They say it takes 21 days to form a habit. I’ve heard this length of time in popular culture and seen a lot of “30-day challenges” around the internet. This is a myth. With a quick Google, 21 days to form a habit has been debunked countless times. According to a study done by Phillippa Lally at the University College of London and published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, it took participants 18-254 days to form a habit. So the time it takes to form a habit is different for everyone, and it’s ok to miss a day or two. The key is to be consistent overall and commit to making your goal stick. It’s all mental game.
I’ve decided to meditate for at least ten minutes each day for 60 days to get me started on what will ideally be a lifelong practice. I’m proud to say that I have completed over 60 consecutive days and will continue to meditate each day. These are my reflections.
To guide me through my meditation practice, I use an app called Insight Timer. It has thousands of free guided meditations, a timer with different sounds you can customize, and some free courses. You can sort the meditations by the length of time and also search by keyword, for example, meditations for mornings, sleep, gratitude, etc. It took me a while to get into the habit, but now I meditate when I wake up and before I go to sleep. I like the guided beginner Vipassana meditation.
I lay on my yoga mat in savasana and tried to inhale for four seconds and exhale for six over the span of ten minutes. It was difficult because various thoughts of my day kept on popping into my head. I had to visualize them as balloons filled with helium, acknowledged, and then let them go up into the air. It was hard to breathe deeply through my belly, I found that my chest was restricted and they became shallow breaths instead. Not sure if that is a function of the anxiety I was feeling at the time, or because I haven’t practiced deep belly breathing in a while.
After that, I decided it would be better to create a habit beginning with a trigger. That would be waking up, getting ready for the day, meditating before eating breakfast, and also after getting ready for bed. This made it easier to get into the habit of it, and also helped with reducing my screen time at night.
It has become kind of habitual to meditate in the morning and night, and my mind wandering has decreased although there is still a long way to go. Some days are easier than others, and that is perfectly ok. It is my personal meditation journey and whatever I feel is valid. Something I’m also practicing is being kinder to myself. We are our own worst critics, but we can train ourselves not to be.
One of the guided meditations that I have enjoyed guides the listener through a breathing exercise that is based on counting the breaths – inhale for a count of four, then hold it for a count of seven, then exhale to a count of eight. It was pretty hard for me to hold my breath for a count of seven, so that really kept me focused and in the moment.
Another kind of meditation that helps me focus is mantra meditation, where you inhale, silently say a mantra, exhale and silently say a mantra. This helps keep the mind from wandering.
Some nights I listen to a chant meditation and fall asleep to it.
Meditating every day has made me more aware of my breathing patterns as well as my thoughts. It has taught me to breathe through the difficult moments and live more in the present moment, be absorbed in my current state as opposed to worrying about the future or ruminating about the past. It has taught me to be more kind and patient with myself. This is key for me, as someone who has always been tough on myself. It has reduced my mind wandering and increased my overall sense of well being.
All in all, I’m really glad that I made the effort to incorporate a meditation practice into my daily life and think that it will continue to be part of my life into the foreseeable future. Though it was off to a rough start, getting into the habit of meditation really became a game-changer. I would recommend that anyone and everyone start meditating, I think we could all use a bit more zen in our lives, especially through this weird, challenging time.