Establishing a meditation habit

February 8, 2012   |   15 Comments  |   FavoriteLoadingAdd to favorites


Beginning a meditation practice is a wonderful thing. Beginning a meditation practice with crazy expectations–as in, “I’m going to meditate from now on, every day of my life”–is a nutty thing. Establishing new habits takes time and an unswerving focus on incremental steps.

Here are some thoughts about how to slowly bring your practice to life in such a way that it will become ingrained, as opposed to a bright flash of light that is here and gone.

1. Try to practice at the same time each day. There is nothing magical about this, it’s just that our habits seem to take root more readily when such a routine is established.

2. Establish a realistic goal. Don’t say to yourself, “I’m going to meditate every single day for 20 minutes.” Why? Because you won’t. Then, when you fall off the wagon, you’ll feel like crap and become even less likely to practice. Instead, set up something completely doable–for you. For example: promise yourself to practice for 10 minutes per day, M-F for 4 weeks. At the end of that time, reassess. If 10 minutes is too long, do 5. If M-F is extreme, just do the weekends. You get the idea.

3. Establish a place for your practice. No need to get fancy with silken-covered meditation cushions and ancient shrine objects imported from Bhutan. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) Just keep it simple. Place your meditation cushion or chair in a spot you feel happy to be in–perhaps in a part of your house that gets gorgeous light or a corner of your bedroom that is quiet and peaceful. If you like, you could have a small offering table or shrine. Again, keep it simple. Just some fresh flowers or a candle or a photo of someone or something inspiring.

4. Before practice, affirm your commitment to what you are about to do by saying to yourself, “now is my time for practice–everything else can wait.” Because it can.

5. It might be helpful to read a paragraph or a page from a dharma book, or some other work you find meaningful.

To receive meditation instruction and ongoing support for your practice, sign up for The Open Heart Project. Here are some nice things people have said about it:

I so look forward to your emails. Every day you send one it seems to fit perfectly for that day. I first came across you last year when I read your book The Wisdom of a Broken Heart. It helped me through a rough patch, and I came out a better person. Please keep up the good work. I love meditating with you, as I am new to meditation. -CT

It is a great comfort to learn meditation from someone who is both inspiring and down to earth. I suffer from anxiety and have found that using your meditations are enormously helpful in gently encouraging me in a healthier direction. I love meditating along with someone else in my own home. Many heartfelt thanks. MD

I have wanted to meditate for some time. I tried different books and cds, but nothing ever felt right or clicked for me. I often wondered if I was “doing it right”, or if I was being too picky, or expecting too much, or if I just had a commitment problem, or… etc etc etc. But YOU, wonderful Susan! You have taught me to meditate! You make me LOOK FORWARD to meditating! And I no longer wonder if I’m doing it right. I sit with you and it feels good. I let go and I breathe, and it has made me feel so peaceful. Meditating is helping me to be calm, and to think before speaking, and to notice beauty in the world, and these are all things I struggle with. Thank you for your generosity with your time and your wisdom. Thank you for the Open Heart Project. -LG

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  • Posted by:  Julian (@veryzenlife)

    Susan, great simple advice on establishing a meditation practice – just what is needed. I agree on all your main points. I think the importance of your practice developing as a routine, in terms of time, regularity & place can’t be emphasised enough. They are key elements in establishing any positive habit. I started my own practice of zazen with just a few minutes everyday. My advice would always be to begin by doing less than you think you can reasonably do. I have fallen into the trap of early enthusiasm known to many joggers, dieters etc, only to find it impossible to maintain. By starting small, however, meditation has become a consistent practice that influences my whole life for the better. Thank you for writing this great post 🙂

    • Posted by:  Susan

      Your advice is spot-on, Julian. Thanks.

  • Posted by:  Stephen Hudecki

    Gentleness and curiosity gets me to the mat each day even if it’s for one minute. Truly. I know I made the effort. I lit my candle and sought my refuge, breathed in the incense and sat attending to my breath… then zip, gone. The days I can sit for longer feel much, much better. The process of change is to do it little by little for me and this is my 13th year of meditating.

    • Posted by:  Susan

      Sounds just right, Stephen. Gentleness and curiosity are the way of the warrior.

  • Posted by:  Leanna

    I used to have a special little meditation corner, that I never used because I didn’t want to sit and look at a wall and sitting on a cushion was never comfortable. Then I had my dad build me a plain little meditation bench. I put it in the center of my sunny bedroom rug (where my cat runs laps while I sit) and it’s always there waiting for me. I sit much more regularly now since I like the space, and am comfortable.

    • Posted by:  Susan

      Wow, cool! That sounds awesome. Pic, by any chance??

      • Posted by:  Kathy Willard

        Dearest Susan: Here’s how it all began for me. I took quite a few Yoga lessons first to make sure I knew what I was doing, then got a yoga CD to practice at home. Finally I had memorized all the poses that work for me. I got a mat and ever since now I do it in my livingroom, with yoga music softly in the background, candles lit, and chimes to start me off and finish. Then I do my meditation for that is when I am fully relaxed in mind and body, and more open to listen as I’ve rid myself of the daily toxins we all take in. Oh, I am such a cat lover, had three at one time, but your darling little cat on the cushion, too delightful. Can’t get enough of your teachings. Thank you times ten. XXXXX

        • Posted by:  Susan

          This is awesome, Kathy. And many thanks for your kind words!

  • Posted by:  Cathy

    This is such a great post. I just wrote something today about how I started meditation to learn be more flexible, but that I treat it like something I have to do 5 days a week in a certain way in order to get a gold star.

    • Posted by:  Susan

      Great insight, Cathy. For some reason, it is hard to relax–we want to “get it right.”

      So much of the practice is about letting go of that attitude, which is more complicated than it sounds. Immediately, we (OK, I!) want to do “not trying to get it right” right!! Oy. Back to the cushion.

  • Posted by:  Pam Belding

    You’re Open Heart Project has really helped me learn to meditate and become more clear and concise with my thoughts and actions. I can’t thank you enough for putting this project together!!
    I wrote a post for my blog readers telling them about what your project has done to help me, along with a link to bring them to your Open Heart Project. I hope you like it.
    Thanks again! xoxoxo Pam

    • Posted by:  Susan

      Pam, so glad to hear it and many thanks for the warm shout-out on your blog! I’m touched and appreciative. xo S

  • Posted by:  Valentina

    Today, I went to the beach with my children. I found a sea shell and gave it to my 4 year old daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She put the shell to her ear and screamed. There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear. She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is entirely off topic but I had to tell someone!

  • Posted by:  Liam

    First off I would like to say awesome blog! I had a quick question which I’d like to ask if you don’t mind. I was interested to find out how you center yourself and clear your head prior to writing. I’ve had a hard time clearing my thoughts in getting my thoughts out. I do enjoy writing but it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are usually wasted simply just trying to figure out how to begin. Any ideas or tips? Kudos!

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      I find that if I do 10-20 minutes of “free writing” (or steam of consciousness writing) it can be helpful. Just write whatever comes into your head no matter what it is. When you’re done, you can throw it away! In other words, it doesn’t have to make sense, be spelled correctly, or be useful in any way. Hope this helps!

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