Illustration of man meditating and floating

Making New Year Habits Stick

As the year comes to a close, it’s time to start taking stock, so what will you want to change? Reducing stress is a popular goal and meditation techniques have been proven to work, but how do you make your habit stick as the year develops? You’ve come to the right place! In this post I run through my top 6 habit forming tips to give your New Year’s resolution the best possible chance for success.

Tip One: Start Small

If you’re new to meditation, it’s better to start with 5-10 minutes every day and feel like you want to do more, than to feel like the 30 minutes you’ve set is a drag from the start. Review your progress after a week or two and see if you want to increase the time. Alternatively, stick with the short session and try adding another one later in the day.

Tip Two: Make It Work For You

To keep it going, your meditation habit has to fit in with your lifestyle. Try making a list of your current daily commitments and habits. When would a short meditation slot best fit in? Many people find first thing in the morning gets most obvious results, plus if you miss the session you still have time to catch-up later.

Tip Three: Piggy Back Another Habit

To get your meditation routine sticking more quickly, pick an existing habit to attach it to. For example as soon as your morning alarm goes off and you step out of bed head straight for your meditation chair or cushion. If you can meditate in the same place, you’ll improve your chances even more, so set-up a comfortable, inviting space in advance.

Tip Four: Take It Day By Day

Rather than trying to set-up a goal of meditating for x number of days, simply promise yourself you’ll do your practice every day. You might find your subconscious treats it more seriously if you write the commitment down. Use a tracker to gamify your progress and if you’re really serious tell a friend for added impetus.

Tip Five: Only Miss A Day

Evidence suggest that missing a day here and there won’t make much difference to forming your new meditation habit. However, miss two days in a row and you’ll seriously impact your chances of success. Don’t be hard on yourself if you slip up, but do try to get back into the saddle as quickly as possible.

Tip Six: Add Rewards

Our brains are wired to repeat activities which we find pleasurable. Make your meditation practice something to look forward to by rewarding the behavior. Perhaps follow it with a favourite breakfast or take a walk with the dog. Just make sure the reward isn’t something too unhealthy!

Keep In Mind…

It’s a common misconception that a new habit takes 21 days to form. Dr Phillippa Lally and her team at Kings College, London studied 96 volunteers and found most developed their new behavior between 66-100 days, regardless of the activity. Make the process as easy as possible to set foundations that make it feel weird not to meditate, then build more ambitious plans once the process has become automatic.


Further Reading

For those who’d like to look more deeply into how habits are formed, I’d recommend Tiny Habits by James Clear. It’s easy to follow, offers up the latest research and includes great advice with useful worksheets.

Need Some Help?

If you’re serious about getting started, but feel like you need some help, consider taking my practical Zen course – it’s designed with one goal in mind: to form a meditation habit. Find out more here

Gift Yourself Loving Kindness on Valentine’s Day

Chocolates, flowers, cards…do we really need these things to feel loved? Don’t get me wrong, it feels great knowing you’re loved, but do we feel any better after blooms have wilted or we’ve put on weight? How about deepening a connection with everyone instead?

Consider the words of the Dalai Lama, who’s spent most of his life pondering this stuff:“No material object, however beautiful or valuable, can make us feel loved, because our deeper identity and true character lie in the subjective nature of the mind” (Link)

If love isn’t material what is it? And why does it matter? Let’s start with why it matters. According to the Dalai Lama, love is crucial because it under-pins the meaning of life:

“I believe that the purpose of life is to be happy…From my own limited experience I have found that the greatest degree of inner tranquillity comes from the development of love and compassion”

Pretty fundamental then, so if real love isn’t based on wanting or needing something from someone else, how do we define love? Renowned Zen Buddhist master and author of ‘True Love’, Thich Nhat Hanh says this of love:

“Love is the capacity to take care, to protect, to nourish. If you are not capable of generating that kind of energy toward yourself – if you are not capable of taking care of yourself, of nourishing yourself, of protecting yourself – it is very difficult to take care of another person. “

In Buddhism the word love is linked to the Pali word metta, which is commonly translated as ‘loving kindness’. As Thich Nhat Hanh notes, you cannot love others until you love yourself, which raises another question; what does it mean to love yourself?

One of the first scientists to put the concept under a microscope was Kristin Neff, a psychology professor at the University of Texas. Kristin has created a self-compassion test and describes the notion as follows:

“Self-compassion involves acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself…Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings”

The obvious question then is how do we develop this self-compassion? Returning to Thich Nhat Hanh:

“In the Buddhist teaching, it’s clear that to love oneself is the foundation of the love of other people. Love is a practice. Love is truly a practice”

What he’s saying is that self-compassion can be developed through the practice of meditation and mindfulness. Most forms of meditation will help develop a perspective of yourself that is non-judgemental, kind, and understanding. All the attributes Kristin notes as important.

In Zen we give up on things that aren’t and develop a true sense of ourselves, beyond our own thoughts. We develop mindfulness and practise awareness and acceptance. But it doesn’t matter how much your read or talk about the theory, you have to do it. You have to meditate.

Practising self-acceptance can be as simple as sitting down each day and using your breath as an anchor for awareness. Just go easy on yourself, acknowledge what arises and let it go. Or you could try some dedicated metta meditation, imagining the compassion you might have for a wounded and helpless pet, extending that compassion to yourself and gradually giving it to friends, acquaintances and finally ‘enemies’.

Psychology researcher Cendri Hutcherson found that just seven minutes of metta or ‘loving-kindness’ meditation boosts a person’s own good feelings and sense of social connection. Other research has shown how regular meditation increases empathy and compassion for others.

If you do gift yourself loving meditation this Valentine’s day not only will you feel more kindness to yourself and better connected to others, you’ll also develop a positive perspective in a world obsessed with negatives. Wouldn’t that be a happier Valentine’s Day?

To take meditation further enroll in my 8-week practical Zen course. It’s online and live and priced at £90. All materials are provided and you’ll get as much of my time as you need.
Email me for more details…

Resistance Is Futile!

This morning I discovered ‘Uphill Rolling’. Out on my mountain bike with the dog I was working on my Koan when all effort suddenly left my body and I was rolling up the hill. Free of tension, my performance increased. I was in the zone.

Koans are just questions asked over and over. At first the mind chucks up loads of answers, but eventually it gives up and you start feeling a response. My question is ‘Who Am I?’ You ask it continually until non-separation with everyone and everything is reached. Then you keep asking some more to stay in the moment.

Out in Quarry Wood I had a feeling of connection with trees, birds, nettles and crap on the ground. At Claire Hill I started flowing with and over the ground;  like the ground and I were moving together. The secret here is tension only exists between separate things resisting each other. When everything is one, or if you prefer when you’re in the zone, there’s no tension and you’re free to perform.

Don’t believe me? Then check out Bruce Lee in an old TV series…