Originally published on November 8, 2021 in Giving Thanks
Last month I celebrated a substantial personal milestone: I completed a year of meditation. In January I shared my New Year’s resolution to meditate daily in 2021. However, I actually began the journey a few months earlier on an arbitrary day in October.
I could write an entire book on the experience, but these are the three key takeaways that currently stand out to me:
1. I know that I CAN create a new habit and stick with it.
There are countless numbers of habits that I have tried to establish over the years and none of them stuck. Some would have taken far less effort than a meditation practice. I mean, how hard is it to take a multivitamin or floss your teeth every day? And yet…nada. Until now.
Having achieved what felt like a much more challenging feat, I know I feel a new sense of confidence that I will be able to easily revisit my previous goals with successful results
2. It helped me to soften my definitions of success and failure.
I missed two days of meditation over the last year. I have previously shared my WAPA-related mishap that led to the first skipped session. The second time there was no great excuse. I just forgot.
In the past, I would have seen this as a failure. I probably would have used it as an excuse to give up and try again another time. I almost did this time around, but caught myself and realized it was time to reframe my ideas about success. I had to look deeper into my intention behind the practice.
Did I just want to be able to say that I had meditated for 365 days? No. I wanted to establish a regular habit that I knew would have an extremely positive impact on my overall health and well-being. I then acknowledged, “If I make it to the end of a year and I have only missed one or two days, I will have succeeded in my intention and that is a success.”
3. The practice itself has been life altering.
This journey has been transformational! I no longer feel controlled by my thoughts and emotions. I can quiet my mind and soften my reactions (like reminding myself that I am not a failure when I miss a day of meditation). I feel empowered to choose how I live, and think, and feel. When old habits of harsh thinking arise (which they still do, but with less frequency and strength), I notice them faster and often find a softer response.
Additionally, I feel a deeper connection to everything. For me there is a spiritual and energetic nature to it, but I ultimately believe that meditation can be life changing for anyone simply trying to establish a more peaceful state of mind.
I feel like a brand new person.
While spending the last month catching up with friends I haven’t seen in a while, I naturally shared this substantial new part of my day-to-day. Two questions popped up regularly: How did you manage to quiet your thoughts enough to start? What tricks did you use to stick with it?
How I quieted my thoughts at first:
Let me start by saying that I wholeheartedly understand the sentiment behind this phrase, “I can’t meditate because I can’t get my mind to stop.” I was diagnosed with ADHD in my 20’s. I get it, but THAT is the whole point. Meditation will TEACH you to quiet your mind.
At first, your mind won’t be quiet.
I decided to begin by replacing my thoughts with something else. I started with guided meditation and repeating mantras. When I was listening to someone else’s voice it was harder to focus on my own thoughts. When I was speaking a repetitive word or phrase out loud, that became the dominant voice in my head.
Eventually, I would sit a little longer, once the guided meditation or mantra had ended, and see if I could keep my mind quiet on its own. Over time, I could. Then I switched to background music. Now, I just mix it up depending on my needs that day.
How I stuck with it:
Prepared answers to combat my excuses –
My top excuses:
“I’m too busy.”
“I’m too tired.”
“I don’t have the will power.”
“You’re not too busy for 5 minutes. Just start with 5 minutes.”
“In the long run, meditation will give me more energy. In the meantime, if I fall asleep that will probably give me more energy too.”
“I WANT to feel better than I do now. The more I do this, the better I will feel. The better I feel, the easier it will be to stick with it. Remember how much better I felt yesterday when I did it? Good, so do that again.”
Click either image to visit Loop Habit Tracker
Make it as easy and approachable as possible –
Set very small, approachable daily goals. Start with 5 minutes. 5 minutes every day is a habit. Establish the habit and then expand on it.
Remain flexible about technique –
Lay down or sit up; listen to music or don’t; do guided meditation or go with your own flow. I think the only thing you can do “wrong” with meditation is not to do it all. Otherwise, do whatever works for you that day.
I find it best to meditate in the morning. It’s a great way to set the tone for the day and it also leaves less opportunity to forget or skip it later. That said, when the morning doesn’t work for you, set alarms throughout the day reminding you to get it done. I use an app called “Loop Habit Tracker” that allows you to set alarms and notifications. If need be, I set an additional nighttime alarm on my phone, just in case.
Helpful tools –
Find tools to set you up for success. I use the “Insight Timer” for meditation and “Loop Habit Tracker” for motivation. I also sign up for the occasional online meditation workshop to mix things up.
If you have ever considered starting your own daily meditation practice, I can’t recommend it more highly. If I’d realized how truly impactful it would be I would have buckled down and done it a long time ago. It’s not just hype or hippie mumbo jumbo. It’s life changing!
Background image courtesy of Allen Hart