Creating a consistent practice

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Results in meditation depend upon a consistent practice. Just like anything else, consistency is the key. You can't go to the gym once or twice a month and see fitness gains. You can't go outside and run once a week and become a marathon runner. You can't change your diet just one day a week and see any health gains. You have to establish a consistent practice. With meditation, the ideal is to have a daily practice. But for many people this is difficult. 

At the time of this writing, it's almost the New Year. People often make "resolutions" about the things they want to change in their life. The common example is "I'm going to get fit by going to the gym" and so they join a gym and start going 3 or 4 days a week. Great. Gyms are full of new members in January. By March or April the gyms are back to the previous level of activity with many of the new members no longer showing up. 

New meditators are excited about starting a new practice and start off with a daily session and little by little they increase their time. Great. But then they skip a day or two. Then they may have a day when sitting on the cushion was tough; the monkey mind was just overwhelming. Soon they are down to perhaps one day a week. Then it's a couple of times a month. Then they give up. 

So how can anyone avoid this? Some people say they just lost motivation. That's true. It's also true that motivation just doesn't work. I'll say that again. Motivation does not work. Our minds will find ways to get around that or we just can't maintain the initial motivating idea. Our minds have a function of trying to keep us safe from anything it perceives as threatening. In our modern world, this includes anything new or anything we are uncertain of. We think "I should meditate today" and then we hesitate. Our mind sees that hesitation as something possibly being a threat. After all, we didn't hesitate in doing all the other little things in our day so far. We grabbed that cup of coffee, we checked our social media apps on our phone, etc. But now we hesitated. The mind says there must be something wrong. This must be a threat to our safety (in our modern world change "safety" to "comfort") and now our mind tells us it's better to put it off, delay it, do something else, make an excuse. Now it's better. Nothing new to learn. Nothing different to disturb our safe routine. The primitive mind did its job of protecting us. Motivation cannot get past that. Dedication is similar; it's just another term for the same type of thing. What we have to do is to make whatever we want to accomplish an integral part of our life; in other words, a habit. 

It's often said that it takes 21 days to make a new activity a habit. Whether it's 21 days or 30 or 10 or whatever probably depends on each individual but we do have to repeat the activity regularly in order to make it become part of our life. So if motivation won't work, how do we get ourselves to do this new activity consistently until it becomes part of our lives? 

There are a few things we can do. I'll cover the easier ones first. Let's say you want to establish a daily meditation practice. First make a few changes to your environment. If you use a meditation cushion, set it out where you can see it all the time. Better yet make a little meditation corner if you have the space (it doesn't take much). Put out the cushion, a meditation bell or singing bowl, perhaps an incense burner. If you have meditation books, put them in a prominent place where you can see them all the time. Next, if you use a timer with an app on your phone like Insight Timer, set a reminder to alert you at the same time each day, or just set an alarm for when you are going to sit and meditate each day. Keep a journal and write the date on the top of each page. After you meditate, journal about the experience. This can be very brief, but do it. The idea here is to make your everyday environment have reminders of meditation constantly around you. It's part of your life, not just something that you do in addition to your usual activities. If you have a teacher, commit to texting or emailing him or her the number of times you meditated this week. 

Now comes the final step... You have to just do it. I know that sounds like a trite phrase but it's true. Let's say you set a time to meditate of 6:00 PM each day. It gets to be 6:00 and you think to yourself "I should go and meditate right now but I want to do something else" or "I wonder if I'll be better at it today then yesterday" etc. Stop that type of thought. That just let's the mind go into the protection mode. Just go sit and start. There is a technique that is becoming more widespread that is sometimes called the count down technique that you can use. It's pretty simple. In our example, when 6:00 hits, just count down out loud 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and then go sit and meditate. Period. I recently saw someone describe this as the NASA technique. When a rocket launches, the countdown goes 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, and then the rocket just goes. No hesitation, no "I'll go later", it launches. Now. This technique is bypassing the part of our brain that wants to find excuses. It's a trigger mechanism that leads to direct action. This won't work if we count up (1, 2, 3, 4, 5 etc) because obviously we can just keep going. Counting down activates a different part of the brain and an action is expected when we finish the count; the "launch" is expected. It sounds simple and it is. It is when we make something more complicated that we get caught up in excuses and delays or even give up. 

So to create a consistent practice, start by creating an environment that reminds you of meditation. Then set a specific time for a daily practice session using a alarm. Journal about your sessions being sure to date each page. When the time comes to meditate use the count down technique to "just do it". If you keep doing this after a while meditation will increasingly become just a part of your life. It will become a habit. It will be just a normal part of your day. 

Once you've established a daily meditation practice you'll see results that will further lead you into deeper practice. You'll have made meditation a part of your life. 

Of course there will be times when you have to miss a session but they will become few and far between. And remember, that even 10 minutes provides benefits. We can all find the time. We just have to find a way around the excuses. So forget motivation; it will always abandon us when we need it. We all have ideas that we think will be great and that we'll get to them as soon as we can find the motivation... We'll never do them. Change your environment to make whatever it is that you want to do part of your everyday life. When it comes time to do whatever it is that you want to do, just launch yourself into it. 

When it's time to do something, just 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and go do it. Stop the thinking and simply take action. 

Finally, if you have other ideas or ways to help build a consistent practice, please leave them in the comments. And if you find any of this helpful, there is a "Donate" button on each page. If you are interested to one on one meditation teaching sessions just contact me, or if you have a group that would like a session, contact me and we can make arrangements.