Mastering the Art of Daily Meditation
"Sitting quietly without any form of stimulation seems incredibly challenging to me, as I have developed a long-standing inclination towards mental activity and constant distractions throughout my life."
"I refrain from exercising when I should due to sheer mental reluctance, much like the reason stated above."
"Why is it that even though I am aware of numerous beneficial activities that improve my well-being and make me feel better, there is a rebellious obstacle preventing me from engaging in them?"
I recently conducted a survey among my Facebook friends, asking them about the obstacles they face in their meditation practice. The responses highlighted the significant role of habits in this regard. On one hand, there are habits that we struggle to let go of, such as mental busyness. On the other hand, there are habits we aspire to develop, like a regular meditation routine. Fortunately, Charles Duhigg, the author of "The Power of Habit," offers valuable insights into how habits function at an individual, organizational, and societal level. His practical strategies for cultivating habits directly address the challenges many of us encounter when incorporating meditation into our lives, serving as a guide to establishing a sustainable meditation practice.
Establishing a consistent meditation practice requires overcoming various obstacles like distractions, busy schedules, and mental resistance. In his book, Duhigg discusses the power of habit and cites an experiment involving monkeys trained to respond to a stimulus using blackberry juice. The scientists observed that monkeys who hadn't formed a strong habit easily succumbed to distractions, while those who had developed a habit remained focused on the task at hand. This single-mindedness is referred to as a "habit loop" by Duhigg, consisting of a cue, routine, and reward. To cultivate a new habit like meditation, it is necessary to have a cue that triggers the behavior and a reward that provides a sense of satisfaction. However, craving is the missing ingredient that propels the development of a habit. By associating the cue with the anticipated reward and allowing yourself to indulge in the anticipation, it becomes easier to consistently engage in the desired behavior, such as going to the gym for exercise.
When considering meditation practice as a "habit loop," it becomes clear why some individuals struggle to make meditation a regular habit. While some people lack a cue, such as a specific time or place associated with meditating, others face challenges in establishing the connection between cue and reward that transforms meditation into a desired activity. Initial experiences with meditation can often be uninteresting, uncomfortable, or seem ineffective. To overcome these obstacles, it can be helpful to create a personal rewards system, similar to the way a runner might anticipate a refreshing smoothie. By experimenting with different rewards, such as a cookie, a relaxing bath, or indulging in a captivating novel, individuals can find what truly satisfies their craving. Keeping a record of thoughts and feelings after each activity can help identify patterns and enhance awareness. This process of discovering an effective reward is particularly relevant for cultivating a meditation habit, as it encourages mindfulness in experiencing each potential reward. Eventually, the intrinsic benefits of regular meditation, such as improved sleep, increased focus, and happier relationships, will serve as sufficient motivation to maintain the habit. In the meantime, allowing oneself to enjoy a simple pleasure like a cookie is perfectly acceptable.
Developing a regular meditation practice requires overcoming various obstacles such as digital distractions, busy schedules, and internal resistance. In his book, Duhigg highlights the importance of habit formation by sharing an experiment where monkeys were trained to respond to a screen-based stimulus using blackberry juice. The researchers observed that monkeys who had not formed a strong habit easily succumbed to distractions and abandoned their training when the juice was no longer available. However, monkeys with established habits remained focused on the task, disregarding alternative incentives like food or social interaction. This persistence stems from the intense anticipation and craving associated with habit loops. Duhigg describes habit loops as a combination of cue, routine, and reward that aids in the development or disruption of habits. To incorporate meditation as a new routine, one must establish a cue to trigger the behavior and a reward to reinforce the practice.
"Over time, the advantages of cultivating a meditation routine will serve as sufficient motivation to uphold the practice."
According to Duhigg, the combination of cue, routine, and reward alone is insufficient to form a habit. Craving, which is the urge that arises when the brain associates the cue with an anticipated reward, is the missing ingredient. Duhigg suggests that anyone can utilize this basic formula to establish their own habits. For example, if you want to exercise more, you can choose to go to the gym as soon as you wake up (cue) and reward yourself with a smoothie after each workout. By allowing yourself to anticipate the reward and cultivating the craving, it becomes easier to consistently go to the gym. However, when it comes to meditation, turning it into a habit can be challenging. While some individuals might not have a specific cue associated with meditating, others struggle to develop the connection between the cue and the reward that leads to a craving for meditation. Initial experiences with meditation can sometimes be uninteresting, uncomfortable, or seemingly ineffective. To overcome this, it can be helpful to create your own rewards system, similar to the imagined runner in Duhigg's example, in order to establish a habit loop and cultivate a craving for meditation. The goal is to engineer a situation where meditation becomes something we eagerly desire.
If you're finding it difficult to establish a regular meditation routine, have you considered using a meditation incentive? It could be something as simple as a cookie, a relaxing bath, or even dedicating some time to read an engaging novel. There's no universal formula for what constitutes an effective incentive, so it's advised to experiment with various options to discover one that truly satisfies your cravings. An effective strategy is to observe patterns by jotting down the first three thoughts that come to mind after each activity on a piece of paper. This practice not only increases awareness of your thoughts and feelings but also aids in later recollection. When reviewing your notes, you'll easily recall your mental and emotional state at that specific moment. This approach is particularly relevant to cultivating a meditation habit as it transforms the incentive into a mindfulness exercise by encouraging you to pay attention to how you experience each potential reward. As you progress, the benefits of a consistent meditation practice, such as improved sleep, enhanced concentration, and happier relationships, will become intrinsic rewards that sustain the habit. However, until then, allow yourself to indulge in the pleasure of that cookie.