Are you interested in mindfulness but don’t know where to start? Have you tried meditating here and there but not turned it into a habit?
Mindfulness can be challenging and confusing at first, but with a few strategies, it’s possible to make it part of your life and reap its rewards. Here are some practical tips that can get you started on the mindfulness path.
- Develop a Routine
This may be the most important factor to being successful with mindfulness because the real key with the practice is to do it consistently. Trying to squeeze mindfulness in randomly during your week can lead to procrastination or simply forgetting about it. Random practice also requires significant willpower each time you try to meditate.
Instead, select a specific time of day, preferably one that is linked to your other daily events such as a morning or evening routine. Many people like the morning because it sets a tone for the day. Set an alarm to remind yourself if needed. Establish a consistent, quiet, and comfortable place that helps you feel calm. Try to practice every day at the same time, even if only for a minute, but be flexible and gentle with yourself if you miss a day.
Connecting mindfulness to other routines will form a behavioral association between them and increase the likelihood of mindfulness becoming habitual, which is your initial goal. Once you have the habit, the practice will deepen and reinforce itself. With a little initial effort, mindfulness will become and automatic activity like brushing your teeth. Over time, you might even notice you start to relax before you start because your body has associated the time and place with the serenity of practice!
2. Use an App
Beginning meditators are prone to wandering minds and don’t know specific meditation techniques. They are unprepared for the many challenges the practice presents. Guided meditations can help you maintain focus, learn the skills of the practice, and overcome obstacles. Guided meditations remain valuable even for advanced practitioners.
Apps, YouTube, and Spotify offer many guided meditations and talks. The paid apps are well worth the price and generally run less than $10 a month.
The top apps I suggest are:
- 10% Happier- By Dan Harris, former CBS news anchor and mindfulness pundit.
- Insight Timer- Thousands of guided meditations, many free.
- Waking Up- By neuroscientist, philosopher, and podcaster Sam Harris.
Each of these apps have a different “flavor”, so you may want to do a free trial of several to find the best fit for you. Some offer courses of sequential guided meditations that allow you to develop specific qualities such as compassion or concentration. Some have videos or lectures that complement the meditations. If you can’t afford to pay, Waking Up will give you a free membership if you shoot them an email, no questions asked.
3. Find a Teacher
It’s helpful to find a teacher or two that you connect with so you have a guide through what can be a confusing journey. You can get introduced to many of them from the apps. Some may be explicitly religious or spiritual, others secular. While meditating is the centerpiece of mindfulness, there is important philosophy, wisdom, and techniques to learn about from the masters through talks and books. Many of them lead their own retreats and some even provide personalized coaching.
4. Attend a Retreat
Meditation retreats are the most effective way to deepen your practice and enhance motivation at home. They can range from a half day to several weeks. One week is the classic length. Catching even a single day or weekend can really give your practice momentum.
On a retreat, you’ll spend most of the day meditating with others and receiving instruction from a qualified teacher in a calm environment with few distractions. It is possible to achieve much deeper levels of mindfulness than at home which can have a permanent effect on your practice- and your mind!
5. Join a Group
There are many meditation groups that meet weekly to practice together, though they can be somewhat hard to find, especially if you are interested in secular mindfulness. Many meditators notice they have the best practice sessions in groups and appreciate the support of other members. Most groups will also have a leader who can help answer questions and guide you through the particular challenges of your practice. Some groups may be local affiliations of national level teachers.
6. Overcome Resistance
Finally, you might notice that the biggest issue isn’t time, apps, or teachers. It’s actually a feeling of not wanting to do the practice when the time comes, even though you have decided mindfulness is something you truly want to do.
This isn’t some problem that is foreign to the practice; it is part of the practice! You are experiencing the resistance we feel to being alone with ourselves, even for a few minutes. When we meditate, we start to become aware of how much we are lost in thought, uncomfortable physically and emotionally, and unable to relax and accept our experience. Being sensitized to how much we struggle is one of the first insights of mindfulness.
Instead of skipping your meditation when you feel this way, can you open up and accept that the resistance is part of your experience, and notice that it comes and goes like any other mental or emotional state? Try to tolerate your feelings, physical discomfort, and mental chatter for a few minutes, and then you can be done if you like. If you keep at it, your resistance will fade, and the habit of practice will create its own momentum.
While mindfulness may seem complicated, confusing, and difficult to start, the only way you can really do the practice wrong is not to do it at all. If you can get yourself to sit down for even one minute on a regular basis, you are doing the practice perfectly. With a little strategy and support, you can develop an invaluable habit that can lead to a happier, easier, and more interesting life.