Just because you know something is good for you doesn’t mean you’ll do it.
Even with all the evidence that a daily mindfulness practice is fantastic for mind, body and spirit, I’m STILL working out how to convince myself to meditate every day! It’s the same psychological dance many of us struggle with to eat our vegetables or go to the gym. We know we need it…but…somehow the day goes by and we’ve found another way to let our goals slip away.
Why can’t we find the time? Why do we find excuses to avoid even the little things that could give us such a massive reward?
Questions like this fuel my lifelong search for better ways to meditate and live. I believe all of us want to feel good, and that we actually have a great deal of willpower to change our lives for the better. The excuses and self-sabotaging we do is mostly behind the scenes, created by our primal, unconscious minds that want things to stay the same.
The real challenge is how to be diligent with our desired changes long enough to turn them into HABITS. I truly believe habits make helpful practices less of a mental struggle, leading to more success with less effort. On my meditation journey, I began to notice that the people I was looking up to—the people who were peaceful and successful in their goals—had the advantage of routine. They didn’t have to think so hard about getting onto the meditation cushion every day—it was just what they did in the morning. Nearly all of these people had a set of non-negotiables that made up a core morning routine. Completing their morning ritual helped them center with their long and short term goals and power through the rest of the day with fresh motivation and self-awarness.
Still, many of us don’t have a morning routine (yet!) so we have to start somewhere. Even beginning to change our habits requires an incredible amount of energy and mindfulness that throws most people off within a few days.
Don’t worry. Everyone can change. Learning how to build and maintain successful habits will help us with so much more than our daily routine, and beginning with a short morning meditation is a great way to begin. We’ll learn discipline and flexibility. We’ll get to the heart of our needs and desires. We’ll get grounded in the good things. We’ll become aware of any self-sabotaging thoughts or patterns that have been holding us back for years. We’ll get there, one day at a time, until we’re right where we want to be. Here are my favorite hacks for building a meditation habit and sticking with it.
Do it first thing in the morning.
This is a big one. As every hour passes after waking up our lives become more hectic and excuses become more convincing. Developing a morning routine that begins with a meditation practice first thing after waking up is the surefire way to find the time before life gets in the way. Some days might not work: you might have kids who need tending to, or you might miss your alarm and have to rush to work. I encourage you to fight for your time. Take a moment, even if it’s just one moment, to breathe, to find center, to honor your commitment. Maybe you can only do a 5 minute check in practice once you’ve reached your desk at work, or in your car after you’ve dropped your kids off at school. Just do something every morning.
Remember that starting is the hardest part.
I often find that I have some resistance to go on a hike or run or doing something active. I love working out, so why don’t I feel that way before I begin? I’ve learned to hack my brain’s resistance response by telling myself, “Just put on your shoes and go around the block. If you don’t feel like running, you don’t have to.” In the back of my mind, I know I just need to get myself out the door. After getting going I remember why I like exercise and end up following my planned workout. The exact same logic is true with meditation. I often tell myself I only have to meditate for 10 breaths. Once I get going, it takes less than that time to remind me of why I choose this practice. Some days, I do only 10 breaths, other days, I go for much longer than planned.
It doesn’t have to be for a long time.
Did you know that it only takes 10 minutes of meditation for most brains to cultivate similar benefits to an hour long practice? Mindfulness experts like Andy Puddicombe have spent years meditating, only to preach that a few moments of every day are enough to reap so many of the wonderful rewards of mindfulness, clarity, peace, and focus. Who doesn’t have 10 minutes to themselves every day?
Meditating doesn’t have to feel good while you’re doing it.
Some days, we wake up with our minds already moving faster than we can manage. Anxiety, stress, and negative self talk seem to have hijacked our day before we’ve even begun. Our monkey-minds are already awake and searching for the next distraction. These days happen. They’re totally natural for creative people. You don’t have to have a perfectly clear mind while you meditate. It’s important to practice on days like these more than ever. And it doesn’t have to feel like you’re ‘doing it right.’ Just closing our eyes and recognizing the chaos is enough. Try an take a step back and notice the emotions and ideas that come and go. It might feel like it’s not ‘working’ or that your anxiety is still present. By pushing through and practicing anyways, even if it’s ugly, you’re programming your brain to stop allowing the monkey-mind to be an excuse. Often I don’t even feel tangibly different after I’ve meditated, but sticking with my practice over time has a huge impact on my daily anxiety, productivity and self-awareness.
Forget what meditation looks like.
You don’t need to sit on the floor in an uncomfortable position or burn incense to meditate like a pro. There are so many ways to practice mindfulness! The most important thing is that you are somewhere quiet, comfortable, and solitary for just a few moments every day. I find creating a clear and consistent place is also helpful. I usually wake up and sit on my pillow in bed. You could also be laying down or sitting in a chair. The possibilities are endless!
Listen to music.
Some light, ambient music, white noise, or a binaural tone to listen to helps many people tune into their practice and stick with it. After a few days, the very act of turning on your “meditation music” will begin to program your mind into “awareness mode.” Make sure your music doesn’t have any words in it or a distracting or exciting rhythm. Using noise cancelling headphones works best.
Use a mala.
A mala is a string of beads used for prayer and mediation in Buddhism and Hinduism for millennia. Using beads like this has actually been practiced all over the world, in Christian, Islamic, Sikh and Baha’i faiths too. We’ve got a special video devoted to learning how to meditate with mala beads coming soon, but the basic practice is simple. Holding the mala in one hand, count one bead for each breath. It should take you about 10-15 minutes to go around the 108 beads one time, which is exactly how much time you need to get all the practical benefits of meditation in your day. Plus, you can carry your mala anywhere you go, around your neck or on your wrist, and they look awesome too. You can meditate anywhere without needing a timer. You could do 10 beads on the bus home, or go on a phone-free hike and take a meditation break at the peak.
Write down how you feel during the day when you’ve meditated in the morning.
Put it next to your bedside table or close to wherever you meditate, or maybe on your bathroom mirror. Sometimes a simple written reminder of how awesome you feel when you honor your practice is good enough to get you to get on the cushion.
Thank goodness we have to eat every day to survive!
Nourishing our bodies could be a technical, tasteless chore of survival. Lucky for us, the eating experience is synonymous with pleasure. But…it’s easy to forget how fortunate we are when food is so tasty and readily available. I have struggled my whole life with balancing nourishment and pleasure, so I wrote out some reminders for myself in my journal that I’d like to share. Here are my ten favorite tips to practice for more mindful eating:
- Buy only the highest quality ingredients made with love. Mindful consumption is at the core of mindful eating. It seems obvious, but it wasn’t until the a few years ago that I began to be discriminant about what I put into my body. Being young and energetic, I hardly realized that I would crash and feel sick after eating sugary foods. As I began to adjust my eating habits after university, I started to notice how awesome I felt after drinking a green smoothie prepared with veggies from my garden. We are high performance biological machines capable of incredible feats, but we are only as powerful as the fuel we put in the tank. Cutting corners with our food has consequences, both to our own health and energy and also to our environment and society. Take a look at your finances and see if you can make adjustments to make high quality food a top priority. Look for honest, local food made by real people with simple ingredients and without the use of chemical pesticides, genetic modifications, factory processing or unnecessary packaging.
- Sit down and get rid of any distractions. We are so often eating on the go, in front of the fridge, or mindlessly munching down in front of the TV or our phones. Simply sitting down at the kitchen table with our meal instantly brings mindfulness back into our eating habits. Photo by Donna Hay
- Prepare your food with love. The devotion and care we put into creating a beautiful meal is so important! No ingredient is more important than love. Eating beautiful food turns everyday meals into delicious ceremonies of nourishment. Take the time to arrange your food in a beautiful way on your plate, adding flowers and fresh herbs, paying attention to the layers and shapes. Bring your awareness to the chorus of colors, textures and flavors that can be arranged on your plate in your own unique way. Even though it’s a bit cliche, I find taking pictures of my finished culinary masterpieces before I eat is a great way to stay motivated to eat healthy, colorful, beautiful food with every meal.
- Say a prayer of gratitude before and after your meal. If you’re anything like me, eating is the best part of the day! What’s better than feeling hungry with a beautiful plate of food before us? Think about all the miracles and hard work that have gone into growing and harvesting every ingredient. Give thanks to the farmers for all their months of labor and love for their crop. Give thanks for the miraculous processes of nature to create life from seed, water, soil and sunshine. Give thanks for the convenience of the grocery store or farmers market you purchased your food from, or for the hard work you’ve put into your garden for being so abundant and beautiful. Give thanks for the job that gave you the money to buy food and cook it and have it here in front of you. Same goes for after the meal: close your eyes and feel the nourishment fueling your body. Give thanks to those you have shared your meal with and to whomever cooked your meal. How lucky you are to have eaten today! So many of our fellow humans live without such basic privileges as a healthy meal.
- Give your food a second cooking. When I received my Reiki Level I and II attunements and began learning about energy work, my teacher told me we can even give reiki to our food, as a “second cooking.” The energy and intention in your food will manifest in how we feel after eating. Give your food some love. Hold your bowl or plate in your hands. Look at your meal with the loving gaze you might give a child or partner. Open your heart and channel it’s loving vibrations into your food.
- Slow Down! One of the most important questions I’ve ever asked myself about my eating habits was, “If I like food so much, why don’t I stretch the eating experience out as long as possible?” The easiest way to enjoy food more is to eat as slowly as possible. Chew longer and slower. Make every mouthful an exercise in masticating your food as much as possible. Not only will chewing more help with digestion and absorption of nutrients, you’ll also get more satisfied from less food. Notice if you are chewing evenly on both sides of your mouth, feeling the food move between your teeth, tongue, lips and cheeks.
- Put down your utensils between bites. I notice sometimes my default eating mode means constantly having a bite of food in my mouth. It’s a primal autopilot mode: Eating means chewing. Constantly. I sometimes notice after eating half my food that I’ve hardly even taken a normal breath in between bites or noticed what’s actually my mouth. If we put down our forks or spoons between mouthfuls, and take the time to chew your food thoroughly, we break the primal feeding mode and begin to savor the food we already have in our mouths without thinking so much about the next bite that hasn’t even happened yet.
- Take smaller bites. There’s really no need to have a full mouthful of food every bite. This is a great trick to practice at a dinner party. Everybody’s talking and chewing big bites of food means less participating in the conversation. You can also try eating with chopsticks, which doesn’t allow for as big of bites as a fork or spoon. Or you can simply experiment with loading only half as much food onto your fork or spoon as normal. Try getting your mouth used to smaller bites, it means you double the amount of bites in a meal, leading to more satisfaction and time spent being mindful of your food.
- Reframe eating as a sensual experience. You eat with more than your taste buds. When you chew, what is it that you notice about your food? How does the texture change after each chew? Can you bring your awareness to notice which ingredients you’re tasting? What makes your food smell so tasty? How does your food make you feel as you eat it? As we slow down and become mindful of the different senses that are being activated by your meal, our food takes on deeper dimensions of enjoyment.
Try this! I call this the “best apple ever” experiment. Grab an ordinary apple from your fruit basket. Close your eyes and try and imagine every step of the process of getting this humble fruit into your hands. How many years did it take to grow the tree from seed to maturity? Who taught the farmer how to grow? How did you get the abundance to receive this apple? How was it delivered to your farmers market or grocery store? These are all miracles! Now, open your eyes. Notice the color of the apple. Is it pink? Yellow? Green? Deep red? As you take your first bite, what is your first sensation? How do your teeth feel as they break through the apple’s skin and into the sweet, crunchy flesh? Put down the apple and chew slowly. How does the taste change with every moment as it moves around your mouth? Chew thirty times before swallowing. Do this slowly. Breathe deeply. As you finish, notice how the apple feels moving from mouth to stomach. Inhale. Exhale. Bring your awareness to the vibrant tastes in your mouth even after the apple is gone. When you feel ready, take a second bite, and so on from there. When you’ve finished, you’ll no doubt feel more satisfied than if you’d eaten a much larger meal.
For more on mindful eating, check out legendary Buddhist monk, zen master and author Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, How to Eat.
Cover photo credit: Heavenlynn Healthy