Believe it or not, mindfulness meditation is failure practice! We bring our attention to an anchor of breath, the body, sensations or other mental formations. And then we get distracted. Over and over. The secret is returning our focus to the anchor as many times as we are distracted. The same is true in life. As we work to build and break habits, we will inevitably miss a day. How we respond to this situation is what helps us hardwire new habits by getting back on track.
This fall, Center For Self-Care and Your Mindful Coach are offering The Well-Worn Path: Meditation and Mindfulness for Positive Habit Change, at the Tredyffrin Library on select Tuesdays. Through deep exploration and intentional practice, we can let go of habits we know longer need and cultivate new, supportive habits. You can enjoy a full recording of the second workshop below as well as the guided meditations on iTunes and Soundcloud. Finally, here is a short video outlining the well-worn path we all travel.
We began our second session with two simple guided meditations. The first brought us to the present moment by moving our awareness from the process of thought to actual sensation, feeling into our body and experiencing our emotions. The second invited us to to bring to mind a habit, problem or situation that has been a challenge for us.
We imagine ourselves experiencing this challenge through bodily sensations, emotions and thoughts. Then, we ask the following questions:
What am I doing?
Is it right?
What will I do next?
These questions aren’t meant to be moral judgment but instead to create a mindful pause that invites our natural wisdom, intuition and compassion to our decision-making process. Instead of reacting out of habit, we respond thoughtfully.
By Danna Faulds
It only takes a reminder to breathe,
a moment to be still, and just like that,
something in me settles, softens, makes
space for imperfection. The harsh voice
of judgment drops to a whisper and I
remember again that life isn’t a relay
race; that we will all cross the finish
line; that waking up to life is what we
were born for. As many times as I
forget, catch myself charging forward
without even knowing where I’m going,
that many times I can make the choice
to stop, to breathe, and be, and walk
slowly into the mystery.
As humans, we rely on willpower as our primary self-control strategy. But there are days when our willpower and motivation don’t quite match our goals and expectations for ourselves. And that is normal. James Clear offers the following chart to show how our motivation ebbs and flows. Some days it is easy for me to lace up my running shoes and get moving. Other times, this expectation weighs on me throughout the day until I find myself lying in bed and criticizing myself for my laziness.
Two conclusions can be drawn from this. First, as we seek to develop habits, it is important to start small, to start easy. That way, even a minimal level of motivation may be enough to complete a habit. Think about the concept of “Minimum Effective Dose.” In medicine, this refers to the smallest amount of meditation that will still have a desired effect. Too often, we aim our sights impossibly high. An example in meditation could be to pledge to meditate for three minutes each day. Its easy to argue that one can’t find twenty minutes a day to meditate, but three minutes is available to us when we are waiting for the coffee to brew, the gas tank to fill or the bus to arrive. The second conclusion is that we will need other tools and people to sustain us when our motivation is low. This could include situation selection and modification (packing lunch instead of eating out) or reframing (exploring why we engage in a habit instead of how we should). But even more critically, having reminders and accountability partners makes our efforts more likely to be successful.
One of the best ways to build a habit is to connect it with something we already do. I find that placing items on top of my electric toothbrush (notes, running shoes, medicine, dustrag, etc.) reminds me to do something that I might otherwise have forgotten. Sure, we can use our phone to set reminders but I find that after a while, I just ignore them all. Try out the Movie of Your Day meditation and then check out this resource guide inspired by James Clear to record possibilities for connecting your habit to something you already do.
Jonathan Foust offers two engaging ways to build a habit. One is the “Seinfeld Method,” simply identify one thing you’d like to do each day and one thing you’d like to restrain yourself from. Using a calendar, simply give yourself a check for each day you succeed in your efforts. You can download his resource here to build your own calendar to monitor your progress and perhaps recruit an accountability partner.
As we closed our time together, participants were encouraged to build an action plan with a partner to build and break a specific habit. Contact information was exchanged and resources including an email support group were shared. In future groups, we’ll explore self-compassion as well as dig deeper into the “Habit Loop,” which can be harnessed to meet our goals.
Visit www.center4selfcare.com to see what events we have coming up.