How Long Does it Take to Establish a Healthy Habit
A recent study found that for some people healthy habits felt automatic after just 18 days — for others, it took 254 days. The study found that on average it took 66 days to lock in a healthy habit.
The daily habit of meditation is one of the most powerful things I’ve learned. I have been meditating daily for 65 days and it feels like I have firmly established the habit. How can you establish a meditation habit? And why do it? Here are some tips from my experience.
- Chose a Length of Time that Challenges You, but one you can do every day. I meditate for 30 minutes, every day. I had practiced Zen for 10 years in the past so I was used to 30-40 minute meditation periods. If you have no experience, it might be best to start with 5 minutes every day. Make doing it every day the most important thing, not how long you do it. You can always increase the length of time later as you establish the habit.
- Choose a Posture That’s Comfortable. I meditate in a chair. Sure, sitting in full lotus like the Buddha looks really cool, and it’s more stable than a chair but I can’t do that. So I sit in a chair. You might be able to sit in full lotus or one of the other cross legged postures,and that’s great. If you practice yoga you’ve got a head start. The Buddha statue above is a good model. You want a position that you can do without undue pain, but is not so relaxing that you fall asleep. Leaning back on the couch is not a good choice.
- Focus on Your Breath. It’s good to have a focus to come back to when your mind drifts — and it will. I count each breath on the exhale — from one to ten, and then I start over. If my mind drifts and I lose the count, I start over at one. This happens a lot! When you begin meditating it feels like your mind has a mind of its own. When you lose the count, just go back to one and begin again. This is what I do. Does this seem too mechanical to you? Another way of using the breath is just to notice each inhalation and exhalation. And when you realize you’re lost in thought, bring yourself gently back to your breath. You’ll probably need to do this many times in each session.
- Meditate at Home Alone most of the time. If you always meditate with others, what happens when they’re not around or when you go on vacation? It’s easy to become dependent on others for your discipline. This is your quiet time, you’re healthy habit. Of course it’s useful and enjoyable to practice with a group at times. The group energy is invigorating and encouraging. I practiced almost every day at a zen center for years, but in all those years I never established my own home practice. I was dependent on the zen center for my practice. And when I stopped going there I no longer had a meditation practice. How to establish a home meditation practice? Meditate at home.
- Do it Every Day. Then it will become as automatic as brushing your teeth or taking a shower. You’ll feel uncomfortable when you miss you daily meditation.
- Moderate Your Drinking. With your busy schedule you’ll need to fit your meditation in when you can. If you can’t do it in the morning, you might do it after work in the evening — but not if your habit is to have a drink when you get home. One drink and you won’t be meditating. I know from experience. I stopped drinking 50 days ago as a part of some healthy living resolutions, and because I committed to doing this blog. Now if I miss my meditation during the day I can still fit it in in the evening. If your habit is to have a drink in the evening you’ll just need to make sure you meditate sometime during the day, or before you pop the cork.
- Enjoy It! Meditation can become your private time alone. A time to experience and monitor your inner world. Regular meditation will pay dividends in your everyday life. You become more mindful and calm. And if you have a problem you’re working on, sometimes a solution will just bubble up in the midst of your meditation when you’re not trying to solve it at all. I firmly believe a quiet mind has more room for creativity. But the trick is — don’t try to use meditation as a problem solving session. Just sit with no intention, following your breath, and discover the world of the present moment.
“What lies behind us and what lies before us are
tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”
–Oliver Wendell Holmes