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How to become a consistent meditator

Updated: May 2

So, you’ve learned how to meditate. Great. But now you face the big challenge of actually getting yourself to do it. Here are some tips on establishing a solid practice.


Why practise consistently?


First, why bother? Can’t you just meditate when you feel like it? Well, you can, and that might be useful, but the big benefits accrue with steady practice, through the good times and the bad.


It’s like exercise. Sometimes we might do it as and when the mood takes us. I’m feeling a bit down, so I’ll go for a run, and maybe it will wake me up and brighten my mood a little. Or maybe I’m in a good mood and it’s a lovely sunny day, so a run seems like just the thing to make a good day even better. That’s all well and good, but the real benefits of running aren’t a short-term boost in mood or energy. They are long-term, incremental improvements in health and fitness, which will stand you in good stead on any day of the year, whatever is going on.


It's the same with meditation: with consistent practice, you can shift your baseline, so that mindfulness and other positive qualities are always a bit more available than they would otherwise be. The benefits build up slowly, over time, and if you stop your practice, they hang around for a while, before slowly fading away.


How consistent is consistent?


You should aim for daily practice. The benefits of meditation depend on momentum, both in terms of its effects and your willingness to do it. So, it’s not only more effective if you practice daily, it’s actually easier. Again, it’s a bit like exercise: if you haven’t done it for a while, you won’t feel much like doing it


That said, don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good: if you’re only practising twice per week, that’s great. Keep going. Aspire to practice more, but if it’s not happening right now, be happy with what you’re doing. Any amount of practice is better than none.


When should I meditate?


People have different preferences regarding what time of day to meditate, so you should experiment and find what works for you. But the two most favoured times of day are first thing in the morning and last thing at night. First thing, you are fresh and your mind is not yet cluttered by the business of the day. Last thing, the day is over and you can put it aside and focus on your meditation.


If you are going to try meditating first thing, do it before you get all the messages and notifications on your phone, or engage in any other way with the business of the day. And make sure you’ve had enough sleep – if it’s a choice between meditation and 15 mins more sleep, you are setting yourself up to fail. You might need to go to bed a little earlier, so you can wake up rested and feel motivated to meditate.


And whenever you choose to meditate, it’s helpful to be consistent about that choice. If you meditate at the same time each day, doing so becomes a habit. You won’t question it, just like you don’t question whether to brush your teeth at bedtime. Whereas if the timing of your meditation is flexible, it’s very easy to put it off and off and ultimately…not do it.


Where should I meditate?


You can meditate anywhere you like, but it’s probably a good idea to find somewhere quiet. But, again, don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good. It is possible to meditate under almost any conditions, so if there is distracting noise, that’s okay. Just let it be there, while you get on with your meditation.


It is also a good idea to find – or create – somewhere nice to meditate. You are trying to persuade yourself to make time for this activity, so you need to make it as pleasant as possible. Find yourself a nice spot and set it up in a way that is pleasing to you. Put some flowers there, and/or pictures of people, places, or things that you find inspiring. Make it somewhere you want to spend time.


Creating a special place to meditate also creates an association between that place and meditation. If you meditate at your desk, your mind will think it’s time to work, and is likely to resist meditation, throwing up all sorts of thoughts about work and urges to check emails. Whereas if you meditate in your special meditation spot, where you do nothing but meditate, then whenever you sit there, your mind knows it’s time to meditate, and is more likely to fall in line with that task.


What position should I meditate in?


You can meditate in any position you like: sitting, standing, or lying down. You might find that different positions have different effects, so try them all out. Perhaps lying down helps you to relax, but also leads to more mind-wandering. Perhaps sitting up straight keeps you alert, but makes you feel tense. So, find out what works for you.


How long should I meditate for?


How long is a piece of string? Well, in this particular case, the minimum recommended length is 10 minutes, and the maximum is…well, how long is a piece of string? The more meditation you can make time for, the greater the benefits you might experience, but as a guide, many committed meditators will meditate for 40-45 minutes each day. That might feel like an awful lot at first, so a popular option is to start with 10 minutes and then, when that feels comfortable, increase it by 2-5 minutes. Keep on going until you reach an amount of meditation that works for you.


But, again, don't make the perfect the enemy of the good. 10 minutes a day is great, and if you only have 5 minutes, then that is great too. Any amount of meditation is better than none, and if you do 5 minutes this week, perhaps you’ll do 10 next week, and 40 in a few months' time.


Can I break it into two chunks?


So, if you want to meditate for 20 minutes each day, can you break it into two 10-minute meditations? Yes, you can. There are advantages to longer periods of meditation (you can probably go deeper in a 20-minute meditation than a 10-minute one), but there are also advantages to more frequent periods of meditation (if you meditate in the morning and in the evening, you are never far from a meditative mode of mind). So do whatever works for you.


Timers and recordings


When you first start to meditate, you might find that your mind wanders a lot, and you have no idea what you’re doing. In which case, recorded guidance can be very helpful. But it can also hold you back, after a while, because it does a lot of the work for you. So, once you feel ready, it’s a good idea to move to meditating silently, perhaps with a timer to tell you when your time is up. The most popular app for this is Insight Timer, which also, happily, has a huge library of free guided meditations.


Make it social


The single best way to keep your practice going is to have friends who also practice. That way, whenever you are in touch with those friends, it will remind you of your intention to practice. And when you practise, you get a nice reward for doing so: you can talk to your friends about it. This is why monks live in monasteries: it’s easier to focus on meditation, prayer, or any other contemplative practice when you’re surrounded by others who are doing the same thing.


So, if you have any friends who practise, talk to them about it. Arrange to check in with them daily about your practice. Or if you have any friends who don’t currently practise, but who you think might be interested, arrange to do it together. Make it part of your social life, and you’ll find yourself much more motivated to do it.


Be not discouraged


This is the single most important piece of advice I can give you. It is extremely common to struggle to practise consistently, and I know this from personal experience: after I started to meditate, it took me 8 years to establish a daily practice. But since then, I've never looked back. So, if you struggle to be consistent, don’t give up, and don’t get self-critical. The attitude you want is the same as the one you want within meditation: when you realise you’re not doing what you'd intended to (whether that is following the breath in meditation, or meditating in the first place), just begin again. So, if you haven’t meditated for a day, a week, or a year, that’s fine. Just sit down and meditate now.

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