Do you find it hard to stick to your meditation goals, despite knowing about the many benefits of meditation? That disconnection between knowing and doing is common, so if something is stopping you from sticking to the plan, follow these five strategies to help you develop a regular meditation practice.
1. Confront your fears
A clash between thinking and doing sometimes hides a layer of fear. Common fears include self-doubt, fear of finding that meditation practice uncovers a negative self, and fearing that stillness of the mind will lead to stillness of action.
All these fears are small acts of self-sabotage, which usually kick in whenever we are trying to go outside our comfort zone. To tackle this, you first need to accept that it’s all in your hands. It’s up to you to rewrite your own narrative, from a self-defeating one to an empowering one.
To do this, identify the stories you're telling yourself about your apparent inability to meditate, and create a different story by actually putting it in writing. Set aside 10-15 minutes every day to do this, and don’t underestimate the power of “self-editing” your life narrative. Indeed, studies have shown how effective this is in reversing negative or pessimistic thoughts and inspiring positive actions, so don’t let fears take over.
2. Habit replacement
If avoiding meditation has become a habit, you should take steps to replace it with a positive one. To do this, think about how the habit you want to change became ingrained in the first place. You probably took a series of small decisions that reinforced each other and that stuck with you because they provided some sort of benefit.
For example, you may procrastinate meditation because you want to have more free time. The key is to build a new habit that offers the same benefits and motivates you to stick with it. What if meditation was your free time? What if meditation helped you manage your time better?
Changing habits can help build a better meditation practice
Next, find what triggers the bad habit. Do you postpone meditation when you get distracted by your phone, the TV, or other activities that are associated with free time? Write down each trigger and find a positive action to replace each one of them with. Habit replacement takes time and multiple tries, so be prepared to learn from failure.
3. Parts integration
If you know the benefits of meditation but can’t get around to practice consistently, there may be a conflict of interest between your motivation and parts of your conscious or sub-conscious mind. This type of conflict takes time to uncover, but you can make the process easier by using a neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) technique known as 'parts integration', the objective of which is to help you find greater coherence between thoughts, values and actions.
The principles of parts integration are similar to those used in therapies that aim to bring unity between different parts of the self, such as Gestalt, client-centered therapy, psychosynthesis, and analytical psychology. All these strategies can help resolve internal conflict by making us pay close attention to different parts of our conscious and sub-conscious selves.
As conflict subsides, focus and motivation get stronger and you'll be able to achieve your meditation goals. Determine the conflicting parts in the behaviour you want to change (e.g. knowing it would be good to meditate is “the good part” and not doing it is “the bad part”).
“Identify the stories you're telling yourself about your apparent inability to develop a meditation practice and create a different story by putting it in writing.”
With your palms facing up, picture each part resting on each palm. Ask each part what their final intention is, and keep asking the question until you come across a positive intention. For example, “the bad part” may want you to be productive and achieve lots of things during the day.
As you bring your hands together, imagine the parts’ intentions helping each other achieve your ultimate goal. Make sure you have a clear image of what this would look like. Picture this new image of a successful you taking over other parts of your body. Establish steps that will help you support the good intentions of the integrated parts.
4. Moving meditation
Another common thing that gets in the way of regular meditation is feeling that this isn’t really for you. This is particularly common if you're a very energetic person who has trouble sitting still for more than a few minutes at the time, or if you get bored easily.
When thinking about a meditation session, the first thing that usually comes to mind is someone sitting in the lotus position. But you don’t have to feel confined to this position as you can experiment with alternatives like walking, standing, or other forms of moving meditation.
For example, you may want to try Qigong, a type of moving meditation that can help still your mind without sitting. There are dozens of Qigong movements, but you can get started with the exercise known as “Separating Heaven and Earth”.
Move and meditate: your practice can be non-static
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and with your arms to the sides. Take a deep breath while you cross your arms over your chest. Exhale slowly and at the same time lift one arm while you lower the other (keep your arms slightly bent as you do this). Repeat while you alternate which arms goes up and down, for as long as you want your meditation session to last.
If you're concerned that moving meditation may not be as effective as sitting meditation, you needn’t worry. In several studies, Qigong practitioners reported feeling lower anxiety and stress levels, just as you would expect from other forms of meditation. Moreover, some researchers suggest that the physical exercise involved in Qigong can reduce bone loss rate and could lead to lower blood pressure too.
5. Share accountability
It's true that there’s strength in numbers, and you’re not alone in your struggle, since nobody becomes an expert meditator without confronting fears and bad habits. If you don’t feel strong enough to address these issues, finding someone who's in a similar situation can help if you both agree to hold each other accountable and keep unrealistic expectations in check.
Accountability partnerships work by adding an extra layer of responsibility, motivation, mutual support, and creative brainstorming, which all work together to improve goal achievement. With time and practice, you can become your own accountability partner, or help others overcome obstacles to meditation.
One last thought to take away with you is: “whatever problem you face setting up a regular meditation practice, you can learn from it and thrive.” ●