November 14


The Habit That Drives Other Habits

By Staff Writer

habits, meditation, mindfulness meditation

Let’s face it:  more and more evidence points to meditation being a great way deal with stress, become mindful and become healthier.

But what many people don’t realize is that meditation is perhaps the most important habit to incorporate into your life if you want to change other habits.Take negative thoughts, for example.  How can you change them?  Well, by becoming more mindful, which is something you can do through meditation far more easily that trying to hunt them down and kill them!

[box type=”success” align=”aligncenter” ]‘ To meditate does not mean to fight with a problem. To meditate means to observe.’ ~Thich Nhat Hanh[/box]

First let’s review some of the ways that meditation can help you change your habits and then move on to how to make that your #1 .

The Habit of Meditation Helps Form Other Habits

When we are unaware of our thoughts and urges, which arise in the back of our mind mostly unnoticed, they have a power over us. We are unable to change if these unbidden thoughts control us. But when we learn to observe them, we can then release their power over us.

When you practice meditation, what you find is that you begin to observe those thoughts, which helps you to become more mindful of them throughout the day.

Here are some examples:

1. Quitting a habit such as smoking can be a big challenge for many.  Sometimes you want to smoke so badly you could just scream!  It is easy to rationalize your feelings about that craving – telling yourself, “It’s OK to smoke just one — one cigarette doesn’t hurt you”, or “Why are you making yourself suffer like this? It’s not worth it!” And those thoughts and urges can beat you if you are not aware of their presence.  Don’t act on the, just observe them.  You will be amazed how they will fade away if you watch them and let them go…

2. When beginning a new, healthy habit like working out or running, it’s easy to feel the urge to stop  when things get uncomfortable. But that comes from a frightened part of your mind that doesn’t want to deal with discomfort.  Watch that part of you during your meditation and do not let it control you!

3. When trying to do one thing, do you ever get an urge to go do something else?  Maybe you go read your emails, or surf the internet. When this urge goes unnoticed, most of us simply act on it, and procrastinate. Being  mindful of this urge (and the accompanying rationalizations that come when you DON’T act on the urge), then you can just watch the urge and let it go, and return to your task at hand

This same process can be used to change many habits: eating, being unfocused, sloppiness, etc.  It can even help you with workout goals like running a marathon or becoming flexible.

Meditation is a powerful habit that makes the changing of all of these other, less useful habits much easier to accomplish.  When practicing meditation, you are simply practicing mindful observation, where all else is stripped away and you are left with you and your thoughts in the present moment.

Forming the Meditation Habit

It’s pretty simple, but you must make a commitment to doing this each and every day in order to make it habitual:

1. Commit to just 2 minutes a day. Start simply if you want the habit to stick. You can do it longer if you wish, but all you’re committing to is 2 minutes each day. Everyone has 2 extra minutes!

2. Pick a general time of day and trigger. Pick a time like morning when you wake up, or during your lunch hour, perhaps before you go to bed. The trigger should be something you already do regularly, like drink your first cup of coffee, brush your teeth, have lunch, or arrive home from work.

3. Find a quiet spot. Sometimes early morning is best if you happen to live in a noisy household, or late at night when the others have gone to bed. Others might find a spot in a park or on the beach or some other soothing setting. It really doesn’t matter where — as long as you can sit without being bothered for a few minutes. A few people walking by your park bench is fine.

4. Sit comfortably. Don’t fuss too much about how you sit, what you wear, what you sit on, etc. This doesn’t have to be difficult and there isn’t a “right” way to sit, just in a place that is comfortable to you. You can sit on a pillow on the floor, with your back against the wall, sit cross-legged comfortably if that works for your body and flexibility level, sit on a chair or couch if sitting on the floor is uncomfortable. Zen practitioners often use a zafu, a round cushion filled with kapok or buckwheat. It isn’t necessary for a successful meditation practice, so don’t go out and buy one if you don’t already have one. Any cushion or pillow will do, and some people can sit on a bare floor comfortably.

5. Focus on your breath. As you breathe in, follow your breath in through your nostrils, then into your throat, then into your lungs and belly. Sit straight, keep your eyes open but looking at the ground and with a soft focus. If you want to close your eyes, that’s fine. As you breathe out, follow your breath out back into the world. If it helps, count … one breath in, two breath out, three breath in, four breath out … when you get to 10, start over. If you lose track, start over. If you find your mind wandering (and you will), just pay attention to your mind wandering, then bring it gently back to your breath. Repeat this process for the few minutes you meditate. You won’t be very good at it at first, most likely, but you’ll get better with practice.And that’s it. It’s a very simple practice, but you want to do it for 2 minutes, every day, after the same trigger each day.

Do this for a month and you’ll have a daily meditation habit.

Thanks to Leo Babauta, who recently started to allow others to post or update articles from his site, Leo is a magnificent writer!

About the author

Our staff writers come from various backgrounds in the neuroscience, personal development, brain science and psychology fields. Many started out as with us as contributors!

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