The benefits of meditation have always fascinated me, and for a long time, I’ve wanted to incorporate regular mindful practices into my daily routine. Call this procrastination on a New Years’ Resolution if you like but I’ve always felt overwhelmed with how to start my meditation journey and I thought the prospect of making this a regular activity a daunting and unachievable task. After some research, I came across James Clear’s ‘Atomic Habits’. He had a particularly fascinating insight into how introducing small increments of change into your routine can positively shape your lifestyle and put you on a trajectory to accomplishing success. I decided to apply his theories to my meditation goal and challenged myself to reach a place where I could meditate every day for 30 minutes.
To put it simply, the principle of his argument is that by making small increments of change and gradually building this up over time you can develop positive habits that will become automatic and eventually help you reach your desired goal. Clear writes, “success is the product of daily habits, not once in a lifetime transformations”. These atomic-level habits will put you on the path of success by “compound growth” and therefore result in behavioural change. “If you can get just 1% better each day, you’ll end up with results that are nearly 37 times better after one year”.
He reminds you to keep your eye on the journey and not focus on when you will see your desired results. It takes time to form a habit and constant improvements and refinements will help you achieve results. I thought this was a particularly interesting theory and something I wanted to apply to my mindfulness aim.
The simplified steps to Atomic Habits include:
- Cue: Make it obvious. Start by being aware of your habits and be specific about what you want to achieve and how you will achieve it.
- Craving: A craving is a link to internal desire. Make it attractive and as pleasant as possible.
- Response: Make the response as easy as you can. Alter your environment to make achieving these habits easier.
- Reward: Make the habit satisfying and worth remembering and repeating. Use a habit tracker to provide you with evidence of your progress.
I started by incorporating 5 mins of mindfulness practice into my morning just after I woke up. I did this every day of the week and found this fairly easy to stay consistent with because it was a relatively small change to my morning routine and didn’t intrude too much into my day. I found that incorporating time for mindfulness was a great way to ease myself into the working day and give my brain time to wake up.
I started using YouTube videos to get myself into meditation; however, the process of scrolling through numerous videos to find one that I liked was not something that helped my process, instead, it led me to further procrastinate. I then started Headspace and found that their array of videos and flexible session durations really helpful in keeping me consistent with my new morning routine. Having this regularity kept me on track to fulfil my goal.
Clear highlights that whilst you can introduce healthy habits into your routine “habits are a double-edged sword”. Unproductive habits can hinder your success and put you behind in your path to reach your desired goal. For me, this hindrance was going on my phone in the morning. I noticed the mornings where I spent a considerable time on social media had a counterproductive effect on my productivity, motivation and on some mornings it also negatively affected my mood. Yet, I have always struggled to break this habit. Again, I looked to ‘Atomic Habits’ for a solution. Clear states that to get rid of bad habits you “make the cues of your good habits obvious and the cues of your bad habits invisible”. I did this by plugging my phone into a socket on the other side of the room so that when my alarm sounded I would have to get out of bed to turn it off. I then had my meditation app open so when I unlocked my phone it was the first thing I saw. By increasing the exposure to positive habits such as morning meditation I felt less inclined to spend the start of my day endlessly scrolling through Instagram. I needed to make the positive habit more convenient and attractive to my sleepy morning self, and therefore, I would be more likely to do it.
“Redesign your life so the actions that matter most are also the actions that are easiest to do.”
After completing a week of this schedule, I tried to increase my meditation time to 10 minutes each morning, then 15 minutes the next week, then 20 and eventually reaching a target of 30 minutes of meditation every morning after five weeks. I used Clear’s technique of habit tracking to ensure that I would stay consistent and wrote a log twice a week of my progress. I recorded how difficult or easy morning meditation was that week and any benefits I was noticing. Naturally, after I started to increase this time, I felt more reluctant to get up and meditate, especially as it meant setting my alarm earlier so it wouldn’t impact my schedule. I found these mornings particularly difficult to focus on my breathing and to keep my mind from straying onto my increasingly long to-do list or planning what I was going to cook for dinner. Clear notes that in developing a habit you reach a moment where you may feel like giving up. He refers to this as the “Plateau of Latent Potential”. You find yourself at a stage where you are still committing to your goal; however, you may see little rewards for your work.
This is the most essential stage to push through what he labels the “The Valley of Disappointment” in order to reach the results you are trying to achieve. You need to maintain that structure even if you feel like giving up. Clear notes that “the first mistake is never the one that ruins you. It is the spiral of repeated mistakes that follows”. Even though I was tempted on many occasions to hit the snooze button I refrained and would always feel better about myself if I went to the effort of practising mindfulness first thing. I realised I wasn’t just doing meditation for the sake of it, I started to enjoy this period in my schedule of feeling grounded before the business of the day began.
I still have further to go before I can say everyday meditation feels like a positive habit and ingrained into my lifestyle; however, I am getting closer to that goal and have already noticed the benefits of meditation. Clear’s theory on making lifestyle changes and building healthy habits was insightful and helped me with this process. The act of meditating was made more appealing to me by adjusting my morning routine in small increments, concealing negative habits that would inhibit my meditation, logging my process and constantly reminding myself why I wanted to try meditation and the results I was hoping I’d see.
After just 5 weeks of meditating every day, I have noticed that starting my day productively has led me to maintain a positive attitude throughout the day and has increased my concentration levels on daily tasks. I also found it easier to transition into the working day by gently waking up my brain.
I still have further to go and must remain consistent with this process; however, ‘Atomic Habits’ has helped me to focus on the trajectory and stay on track with my meditation. I would recommend reading Clear’s theories and trying them out for yourself. Meditation has also been especially beneficial to my wellbeing and something worth trying even if you start off small with 5-minute sessions. Remember to stay consistent, focus on the journey instead of the result and each day you will get closer to your target.