Meditation Practice: Start Small, but Use a Lot of Elbow Grease

By: Cara Bradley
Drawing of worried head with arrows pointing in different directions

This article was last updated Dec 12, 2023, originally published Nov 10, 2016.

You’ve made the commitment to practice meditation daily. You’ve read the research stating that meditation makes you:

  • happier
  • more productive
  • healthier

– and you’re ready to go! Filled with enthusiasm, you jump out of the gates and thread together a few solid days of practice.

Then the inevitable happens. You’re up all night with a sick kid or you travel out of town to meet with a client. Your schedule gets out of whack and poof, just like that, you forget to meditate. Feeling less enthusiastic now, you skip practice the next day, and then the next. You fall off the meditation wagon.

Sound familiar? You’re not alone.

When I teach beginners how to cultivate a consistent a meditation practice, I come prepared with plenty of elbow grease and loads of encouragement.  Remember, it can be challenging to stay consistent with a new and unfamiliar routine.

You may feel defeated if you miss a few days. You may even feel clumsy. Trust me, no one builds a consistent meditation practice without some serious elbow grease.

My advice? Start small, stay steady and build your practice from there.

Start Small

As Charles Duhigg writes in his best-selling book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, “Small wins have enormous power.” Set yourself up for success by starting with a short-guided meditation practice. Five- to ten-minute sessions every day are more effective to build consistency and mental endurance than longer sessions once a week.

If you jump out of the gate too quickly by taking on too much too fast, you’ll likely exhaust your willpower and start skipping practice. Instead, ease your way in slowly.  

Stay Steady

Commit to meditating at the same time every day for the next two weeks. Early mornings work best for most people. It’s the most predictable time of the day and when we tend to have the most control over our schedule. Be done with it so you have one less thing to worry about all day.

Also, listen to the same guided practice for two weeks. Keep your routine simple and predictable to avoid the stress and pitfalls of trying to squeeze in your practice into your constantly changing schedule or wasting time searching for a new guided practice to explore.

Build From There

As you stay consistent with your shorter, more predictable meditation practice, you will build a strong foundation on which you can successfully expand. Like the process of building strength in your body, the more you practice, the more skilled you become. As your practice becomes a routine in your life, it’ll inspire you to stay committed.

You’ll keep practicing because you feel empowered and energized. This momentum becomes your “why” and your fuel to keep practicing.

Consistent practices build momentum, and momentum builds consistent practices. It’s a catch 22. At some point, mind training will become what you do all the time without thinking about it, just as with your other regular practices of making an afternoon cup of tea, walking in the park or throwing the ball around with your dog.

How to Maintain a Consistent Practice

Here a few quick tips and tricks to maintain a consistent practice:

Remember the “Why”

Having clear intentions of what you’re doing and why is like walking around with a compass in hand, directing you toward your true north. Remembering why you want to practice meditation can be a great motivator to stay consistent. It’s helpful to keep a list of the ways your meditation practice supports your life.

Be Kind, Rewind

Making friends with yourself is essential as you take on the challenge to practice meditation daily. You’re kind to:

  • the person checking out the groceries
  • your neighbors
  • kids and your partner

– but are you kind to yourself?

Pat yourself on the shoulder or give yourself a mental high five every time you practice meditation. Every practice is an opportunity to celebrate. If you slip up here or there, try celebrating it instead. Kindness and patience with yourself is the key to staying committed.

Stay Flexible

Life happens – Kids get sick; snowstorms create havoc in your work schedule. As you become consistent in your practices, you’ll find ways to maneuver around the changes in your schedule. You’ll learn to shift this and that to make sure you practice, or you may even decide to skip practice that day.

As you deepen your commitment to your practice, you will actually become more flexible and less rigid. The phrase “I’m too busy” really means “I don’t care about this enough to make time for it.” In other words, where there’s a will, there’s always a way.

Find Joy

If you’re too strict with when, how and why you practice meditation, it won’t stick. As with most habits, there needs to be an element of joy in what you’re doing to stay with it. As Google’s Former Head of Mindfulness (officially titled Jolly Good Fellow), Chade Meng-Tan wrote in Joy on Demand: The Art of Discovering the Happiness Within, “Mental training requires a skillful balance of disciplined effort and joyful relaxation.”

Consistent Meditation Practice Reaps Benefits

Sticking with your meditation practice will reap many benefits. Aim to be consistent. It’s better to build your practice slowly by devoting some time every day – even if it’s just a little bit – than none at all. Stay steady by keeping it simple – same time, same guided practice.

Your enthusiasm for practice and your confidence will build from there. And don’t forget the elbow grease.

About the Author

Headshot of Cara Bradley; Director of Verge Yoga & Meditation Center and RethinkCare expert

Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist

Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist with from over 15 years as the founder and director of Verge Yoga & Meditation Center and as a mental strength coach to over dozens of college athletes.

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