Why your New Year’s meditation resolution to meditate fails, and how to make it stick

4 Comments

Black woman with short hair kneeling in meditation, with her hands in the anjali mudra

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 an easy goal. Start small. If you’re going to meditate daily, it’s better to aim for five minutes 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.
  • Plan for problems. 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.
  • Create reminders. It’s easy to forget your intention, so 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.
  • Accept when you slip up. 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. Community and friendship are powerful spiritual tools. 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.
  • 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! We have a year-round program of meditation events that will help you sustain and deepen your practice, as well as a community of meditators who can offer you support and encouragement. Do feel free to join us in Wildmind’s meditation community.

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4 Comments. Leave new

  • That’s a great post with a good action plan. If one follows every single advice, a failed new years resolution is impossible =)

    Namaste

    Reply
  • I always post this when you do an article about establishing a successful meditation practice but it’s so important that repetition is justified.

    I hit the jackpot when I decided to meditate in the car before work. I have a predictable time window 5 days a week, in part thanks to work hour flexibility. I know I will pull into the parking lot at about 7:40 and I initially resolved to meditate half an hour, even if I was a little late. After more than two years, I am up to 50 minutes. The next step would be resolving to get out of bed a little earlier to see if I can do the full hour.

    On Sunday’s I drop my Catholic family at mass and park under a tree for another 50 minutes. Saturday is my only dodgy day but I generally manage a session if my wife is working Saturday morning and I have to get up to drop her at the bus stop.

    Of course it took me about 30 years to get started ( no exaggeration alas ).

    Reply
  • There are never too many posts on how to make resolutions stick, and I especially like the link to meditation. I’m new to the online Buddhism blogs world and hope to do my part too. Very thoughtful article

    Reply

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