Habit Formation: I Meditated For 31 Days

My word of the year for 2020 is CONSISTENCY because I’m looking to show up more regularly for my own wellbeing and to work toward an even better everyday life this year. Part of that for me means building small daily habits and rituals that will keep me on the right track even when everyday life gets a little chaotic.

January 1st 2020 I decided I wanted to build the habit of sitting down every day to meditate for just 10 minutes. I also wanted to take 5-10 minutes to before meditating to do CARs (controlled articular rotations), which basically means to move every joint in my body in circular motions to maintain my mobility and so I can sit with more ease in meditation afterwards because my body is warmed up and ready (I’ll explain more on CARs in another post, if you want to learn more?).

Camilla sitting in a meditation pose at the graduation day of her yoga teacher training in Ubud, Bali

I know 10 minutes of daily meditation doesn’t seem like a lot and perhaps not enough to make a huge change in my life. But I know from experience that having too big expectations of oneself too soon leads to overwhelm or burnout. This time around I’m choosing to start small and do something that’s manageable no matter how busy my days might seem. Then I can slowly build on from there in the future if all goes well.

So why do I want to meditate every day?

I’m sure you’ve been told that meditation is good for you. Maybe you’re familiar with the endless amounts of health benefits of regular meditation; it reduces stress, promotes emotional health and enhances self-awareness, increases our ability to focus, improves sleep, reduces ageing, boosts the immune system, ….
The benefits seem endless.

For me personally, the main reason I want to meditate is because I want to check in on how I’m feeling every day and increase my self-awareness of how I show up in the world every single day. I want to learn to let go of the things that worry me, which are outside of my control anyway and instead focus on the things that really matter. In the end, I want to show up as the best version of myself everyday and I know that taking the time to meditate daily plays a huge part in being able to do that.

I tried to meditate every day throughout January to really get into the habit of meditating every morning when I wake up. Here’s how it went..

Building a meditation habit in 31 days

Week 1

The first week of the year I was really feeling the excitement of the new year. The ease that comes from having the blank slate of the new year so you can start fresh. Sitting down to meditate every morning felt easy because I was so motivated to start the year off on the right track. Let me be clear here, it was the act of sitting down to start meditating that felt easy, NOT the act of meditating itself.

The actual meditation part I’ve never found to be easy. But I guess that’s kind of the point of meditation? To practice our focus and become aware of just how noisy the inside of our brains are. If it was effortless to meditate we probably wouldn’t need to do it?

I ended week 1 having meditated every single day and enjoying the ritual of spending some time each morning to tune into my body and my mind.

Week 2

The next week it felt a little more like I was running on autopilot. I had somewhat gotten used to getting up, doing CARs and then sitting down to meditate. The novelty of meditating daily had worn off a little but things were running smoothly and the actual meditations went better than the week before. I’d notice just a little sooner when my monkey mind was taking over and able to bring myself back to the present moment more often. I’d consider week 2 a success.

Week 3

The third week of the year I had started running on autopilot to an extent that I would do the CARs, sit down, put on the guided meditation, and then completely zone out and forget to make a conscious effort to focus and stay present. My lack of focus was in part due to the fact that I wasn’t getting enough sleep this week.

I was tired and would constantly lose focus. I was trying to rein my mind back in throughout the meditations whenever I noticed my mind going astray but most days I barely noticed I was meditating until I heard Sam Harris’ voice ending the guided meditation with “and I’ll see you here tomorrow. For day 18 of the Waking Up course”. Oops.

Week 4+5

The last weeks of January I regained my focus a little. I was very conscious of actively listening to the guided meditations when I sat down and pressed play. 

All in all things went quite well even though it’s impossible to make a huge difference in your meditation skills in just one month of meditation 10 minutes a day.

Thankfully I’m in it for the long run and I’m proud to say I meditated every single day of January 2020!!

If you’re considering starting a meditation habit too, here’s a couple of tips that made it possible for me to meditate every day without fail for 31 days. I hope they will help you too!

Tips for building a daily meditation habit

Sit comfortably: A mistake a lot of people make when they first start meditating is that they think in order to meditate ‘correctly’, they have to imitate seated meditation the way they’d picture a buddhist monk doing it – a cross legged position with their hands locked in a mudra (hand gesture).

habits such as a meditation habit of 2020 that will guide me toward my goals and word of the year 2020

If you’re living in a western country and regularly sit at a desk or in a couch, chances are that your body is not used to sitting on the floor for extended periods of time. It’s a shame to have your legs falling asleep 1 minute into your meditation and stealing all of your attention when you could’ve been sitting in a comfortable chair and not have to feel fidgety or irritated throughout your entire meditation experience.

Meditation doesn’t have to be made any more challenging than it already is so sit in a comfortable chair or prop your hips up on lots of pillows if you’re sitting on the floor. You can always remove some of the padding once your body gets a bit more used to extended periods of floor sitting (I noticed a significant improvement in my hip flexibility after one month of seated meditation!).

The two day rule: The two day rule states that when you’re building a new daily habit, never miss two days in a row. Missing one day doesn’t make a difference over time but once you miss performing your habit two days in a row, missing it will start to become the new habit.

I first came across this rule watching a Matt D’avella youtube video. It truly resonated with me because I instantly felt like I could approach my month of meditation challenge with more ease. I no longer felt like it would all be wasted if I missed a couple of days of meditation throughout the month. I wouldn’t have to feel guilty when I skipped a day, if that happened I just had to focus on starting back up again as soon as possible, which felt very motivating.

Create an obvious cue: I hung up a piece of paper on the door of my bedroom with 31 boxes on it, one for every day of January (For me, there’s something so satisfying in ticking off a box when I finish a task). Every morning when I left my bedroom to go get a glass of water I was reminded that the next thing I wanted to do that morning was to meditate.

Without that visual cue every day I’m sure that my meditation habit challenge would’ve been unsuccessful. I’d have completely forgotten or perhaps remembered late in the day when I was either too tired to meditate or had made other plans.

Every habit we perform starts with a cue. The habit of scrolling social media often starts when a notification pops up on our phone. The habit of brushing our teeth is cued by looking at our bathroom mirror or our toothbrush when we go to the bathroom in the morning. The cue to get up in the morning is our alarm ringing, and so on..

Every habit starts with some form of cue, so if we want to build a new habit we have to add a cue that will remind us to perform that habit. You can hang up a reminder in your home, set a daily alarm on your phone, or ask your partner to remind you every morning. Choose a cue that you respond well to, a cue you won’t ignore or forget about.

Camilla doing a yoga pose called 3 legged downward dog whilst bathed in sun light from the sunrise

Choose an optimal time of day: for most people, meditating in the morning makes the most sense because the new day provides a clean slate and a mind without too many distracting thoughts about the events that happened that same day. Other habits might best be performed mid-day or in the evening.

It’s of course very individual from person to person which time of day is the best time to build a meditation habit. For most people it easier to add a new habit to your day when you’re performing a lot of other daily habits (that’s called habit stacking).

E.g. it’s easier to remember to floss daily when you’re already in your bathroom when you’re brushing your teeth. It’s easier to remember to take your vitamins when you’re already in the kitchen eating breakfast, and so on. Fint the time of day do build your new habit that makes it as effortless as possible to do.

Minimize the barrier to entry: Plan when you’re going to meditate in advance. For me it helped tremendously to pick a time of day where I knew I wouldn’t be disturbed or interrupted. I also picked a guided audio meditation in advance, so that when it became time to meditate, there was no decisions I had to make other than sitting down and starting my meditation.

How can you make the process easier for your future self? Perhaps you’d find it helpful to prepare your meditation spot in advance (placing the pillows so they were ready, removing stuff laid onto the chair you want to use, etc.). Perhaps you can even pick a multiple day meditation program, so it’s a one time decision and you won’t have to choose a new guided meditation every day.

I chose to use Sam Harris’ Waking Up app which has a 50 day introduction to meditation with a new guided 10 minute meditation every day (the app is free for anyone who truly cannot afford it). Make the barrier to entry as low as possible for your future self so it’ll feel frictionless to sit down to meditate every day.

Upward facing dog yoga pose performed by camilla during her moving meditation

Reward yourself: start a small reward system for yourself for when you’re doing great in building your meditation habit. If your brain starts to associate a meditation session with a reward, it’s going to be that much easier to sit down and meditate in the future. 

Choose a suitable goal – e.g. three days of meditation in a row (or one week or one month, depending on how well it’s going for you to start meditating) and whenever you reach your goal, reward yourself with something small and meaningful like a visit to a new coffee shop in your neighborhood, a small plant for your window sill, a scented candle for your bedroom. Whatever it might be, choose something that makes you feel good and makes you want to keep on meditating in the future.

Those were the things that helped me start a daily meditation habit. I hope you found them helpful and as always, I’m rooting for you!

I’d love to hear about your experience when it comes to meditation! Do you find it challenging? How and how long do you like to meditate (do you focus on your breath, sounds, do visualization, body-scans, moving meditation such as yoga etc.)? Do you want to build a daily meditation habit too?

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