6 Reasons Why Your Meditation Habit Hasn’t Stuck (and What to do About it)

When’s the last time you broke a commitment to a close friend?

I’d guess that it’s been a while.

It’s easy to maintain commitments to others, because breaking them has clear negative consequences.

But when’s the last time you broke a commitment to yourself? If you’re like most people, it hasn’t been long. Intentions precede inaction on a daily basis.

I’m going to go to the gym…

I’m going to meditate before work…

I’m going to take time to call a friend…

It’s easy to drop the ball on all of these commitments.

Abandoning a commitment to yourself doesn’t feel as bad as letting a friend down. The damage isn’t done to a visible relationship. But your self-respect still accrues damage.

Your commitments to yourself are no less important than the commitments you make to others. Treat yourself with the respect you deserve by honoring your personal commitments!

If you’d like to meditate regularly, but haven’t stuck with it, what’s holding you back? The rest of this article addresses a range of common challenges, and strategies to help you conquer them and build your meditation habit.

(Before we get into it, a quick reminder: The Headspace Meditation App Giveaway ends tomorrow! Click here for more details and to enter to win one of two free 1-year subscriptions to Headspace.)

6 Reasons Why Your Meditation Habit Hasn’t Stuck

1. It’s not a Priority

You should spend your time on things that are a priority for you! If the benefits of meditation don’t feel relevant or important to you, I can’t invalidate your priorities.

But if you’re reading this blog, chances are you have interest in mindfulness and meditation! 🙂 Keep reading and hopefully we’ll identify your challenge.

(Want a refresher on meditation and it’s benefits? Read: Meditation Explained in Plain English.)

2. You say Meditation is a Priority, but you Haven’t Committed to it

It’s easy to tell yourself something is important. But committing to a new habit involves more than deciding. It involves a shift in your personal identity.

This means moving from “I’m someone who doesn’t meditate often” to “I’m someone who meditates daily because I know it supports my well being.”

How to get past this:

  • Commit to yourself by writing your goal down. One Dominican University study demonstrated the value of written goals. Participants who wrote their goals down achieved greater success than those who didn’t!
  • Get an accountability buddy. In the same Dominican University study, participants who sent weekly progress updates to a friend improved their success rates. To implement this in your own habit formation, find a friend or colleague to be your buddy. (Bonus points if they share your goal to start meditating.) Agree on a check-in cadence, and keep each other accountable!
  • Put some skin in the game. Use a service like Stickk to set consequences for breaking your personal commitments. Or, invest money into your habit by getting a coach, or paying for a subscription to a meditation app. When I was starting out, I committed with my money by paying for Headspace. I did this to establish the importance of regular meditation in my life. It was a smart use of money, because I was investing in my own health and wellbeing.

3. You Haven’t Found the Right Practice

You should enjoy your meditation practice. That doesn’t mean you won’t face resistance when trying to meditate regularly. But it does mean that you should find a practice that works for you!

There are many ways to build your practice. If you’re feeling stuck, try a new approach.

  • Apps like Headspace (iOS / Android), Insight Timer (iOS / Android), Calm (iOS / Android), and Stop, Breathe, Think (iOS / Android) all take a different approach with their meditation style, narration, app design, and more. If you’d like to use an app, but don’t enjoy your current default, try changing it up for a week and see how it goes.
  • Free online guided meditations are available from a variety of expert sources. Tara BrachUCSD’s Center for Mindfulness, and UCLA’s Mindfulness Awareness Research Center are all great options. If you don’t mind doing a little more work to navigate through different pages of meditations, this is the thriftiest way to get started.
  • Retreats offer an in-depth multi-day experience to teach best-practices, and connect you with the benefits of meditation. A typical retreat will last anywhere from 1-10 days. You’ll spend most of your time meditating, and listening/learning from an expert leader. You’ll have short meetings with the leader to ask questions and receive guidance. Some retreats cost money, while others operate on a donation basis. Search for “meditation retreats in my area” to get started.
  • In-person group meditations give you access to an experienced teacher and a community of other meditators. Search “group meditations near me” to find a convenient location.

4. You Forget to Meditate

This happened to me all the time when I was getting started. I’d intend to meditate in the morning before work, but it wasn’t a habit yet, so I’d forget about it.

A couple ways to approach this:

  • Sidecar meditation onto an existing habit. Make a new rule for yourself: every time you do an existing habit (brush your teeth, make tea, etc.) take time to meditate! Habit expert James Clear refers to this as “Habit Stacking”.
    The basic framework you can write down: “After/Before [CURRENT HABIT], I will meditate for [x] minutes.”
  • Block time in your work calendar. Meditating will help you do better work by staying calm, present, and focused. If your work days are busy, it will never “feel like the right time” to take a break to meditate. But in the context of an entire day, 10-20 minutes is always doable. Schedule it in your calendar, and hold that commitment to yourself. (I like meditating right after lunch to clear my head before re-engaging with my work.)
  • Create a visual reminder on your desk/computer/phone. It could be as simple as a post-it that says “Breathe.” When you notice the reminder, take a few minutes for a mindful meditation break. Or, download these free minimalist wallpapers for your phone. Every time you get the urge to check your phone, use it as a reminder to stay present. 🙂
  • Create a large checklist and post it where you will see it (e.g. on your refrigerator, by the light-switch in your bedroom, by the front door). Every time you complete your meditation, put a big checkmark on the day. The chart serves as a reminder to meditate, and the visual feedback encourages you keep your streak alive.

5. You’re Lying to Yourself

Don’t fool yourself with language like “I don’t have time for that.”

Everyone in the world has the same amount of time. 24 hours every day to do with what you choose to do!

Either meditation is not a priority for you, or you haven’t prioritized it in your life because it’s difficult.

This isn’t meant to make you feel guilty. It’s in service of you seeing your decisions and behavior clearly to make positive life changes.

6. Life is Good!

It’s true that many people get started with meditation when battling personal challenges. Difficult external forces provide motivation to make positive changes in your life.

But that doesn’t mean meditation should be viewed as a reactive treatment. (e.g. “I’m anxious and stressed so I should meditate.”)

In reality, meditation is most effective as a proactive practice. (e.g. “I meditate daily to cultivate presence and peace.”)

Like all healthy habits, consistency matters most. Elite athletes don’t eat healthy foods and workout once they’ve become fat. They eat healthy foods and exercise daily.

The same applies to meditation.

Train when the seas of life are calm, so you can navigate the storms when they arise. (Because we all face unexpected “storms” in life.)

Get Your Meditation Practice off the Ground

Meditation has clear benefits to your physical and mental health. And it’s poised to be the next big public health revolution.

Alongside exercise and healthy eating, it’s one of my non-negotiable life habits to be my best self.

Yet despite meditation’s many benefits, most people still struggle to build a consistent practice. (Even when they believe it to be important.)

Treat your personal commitments as seriously as you treat your commitments to your others. And use the above strategies to build your habit.

I look forward to hearing of your success!

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(Header photo by David Ramos)