If you follow any yogis on social media, you’ve probably seen posts about the Himalayan Institute’s Year Long Meditation (YLM) initiative popping up this week. The non-profit organization committed to furthering education and experience around holistic health, yoga, meditation, and spiritual practice, has created a completely free platform to encourage people from around the world to sit in silent meditation each day for the next 365 days (a little less, since it started on July 15th).
The goal is simple: “A global group practice, undertaken to heal and empower collective consciousness.” I mean, does it get any more feel-good than that?
The value of meditation in improving cognitive function and neuroplasticity is well-documented -- sitting in neutral witness of your own breath and presence is shown to change the way the brain is wired, leading us away from unsupportive habits and thought patterns toward more presence and the ability to quite literally “get less stuck” in one spot in our thinking. (This article does a good job of mixing the complicated science behind the experiments on neuroplasticity with easier-to-understand explanations of the outcomes.)
In my own experience, regular meditation makes me feel more calm and focused, less prone to emotional waves, and more connected to myself and my life. I’m less reactive, and feel more clarity, inspiration, and creativity. Some of my biggest “aha!” moments have come from sitting and feeling myself breathe and exist. It’s so simple, but it’s so, so powerful.
Like any habit, though, that practice has been a challenge to maintain. I’ve gotten into a good groove for weeks at a time, and then something (vacation, being sick, or even just a very average weekend) will pull me out of my cycle and another few weeks will pass before I’m back on the wagon.
Even me, someone trained in establishing effective habits, has a hard time staying on track. And while I’m not perfect in my practice, I’ve found a few tips that keep me motivated and help make committing to that meditation goal a little easier.
SET A GOAL AND TRACK IT
There’s a whole host of science that shows that accountability and visibility are two of the biggest factors in our successful adoption of habits. If we don’t have a goal and we don’t know how we’re progressing toward it, we’re way, way less likely to stick with our plan.
I’ve committed myself to 5 minutes per day during YLM, and I’m using the YLM interface to manually log my hours. It provides a GREAT visual of the days I meditated, and not breaking that little streak of green boxes is deeply, powerfully motivating.
Prior to the YLM interface being available, I used the Insight Timer to log my practice, and it has a very similar “streak” function.
If digital apps aren’t your vibe, get an old school wall calendar and make a big ol’ X every day. Seeing your progress all lined up gives your brain a visual to latch on to. You can focus on how far you’ve come, rather than the open space in front of you. Plus, it feels good to check something off your list.
GET A GUIDE
I’ve talked about my love (and all the details) of Insight Timer in the past, but their library of 100% free, professional, and high-quality guided meditations is unparalleled. Meditation can be scary — sitting alone with our thoughts is something our brain actively avoids. I’ve found that it’s a lot easier for me to get out of my own head when someone is gently talking me through how to pay attention to my breath. And if I’m struggling with something particularly stressful or emotional in my life, or simply having trouble sleeping, I can search for a topic and find a meditation suited to that specific need. It’s helped me work through so many emotions that would be much harder to do on my own.
The downfall of guided meditations, however, is that they can vary widely in tone and don’t always mesh with my feelings. So, more often than not, I’ll pick a song that’s around 5 to 7 minutes long, really vibey, and let that be my “timer.” It helps drown out whatever background noise is whirring around my house, and I can really connect to the vibrations of the music and go deeper into my own headspace. I’ve thrown together a few of my favorites on Spotify, below, if you need inspiration.
When forming ANY habit, it’s important to know how you operate and work with your own inclinations. While many people thrive on rigidity and rules, I know that if I set a strict schedule, I will immediately come up with 100 excuses and ways around sticking to it. I fall right into self-sabotage mode. So for me, being flexible but firm has worked the best. My goal is 5 minutes a day, which is non-negotiable. But when and what that looks like is allowed to vary.
Most days, I wake up between 6 and 7, and I have plenty of time to meditate before starting my work. One or two days a week, I have a fast deadline to get out the door and the stress of needing to be still for 5 minutes in there is too much. On those days, I commit to sitting before I go to bed. If I know that I’ll be out late with friends or drinking, I sneak in my meditation in the middle of the day when I have a minute of downtime.
A corollary to “knowing thyself” is “helping thyself.” The key here is that I look ahead and plan when I’ll get meditate, and then I actively help myself get there. Since I do have time most mornings, my biggest hurdle has been scrolling through my phone while lying in bed until I feel stressed that I’ve wasted so much time that I jolt myself out and rush, not leaving time to meditate. My super simple fix for this has been to charge my phone in the room where I want to meditate. I use an old phone (and an actual old-school alarm clock for backup because I’m paranoid) as my alarm, and I have to physically get up and go into another room to check my texts and emails. While I’m in there, oh hey! There’s my bolster and blanket. And look! This room is so quiet. I might as well sit down and breathe for a few minutes. It’s shocking how well this works for me. I’ve eliminated the biggest roadblock to my morning routine, and simultaneously made meditation so obviously accessible that it feels ridiculous if I don’t do it — I’m literally tripping over my cushion to get to my phone.
One of the best pieces of wisdom I’ve received over the years is that willpower is nothing more than remembering. It’s not a mean force, or a rule-monger, or a store of energy that runs out over time. It’s just the act of remembering how — and who — you want to be. Bam. When I’m scrambling into the guest room like a tech-rabid animal to get to my cell phone and I see my yoga mat just lying there in the middle of the floor, I remember that I’d rather be a person who wakes up with mindfulness than with Instagram. And to be a person who feels calm and empowered through meditation, I have to ACTUALLY MEDITATE, so here we are. Give yourself visual reminders of how and how you want to show up, and you’ll be that much more likely to succeed.
Successful habit formation is all about establishing momentum, eliminating barriers, and elevating what works and why — how that looks for you might vary. I’d love to hear what methods, guides, playlists, reminders, and motivations work for you! Share with me here or on Instagram, just not before 7am, because I’m so not checking my phone ;).
If you want some personalized goal-setting and barrier-busting help, I offer a weekly coaching package on cultivating a meditation practice. Hit me up, and let’s get sitting!