Why it’s difficult to make meditation a habit

Why it’s difficult to make meditation a habit

By Steve Savels.

You are convinced that meditating regularly would be good for you. Maybe you have practised it before and felt the positive effects it had on you. You are prepared: you have downloaded an app, bought a book with a CD, or sought out some websites with guided meditations.

You really want to meditate but then - you don't. Or at least not as often as you'd like to.

Sounds familiar? The same is true for many people who struggle with keeping up a regular meditation practice, even though they know the benefits. I also struggled with making a habit of meditating after my first mindfulness course. I had clearly felt the benefits but somehow daily life just took over again and I didn't really meditate for many months, although I sometimes thought about it.

At first sight, there are the obvious obstacles, such as a lack of time. But when you look a bit closer, this is often not the real reason. Almost nobody is that busy that they cannot carve out a few minutes for meditation. On the contrary, most people daily "kill time" for several hours by reading the news, watching TV or just endlessly scrolling on Facebook.

So what are the underlying reasons for not staying on track?

Willpower

It might sound strange, but the problem could be that you want to meditate. Very often, wanting to do something means that you are using willpower. The "want" then really is a "should". Very subtly you convinced yourself that something is good for you, even though you don't like it all that much. For many people, going to the gym, or eating salads instead of burgers is something they do purely on willpower. You do it because you think you should.

For some people, willpower can get them very far. But for most it runs out fast - often as soon as something more interesting or exciting comes along. Meditating for half an hour, or watching an extra episode of your favourite Netflix series? Hm...

What can happen next is that you feel guilty for not having chosen "what's good for you". You get into a vicious cycle of willpower and guilt; you are thrown back and forth between thoughts like "I should really do this", and "Why don't I ever succeed in doing what's good for me?". The result is often that you just get more and more stuck.

Perhaps you can investigate for yourself: what are my real reasons why I want to meditate? Is there some element of "should" in it? How can I replace this with something kinder?

A kinder approach

An alternative to using willpower is to see it as a gift to yourself. Something that you offer to yourself, with no strings attached, only because you feel you deserve it.

The verb here is "may" instead of "should" or "want". Seeing it like this can also free you from guilt if you skip it. Because it's no longer a subtle obligation.

As the Flemish mindfulness pioneer Edel Maex says, most of us are already hard workers - and that's why we experience so much stress. It's easy to start seeing meditation as another "to do", and you do your best to get it done. But actually, practising mindfulness doesn't have to be hard work at all, on the contrary. It's an occasion where we can learn how not to work hard.

Perhaps you can see it as a mini-holiday, a moment where you can let go of all the hard work and just "be", without having to "do" anything at all.

This is a much friendlier way of treating yourself, and it's also what has kept me meditating almost daily for many years already.