Why your New Year’s meditation resolutions fail, and how to make them stick
At this time of year you may well be making a New Year’s resolution to meditate every day.
I used to make resolutions too! Usually these attempts were rather feeble, and sometimes I wouldn’t even be half-way through January before I’d realize I’d already missed a couple of days of meditation. In fact days might have gone by and I hadn’t even thought of meditating.
This kind of thing sets up a sense of failure, which undermines our self-confidence and makes us more likely to fail at other things as well.
The main problem I had was that these resolutions weren’t resolutions at all. That is, they weren’t things I was resolved on; they weren’t courses of action I had “firmly decided” to do. I’d just had the idea that I wanted to do these things, but I hadn’t created a plan and I wasn’t doing the things that were necessary for my resolutions to turn into reality.
So we need to do the right things and set up the right conditions if we’re going to change.
A resolution is fine as it goes. It’s just that it doesn’t go very far! Here’s the kind of thing you’ll need to do if you want to go all the way.
- Pick a goal, and make it a reasonable one. Start small. If you’re going to meditate daily, it’s better to aim for five minute a day and succeed, rather than go for 40 minutes and fail. You can always increase the time once you have your new habit established.
- Be specific. Think about where, when, and how you’re going to meditate. Are you going to meditate at home? In the morning or at night? With or without a guided meditation? Plan it.
- Think of what might have to change. You may have time in the morning to meditate, but you spend that time on social media. So maybe you need to turn your phone off at night so that you’re less likely to check Facebook first thing in the morning. Or maybe you need to set a firm time for stopping your TV watching at night and sit before bed — or meditate before you start watching TV in the first place.
- What are you going to do if something crops up and thwarts your plan? What if you sleep in? When will you meditate then? Planning for contingencies doubles your chance of success.
- How are you going to remind yourself of your goal? A resolution you don’t remember isn’t going to have any effect on your life, except to make you feel guilty once you do (eventually) remember it. Notes and alarms can help. So will having a regular place to meditate, where you keep your meditation cushion, and perhaps candles and incense as well.
- Track your progress. Something as simple as a calendar that you put X’s in on days you’ve meditated can be a great visual support.
- Don’t be a perfectionist. If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly. Giving up because you’ve missed a day or meditation is a waste of all the successful effort you’ve put in to your habit. If you fall of the horse, get straight back on! Meditating daily isn’t about trying to impress anyone. It’s about developing a habit that’ll help you be happier and healthier.
- Work with others. You can have a meditation buddy, or join a meditation challenge and become part of a whole community of people working at setting up the habit of daily meditation. Our Change Your Mind course is great if you’re new to meditation and our Get Your Sit Together course will be helpful if you already know how to meditate but are having trouble doing it regularly.
- Celebrate! We tend to focus more on our perceived failures (“I only meditated for five minutes today”) than on our successes (“I meditated today! Good for me!”) I strongly suggest that people allow themselves to feel celebratory before, during, and after every meditation. Become your own cheerleader!
There’s a lot more to establishing a positive habit than just saying you’re going to do it. What you need is to spend some time (and it needn’t take long) making a plan, and setting up supportive conditions.
If you’d like help with setting up a regular meditation practice, we’re here for you! As well as our introduction to meditation course (Change Your Mind) and our course on setting up a rock-solid daily habit (Get Your Sit Together), we have a year-round program of meditation events that will help you sustain and deepen your practice. Do feel free to join us on January 1 for the first of our Year of Conscious Living events!