One of biggest challenges faced by newcomers to meditation is getting into the habit of meditating. We may start with the best intentions. After going to a meditation seminar, reading a book, or listening to an inspiring speaker we may decide: this is it! I’m convinced by the many benefits. I want to make meditation part of my life.
But despite the positive motivation, many people never get beyond a handful of sessions before their practice fizzles out. It is for exactly this reason that my book Why Mindfulness is Better than Chocolate includes a chapter ‘Ten tips for getting into the meditation habit.’
One of these tips is the suggestion that you take the six week meditation challenge. Why a trial period? Because you’re making a commitment, but only a limited one. Because you’re giving the practice enough time to experience some kind of benefit. And because, even though you’re only committing to six weeks, you’re actually creating the foundation for lasting change.
Six weeks is a reasonable period of time to give meditation a fair go and see if you can subjectively detect any change. You could try a one-month challenge, but if you go this route you’ll have to be punctilious about not missing a day. I prefer six weeks because it allows a bit of leeway for the occasional lapse here and there.
Scientific studies show that the best way to create a positive habit is to repeatedly do something over a period of weeks, to make it so much a part of our routine that, like brushing our teeth, it’s not something we decide whether or not we’ll do today. We do it because that’s what we always do before going to bed.
Decide when you’re going to slot meditation into your life, such as between getting dressed in the morning and having breakfast—and for the six week trial period stick to it. According to psychologist Meredith Fuller, ‘We can actually lay new neuron pathways in our brains by repeating an action or way of thinking. The aim is to transform a new activity into an automatic habit. With repetition, it becomes something we do without thinking; in fact, we experience discomfort if we don’t do it.’
Curiously, this was exactly how I first proved to myself one of the benefits of meditation. After about five or six weeks of quite regular practice, I had one of those days when everything that could go wrong seemed to. I found myself getting angrier and angrier. It was only around lunchtime that I suddenly realised I hadn’t meditated for a few days. Life had got in the way and I’d missed my morning sessions. I discovered in a personally very powerful way how much calmer and better able to manage stress I was when I meditate regularly.
In summary, the six week meditation challenge:
- Is a finite commitment;
- Allows a reasonable period of time to enable an assessment;
- Lays the groundwork to turn meditation into a daily habit; and
- Will probably feel too good for you to want to stop!
For the other 9 tips, you’ll have to read Why Mindfulness is Better than Chocolate!
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