so and how wasteful it is to sit and watch T.V./surf random sites? Because there's some form of mental resistance.
So, where and how does the physical action, and the path of least resistance, come into play?
That mental resistance (or lack of resistance) exists partly in how our physical world is structured.
Go back to the exercise example I used a second ago: If your workout clothes are in your closet when you wake up, and you have to spend 10 minutes just getting ready to go to the gym, then the likelihood that you're going to do it (in the beginning) is greatly reduced than if you set everything up the night before.
What would that look like? In this example, it could be putting on your workout clothes before bed, setting your workout shoes next to your bed so you can slip them on as soon as you wake up, and putting your water, keys, bag, and anything else you're going to bring with you right next to the door.
By doing this, you remove nearly all potential mental resistance to the idea of going to the gym and make it (perceivably, in your mind, is the most important thing here) easier to go to the gym vs. not going.
From there, you allow yourself the ability to establish exercise as a daily habit far more easily, and that can have a positive effect on the rest of your life.
Applying The Path of Least Resistance to establish a daily meditation practice (make it a daily habit)
So it's by utilizing the path of least resistance, our natural pattern of behavior, that we can partly remove that mental resistance and gently "nudge" ourselves towards what we want to do and away from what we don't want to do.
For this reason, you don't even have to do the full action itself. The real obstacle is just getting yourself going.
In the exercise example this could mean not even going to the gym at all, but simply getting yourself ready, for say 2 weeks, and from there you'll find it much easier to get yourself to the gym than if you were not to have done that after those 2 weeks.
With regards to making meditation a daily habit (or establishing a daily meditation practice), using the path of least resistance, it's essentially one single idea used in various ways.
What's the specific idea here? What's the exact action we're trying to get ourselves accustomed to doing? To get you onto the meditation cushion on a daily basis.
This really breaks down into 2 efforts:
1. Set up a dedicated meditation space (physical). Lay out your meditation pillow in a dedicated area, literally reserved for your meditation practice and only for your meditation practice. This removes the need for setting up a meditation area every time you intend to sit and meditate.
This could be in the corner of a room, an entire room itself, or somewhere else where you can face a wall (preferably, to remove distractions).
This space should be set up with keeping potential distractions to a minimum in mind:
- Establish your meditation space in a room you visit often, which is comfortable and realistic for you.
- If potential distractions exist in this room (such as T.V. or the internet), make it as difficult to do that thing as possible. If it's T.V. then keep the remote in a kitchen drawer (somewhere weird and out of the way, you get the idea), if it's your computer then turn it off while you're not using it, etc. The idea is to make that thing you don't want to do more difficult to do than to sit on your meditation cushion.
2.Set up a dedicated meditation space (time). Set up a regular meditation time and remove potential "time" distractions. This is all about removing distractions from a strictly time and scheduling perspective. Make sure you have a strategy in place in case some scheduling conflict arises, so that you make up your session at a later time.
This is all about prioritizing your practice and treating is as the important thing that it is.
Do this and you'll be 1000% more likely to meditate than if you weren't to do these things.
But I saved the most important tip for last...
Meditate for 60 seconds (remove resistance)
One more powerful tip to help you establish meditation as a daily habit, once again utilizing the path of least resistance (probably the most important)- meditate for just 60 seconds.
OK, at this point that advice probably doesn't sound as crazy as it would have then if I'd started the article with it.
This is absolutely one of the most powerful bits of advice anyone can use when first developing meditation as a daily habit.
By meditating for just 60 seconds, you remove the greatest amount of "mental" resistance to the thought of sitting in meditation and increase the chances of you establishing it as a daily habit as a result.
Again it doesn't matter to what extent you take the action, just so long as you start doing the action to some degree every day.
So don't do 30, 20, 10, or even 5 minutes of meditation in your first 1-2 weeks, just sit for 60 seconds to establish your practice and you'll be set up for a "successful" practice far into the future (just keep it up!).
Remove ALL possible obstacles to your practice by setting up your meditation area in advance (both in physical space and time), minimize additional distractions, and sit for just 60 seconds.
Do this for 2 weeks and you've already got a solid daily meditation habit you can then begin to expand upon (increasing in 5-minute chunks every few weeks).
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