I’ve finally found a meditation routine that works for me.
It took years, but at long last, I’ve settled into a place where I feel like I’m making sustainable progress.
I don’t profess to know what will work for you, but I’ve made a few simple changes this year that have helped me to deepen my meditation practice.
I first became interested in meditation four or five years ago. I was intrigued by the idea of mindfulness, and like many people, I would go through spurts of consistent meditation followed by periods of ignoring my practice completely.
There were a few times where I felt like I was making progress. I would succeed in meditating for 10 or 20 minutes several days in a row, mixing in longer sittings here and there, feeling my focus strengthening bit by bit.
And then I would get busy, or my travel schedule would pick up, or I would simply fall-back to procrastination and laziness. I always found that after a few days of putting off meditation, it became harder and harder to get back on the cushion. One day would turn into a week, and before I knew it, months had gone by.
Sticking To A Routine
I was never great at sticking to a routine, and I think that was part of the problem for me.
When I first started meditating, I had a very flexible schedule. I was a freelance marketer working from home, and I also spent a lot of time on the road as a touring musician. When I was lucky enough to be home, I would try to meditate whenever I had a few spare moments throughout the day. Sometimes after breakfast, before sitting down to work. Sometimes after lunch. Sometimes at the end of the day, right before going to sleep.
And then sometimes I would just forget.
Like I said, I wasn’t always the best at sticking to a routine.
Over the past few years, I’ve had a more normal “9-5” work schedule. I thought a regular job would make it easier to stick to a routine, but that wasn’t the case.
Occasionally, I would squeeze in 10 minutes of meditation before leaving for work in the morning. But I’ve never been a morning person. Avoiding the snooze button was always a struggle.
I would try to meditate when I got home from work in the evening too. But after a full day at the office, and sometimes an hour or two at the gym, meditation was usually low on my list of preferred leisure activities.
When it was nice out, I would even try to sit for a few minutes during my lunch break. Easier said than done though. Working in downtown Boston, I could never find a place that felt peaceful enough to focus.
Frustration Sets In
I’m not going to lie, it was frustrating. I knew that I liked something about practicing meditation. During the brief periods where I had kept up consistently, I honestly felt the benefits. I don’t really like saying “benefits”, because that’s honestly not the point. But I could feel something. Like a shifting tide, slowly but surely, I could feel the change from within. I felt just a little more awake. A little more focused. Dare I say even a little happier.
But staying consistent was HARD.
In 2017, Something Clicked
So what did I change? I’ll try to explain in practical, tangible terms:
- I wake up just a little bit earlier. Nothing crazy, but 15-30 minutes makes all the difference. I’m not some zen-master waking up at 4 AM or anything, but I get up just early enough so that I have time to go to the gym before work.
- Instead of sitting down and eating a bowl of cereal for breakfast, I grab a yogurt to eat during my commute. Forcing down a Greek Yogurt while driving 20 minutes into the city is maybe not the most mindful routine, but it shaves an additional 10 or 20 minutes off of my morning, and it makes a huge difference.
- I go to the gym before work instead of after work. Even if I’m tired, even if I stay up late the previous night, I get my ass up and I go. This is probably the single biggest change I’ve made. Again, I only know what works for me, but I’ve found several immediate benefits to exercising in the morning:
- I feel more energetic during the day
- I arrive at work in a good mood, more often than not
- I have more time in the evening to spend with my fiancé
- I feel more flexible and less prone to old man aches and pains
- Which brings me to the whole point of this essay: I set aside at least 10 minutes at the end of my morning workout to meditate.
- At my gym, they have a separate studio area for yoga and Pilates called the “Mind Body Room”. They hold classes in there during the afternoon and evening, but I’ve found that before 9 AM, there is generally nobody in there. I have taken the opportunity to make it my little home away from home.
- It’s spacious, quiet, and peaceful in there, so after I finish my workout, I setup shop. I have a good long stretch, and then I plop down a few blocks on a yoga-mat, and I end my workout with a meditation. I always leave time for at least 10 minutes, but sometimes I’m able to fit in 15, 20 or even 30 minutes.
So that’s it. We’re not talking about anything crazy here. I Wake up a little earlier and eat a yogurt on my way downtown so that I have time to go to the gym before work EVERY morning.
I Set aside time at the end of my workout to meditate, every day. Not just when it’s convenient.
Small Changes Become Habits
I tried to get to the gym before work during 2016, but this year, I’ve made it a routine. The first few days were a struggle, but now it’s become a habit.
And the crazy thing is, I now look forward to my mornings. I’m still terrible at waking up, and I probably will never be a true “morning person”, but knowing that I have my morning routine to look forward to definitely makes it easier to get out of bed. I don’t dread the sound of my alarm anymore.
It just goes to show that sometimes the simplest changes are the most worthwhile. Do a little bit each day, and eventually, those tiny changes become habits. James Altucher, one of my favorite bloggers, even has a name for it: “The 1% Rule”.
Improve a little each day. It compounds. When 1% compounds every day, it doubles every 72 days, not every 100 days. Compounding tiny excellence is what creates big excellence.
So if you’re struggling to keep up a consistent meditation routine, I would suggest giving it a try:
- Wake up just a few minutes earlier
- Shave a few minutes off your morning routine, wherever you can
- Get the blood flowing with some exercise
- Set aside a few minutes to meditate before starting your day
It’s a never-ending journey, but since committing to this routine, I do honestly feel a bit more awake.
I still get lost in my thoughts as much as anyone. And most of the time, my meditations are as full of distraction as ever.
But once and a while, there’s a real moment of clarity. Brief as it might be, you know it when you feel it.
It’s progress, and it feels good.
But this isn’t about making progress. It’s about showing up.
I don’t pretend to know what will work for anyone else.
But the point is, it doesn’t have to be hard.
It doesn’t have to be some grand, dramatic life-change.
You don’t need a sweeping epiphany.
Just find a way to show up.