Let's say you suffer from anxiety. You want to focus more. You want to pay more attention in your relationships. You have trouble sleeping. You just want to improve your well-being.
You heard about this new trend called "mindfulness." You learn it's all about focus on the present moment. That it's all about just noticing what is, and letting go of judgments.
You learn that mindfulness will get you closer to the things you want, like feeling less stressed, more connected, and more grateful.
You try mindfulness.
You practice it once or twice, but never again. Maybe you practice for a while, but then just sort of fall off. Either way, it doesn't stick.
You know that regular practice is the best way to reach your goals. But it's just so hard to stick to something. You're really busy. You have a lot of competing priorities.
I get it, I've been there.
Up until a few years ago, I was a complete mindfulness non-believer. I was "too busy," I didn't think it would help me, and I didn't always identify with the super "zen" people teaching and preaching mindfulness practice.
But after a week of dedicated practice, I noticed a difference.
I was less anxious. I had more clarity. I slept better. I found it easier to switch from task to task. I could focus more on conversations with my husband. I felt better about myself and my accomplishments.
If these benefits are things that you want, but you're having a hard time sticking to a mindfulness practice, check out these tips for supercharging your routine and making mindfulness a regular habit.
Did you ever start a habit overnight? Yeah, me neither.
This is not January at the gym. Let's build a practice that is sustainable.
We can do that by starting small with something that is totally doable.
Start by practicing mindfulness for just one minute. One minute! You can do anything for one minute.
You also don't have to start with any complicated mindfulness practices. Start by just noticing your breath.
Tune in to the rise and fall of your belly. Notice the cool air enter your nose and exit your mouth. And when you get distracted, notice that too, and pull your attention back to your breath.
Practicing a little bit of mindfulness (just one minute!) at regular intervals will set the groundwork for your habit.
Pair mindfulness with something you do everyday.
Remember, mindfulness does not need to be formal sitting practice, meaning you don't need to sit and meditate to be mindful. Mindfulness is all about paying attention to the present moment.
As long as we are paying attention, we can do anything mindfully.
You can pair mindfulness with things like brushing your teeth, eating a meal, doing the dishes, or taking your dog for a walk.
Pairing mindfulness with someone you already do daily is a surefire way to cue your brain to practice.
The more you pair mindfulness with that activity, the more the activity will remind you to be mindful.
Set a space
Set aside a safe, inviting, and soothing place to practice mindfulness.
Dedicate a space of pillows on your floor with some essential oils and a blanket nearby. Sit on a chair on your front porch. Go stand in your backyard. You can be mindful anywhere!
Setting aside a specific place for mindfulness helps indicate to your brain that it's time to be present when you move into that space.
It can represent an essential shift from chaos to tranquility.
Pick an optimal time
Regularity is your friend when you're building a habit. Pick a time that is going to be your regular, dedicated mindfulness practice time.
But also, pick a time that is optimal for you.
So many articles recommend that you practice mindfulness first thing in the morning. In my house, mornings are chaos. I am not a morning person. So mindfulness in the morning is not for me.
So pick a time that is going to work best for you.
Pick a time that matches your biology. If you feel stressed in the early afternoon, regularly set aside 2-5 minutes at 3pm and take a breath. If you love waking up at 5am and taking a relaxing coffee break, set a 1-minute mindfulness timer. If you want to use mindfulness to unwind after work, take a deep breath after parking your car in the garage after work.
Make your mindfulness practice work for you. Pick a time that gives you the best chance of success.
Have a mindfulness buddy
Habits are rarely created in a vacuum. We need to set up circumstances in our lives to create those habits. This includes a support system.
Tell a friend about your new goal. Even better, find a friend who will practice mindfulness with you. Maybe you practice with your spouse or kids or parents or siblings. Maybe you set up a mindfulness zoom call with your colleagues to practice together (that's what I did!).
Encourage each other. Help each other start when its hard to. Cheer-lead each other after practicing. This helps foster connection, a shared experience, and moves you closer to your goals.
Find the people who will help you stick to something that makes your life better.
Avoid the all-or-nothing trap
When people try to change behaviors, most fall into the all-or-nothing trap.
Let's say our goal is going to the gym 3 days a week. One day, we miss a day. We fall into the all-or-nothing trap and tell ourselves, "Oh well, this week is already ruined so I'll just start again next week." We miss those last two workouts because we tell ourselves a story. We have every intention of going back to the gym, but we never do.
Instead, adopt a something-is-better-than-nothing mindset. In this mindset, every little bit counts. In this mindset, we celebrate any small step that gets us closer to our goal.
Practicing mindfulness for 30 seconds is better than postponing it until tomorrow.
Practice a little. You'll find you get a lot.
Give yourself credit
Behavior change is really hard. That's why I spent seven years in school learning how to do it. Behavior change is really hard.
The mindfulness journey is not linear. It looks more like the top of this mountain.
We start, stop, start again. Stick with it for a while, fizzle out, pick it back up again.
That means that we need to give ourselves credit when we practice.
Set up a reward. The reward could be as small as checking mindfulness off your to-do list. It could be getting a kudos from your mindfulness buddy. It could be putting a gold star sticker on your calendar every time you practice mindfulness. Do whatever makes you feel good!
Working to better yourself is a hard job. And as long as you're doing something toward that goal, you're doing great.
Link mindfulness to your goals - short and long-term
Humans have a really hard-time changing behavior solely because of long-term benefits. That's why it's so hard to quit smoking or drinking. We know that these behaviors cause long-term damage, but when the outcome is so far away, it's really hard to get motivated today.
Link your mindfulness practice to your goals in the short-term.
What does mindfulness give you that you need right now? For me, it's a pause in the workflow chaos. It's a deep breath to loosen the knot in my stomach. It's me completely immersing myself in a conversation with my husband. Mindfulness helps me do these things right now.
But don't neglect the long-term either.
I want to add writing to my professional repertoire. Which means that on top of my full-time job, I am writing articles in my head in the evening after work. This means I need to be able to quickly shift between thinking about my next article and talking with my spouse. I need mindfulness for that.
It helps me increase the quality of my life right now, and helps me reach that long-term outcome I've been dreaming of.
What dream do you have that mindfulness can help you reach right now? If you stick with mindfulness, what will your life look like in 5 years? In 10 years? How can mindfulness help you grab what you want?
Putting it all together
Just like any habit, a daily mindfulness routine doesn’t develop overnight. It takes small steps that create momentum into bigger steps. It takes a desire to move toward skills that make your life better.
Only you can design your unique mindfulness practice routine. Make it work for you.
Meet yourself where you are. Start small. Reward yourself when it’s hard to keep going. And remember why you’re practicing.
Mindfulness is not about arriving at the destination. It’s about the process of getting there. It’s about moving towards something. And that something can be a more fulfilling, more present life.
Bridge that gap between what you want, and what you have.
And go get it.