I used to be like you. I knew meditation could help reduce stress, curb anxiety, and help me sleep. But I never sat down and actually did it. Now that I’ve followed my breath every day for 734 days in a row, meditation has become a huge part of my life. And it has such obvious, noticeable benefits that I can't imagine my life without it.
I began meditating because Headspace, the app I use (and for whom I occasionally write meditation articles, full disclosure), hooked me in. It seemed like a game: I didn’t want to lose my streak of meditating nine or 10 days in a row. While the game-ification of working out might be garbage, it turned meditation into something that taught me skills as I achieved higher levels of meditation (it didn't hurt that, after each session, I felt fantastic). Headspace isn't the only option, either: Apps like Calm and ABC newsman Dan Harris’ 10% Happier are great, too.
When I told my friends I was getting into meditating, I was teased. Was I going to become a zen master, start wearing beads, and put my hair in a man bun? (Answers: Probably not, nope, and I’m balding.) I’d explain — calmly, because I'm so chill now — that I was just sitting down and closing my eyes for 10 minutes a day. Almost every time, the friend admitted that a 10-minute shutdown would probably help them, too.
Yes, meditation has helped me become a calmer person. But it also had unexpected benefits. I don't take my thoughts as emotions as seriously anymore. And, maybe most usefully, I'm better at focusing on the present. The form of meditation I practice most often requires that I pay attention to my breath. Sure, I get lost in thought and drift off. But I got better at realizing that when I had a thought, I could acknowledge it and go back to breathing. Now, instead of getting lost in unhelpful thoughts, I’m focused on the task at hand. This makes me more productive and more appreciative of what’s actually happening around me, rather than worrying about the future or dwelling on the past.
But it took some extra effort to turn meditation into a consistent practice and not just something I do when I’m stressed. After all, studies have shown clear benefits to the brain. Here are the tricks that worked for me:
- Meditate first thing in the morning. Even if I have to wake up for a business trip at a time when people are coming home from the bars, I wake up 10 minutes earlier than I need to in order to meditate. It sets the tone for my day in a positive way.
- Put out a physical reminder. When I get out of bed, the first thing I do is go to the bathroom, brush my teeth, and pull out my meditation pillow. You don’t have to buy a pillow specifically for meditating, it can be any pillow. Just have some sort of reminder in your house that says, “This item looks out of place, and it’s because I haven’t meditated today.” That way if you don’t find time to do it in the morning, it’ll remind you to do it when you get home.
- Let my phone annoy me. I set up an alarm to remind me to do it in the afternoon (if I skip it in the morning), and I let my meditation app send me five notifications a day.
I’ll tell you a secret. After a few months, I stopped needing those reminders. I meditate because it’s a part of my day, like brushing my teeth. I never forget to brush my teeth, so why would I forget to meditate? And since I’m guessing you brush your teeth every day, I bet you can take the time to do this, too.