Last month I participated in a 30-day meditation challenge.
The idea was simple: Meditate 10 minutes every day for one month.
If the word “meditation” carries too much baggage for you, think of it this way – I was challenging myself to find 10 minutes every day to sit still and just be. This would involve finding the time and space to sit down, close my eyes, and turn off my mind. I could focus on my breath for guidance, but was supposed to let the seemingly constant noise of regular thoughts come and go, without dwelling on them.
When I saw my friend Steve post this challenge on his Facebook page, I knew I had to dive right in. I’ve been wanting to incorporate a regular meditation practice into my daily routine for a while now, since the benefits of skillful relaxation that meditation are hugely appealing. Less anxiety, better moods, feeling calmer in the face of stress and adversity. Who couldn’t use more of that?
Plus, if I couldn’t find 10 minutes every day to prioritize something as simple as being still and shutting up, then there were bigger issues I needed to address.
During the 31 days of October, I successfully meditated on 30 of them.
Despite breaking my streak on one travel day halfway through the month, I got right back on track to close out the last couple weeks. The challenge served its purpose, and the benefits I received from this simple 10-minute meditation practice could not have come at a better time. October hit me with all kinds of stress, including an emergency trip to the hospital for a friend visiting from out of town.
Through it all, I was able to tap into a more centered and relaxed state with greater ease. The more I practiced, the more familiar this state became. While I still have a long way to go in terms of shutting off my thoughts and anxieties, as little as 10 minutes a day was really all it took to have an impact on how I react to the events in my daily life.
I also learned a few things about what it takes to build a successful meditation habit, including what works and what doesn’t. The following lessons summarize what I found to work from my experience.
Define The Goal
This was the easiest part, since it was pre-defined for me. “Meditate 10 minutes every day, for a whole month.” Easy peasy.
But as straightforward as it sounds to simply state what you want to accomplish, it shouldn’t be overlooked. As I mentioned before, I’ve been wanting to meditate on a daily basis for a long time. Even though it takes just 10 minutes (!) I would pick up the practice for a few days, only to fall back into a rut of missing several days in a row. One missed day turned into two, which quickly snowballed into several weeks.
Having such a vague goal to “meditate more often” definitely tripped me up in the past. If I skipped a day, it was all too easy to rationalize why I shouldn’t meditate the next day, or the day after that. Defining what I was trying to accomplish with a specific what, when, and how long would have greatly helped my cause.
And that’s exactly what the 30-day challenge provided:
- What: Meditate
- When: Every day
- How Long: One month
The structure of this goal gave me the push I needed to get started, and made it easy to follow as the challenge progressed.
Loosen up the Requirements
On the other end of the spectrum, it’s possible to define a goal too strictly.
In the past I would sometimes set goals like, “Meditate in my living room every morning for 20 minutes!” Such a specific goal requires a very strict set of circumstances in order to accomplish the task every day. That often meant my day had to align perfectly with those circumstances, otherwise I wouldn’t do it. Missing just one day put me at risk of loosing the habit-building momentum I had created.
However, you’ll notice the 30-day meditation I participated in has a few details missing from the stated goal. It doesn’t specify how you are supposed to meditate, there are no time-of-day requirements, nor does it require participants to complete the 10 minutes all at once.
The goal is simply to meditate for 10 minutes, every day. How you accomplish that is up to you.
So while the what, when, and how long were straightforward, the HOW was more open-ended. Without clear guidelines to follow, challenge participants were left to figure out the details on their own. This flexibility was a big reason the challenge was successful for me. Instead of getting bogged down in the details and trying to come up with the “perfect” meditation practice, I was able to focus on simply achieving the 10-minutes-a-day goal.
And since my sole focus was on the high-level objective, I was able to test and learn what the most effective routine was for me. Here are some tactics I tried:
- Meditate first thing in the morning
- Meditate right before bed at night
- Meditate for 5 minutes in the morning, and 5 minutes in the evening
- Take a break at work to meditate
The great part about the flexible nature of this challenge was that it allowed me to try many different ways to achieve the goal, while still checking the box for each day as I went along. Even if one particular routine didn’t feel right, or my meditation sessions were fragmented into short bursts throughout the day, I could still chalk it up as a success if I put in my daily 10 minutes.
Give Yourself Multiple Opportunities to Succeed
With a clear goal in place, and the flexibility to test different routines, the final piece of the puzzle involves setting yourself up for success at multiple points throughout the day.
Once again, the name of the game here is forward momentum. You don’t want to miss a day, then use that as rationalization for skipping the next day as well. Your goal should be to meditate every day, whatever that takes.
For me this meant identifying the times I was most likely to meditate, and the environments conducive to meditation. I knew mornings and evenings were the best opportunities for me to sit still, so I targeted those times to sit down and log my minutes. This worked well, since if I missed my morning meditation session, there were other opportunities later in the day to keep the goal alive. If I had been more strict about when to meditate, it would have been much harder to keep the momentum going, especially in the beginning.
A Few Tactical Tips
So those are my three biggest lessons learned for creating a regular meditation practice. If you clearly define your goal, maintain loose requirements, and give yourself many opportunities to succeed, there’s no doubt you can build your own meditation habit.
That said, there were some tangible details that definitely helped me along the away. If you’re trying to build a meditation habit of your own, I recommend the following:
- Hold yourself accountable. When I started the challenge, I used an app called Lift to record whether I meditated each day. Not only does it feel good to see your progress increasing, but you can set notifications in the app that remind you when to meditate. This accountability helped me keep the momentum going, even during my most hectic days. Lift also does a great job reminding you how far you’ve come, and there’s even a social encouragement component to each goal you set (you can make goals private if you want).
- Routinize your behavior. Attach your meditation sessions to existing habits and daily routines. It’s much easier to amend existing behavior than to create an entirely new one from scratch. Examples include meditating during your cool down period after a workout, or sitting in silence as part of your bedtime routine.
- Create a physical space for your habit. Associating your meditation habit with a physical location will remind you to actually do it, and make it easy to keep going once you start. It helps to have everything you need right there, so keep that in mind when deciding where to meditate. For example, if you prefer to sit on a cushion, make sure your meditation space has one close by. For me, my favorite spots were on the floor right next to my bed, and in the sauna after a morning swim. Meditating in these locations became almost reflexive, as I felt more comfortable sitting down for the practice each day.
Are You Up For The Challenge?
Creating a daily meditation habit isn’t that hard, it just requires you set yourself up for success. If you start small, define your goal, and follow the tips in this post, I’m positive you’ll see results.
But don’t take my word for it. Try it out yourself! I’d love to hear about your successes, setbacks, and learnings from your own 30-day meditation challenge.