Ever tried to pick up a new habit or teach yourself a new skill? You likely realized early on that daily practice was key to success. Well, that’s true for meditation, too.
“It’s important to meditate daily because you’re cultivating a habit,” explains Sadie Bingham, a clinical social worker who specializes in anxiety in Gig Harbor, Washington. She’s also a long-time meditator herself.
“Most people won’t notice the positive effects immediately, so you need a daily (ish) practice in order to begin seeing the fruits of your labor,” she adds.
Starting a daily meditation practice can be hard, but most people find it’s easier once they start noticing some of its many benefits.
Still doubtful whether you can make meditation part of your life? It’s absolutely possible, and these seven tips for success can help.
While daily meditation is a great goal, you don’t need to jump right in at 30 minutes (or longer) every day.
Five minutes, three times a week
Bingham recommends beginners start with five minutes of guided meditation, three times a week, and slowly increase the minutes as meditation becomes a consistent part of your routine.
In the beginning, you may not feel very mindful or calm. You might not feel relaxed at all. But that’s OK. Just make it a goal to take five minutes to sit with your thoughts. Be curious about them, but don’t force it.
“Eventually,” explains Bingham, “you’ll feel the tug to sit and meditate.”
If you never get up to 30 minutes a day, don’t sweat it— meditating for even 10 or 15 minutes every day offers benefits.
You’ll find that different sources recommend different “ideal” times to meditate. But in reality, your ideal time is whenever you can make meditation work.
If you try to make yourself meditate at a time that doesn’t work well with your schedule and responsibilities, you’ll likely just end up feeling frustrated and unmotivated to continue.
Instead, try meditating at different times to see what feels best for you. That might end up being first thing in the morning, right before bed, during a busy commute, or during your break at work.
Whatever time you choose, try to keep with it. Consistency can help your new habit become just another part of your daily routine.
You’ve probably seen photos of people meditating while seated in the classic lotus position. But that position isn’t comfortable for everyone, and it’s hard to mediate if you’re doing something that makes you physically uncomfortable.
Fortunately, you don’t have to get into a certain position in order to successfully meditate. Instead, just get into a position you can hold, one that feels easy and natural. Sitting in a chair, lying down — both are totally OK.
“Comfort is much more important than ‘looking’ like you’re meditating,” Bingham emphasizes.
If you have trouble sitting still, try meditating while walking or standing. Some people find focusing on each step helps further the meditative process, just as focusing on breath does.
Also consider creating a comfortable, soothing meditation space, or even build a ritual around the process. Incorporating candles, peaceful music, or photos and mementos of loved ones can all help enhance meditation.
“The benefits of the ritual are also important, as the process becomes a statement that your wellness matters,” Bingham says.
Still feeling a little uncertain about just how you’re supposed to meditate?
When in doubt, turn to your smartphone. There’s an app for most things these days, and meditation is no exception.
Apps, many of which are free, can start you off with guided meditations, which Bingham recommends for beginners. “A guided meditation can help prompt the active mind back to the present moment,” she explains.
You can also use apps to access:
- meditations for different situations
- calming sounds
- breathing exercises
- tools and graphics to help you learn more about meditation
You can also personalize the app to follow your progress and change your meditation approach based on your present state of mind.
It takes time to form a new habit, so don’t worry if meditation doesn’t seem to click for you at first.
Instead of looking for reasons why you can’t keep going with it, explore any difficulties you’re having with curiosity and an open mind. The challenges you face during meditation can guide you toward a more successful practice.
If you get distracted easily, ask yourself why. Are you uncomfortable? Tired? Bored? Accept these emotions and make changes accordingly—they’re giving you valuable insight. Maybe choose a different position, or try meditating earlier in the day.
Learning to practice acceptance and curiosity within meditation can help you translate these feelings more easily to your daily life, Bingham explains.
This can help you have an easier time cultivating awareness on a regular basis.
Think of it this way: If you start meditating when you feel anxious and upset, you might feel a little better. But if you keep up a regular meditation practice, you might find you have an easier time managing your stress before your emotions overwhelm you.
You may not notice benefits of meditation immediately. That’s completely normal. And no matter how long you’ve been practicing, your mind might still wander from time to time. That’s normal, too.
Neither of these things mean you can’t succeed with meditation. Recognizing when your mind has wandered away is actually a good thing —it means you’re developing awareness. When this happens, simply refocus yourself gently. With a steady meditation practice, you’ll typically begin to see benefits in time.
That said, it is important to recognize when meditation does more harm than good. Although meditation helps relieve mental health symptoms for many people, not everyone finds it helpful, even with regular practice.
It’s not super common, but some do people
Ready to give daily meditation a shot?
Here’s a simple meditation to get you started:
- Find a comfortable spot where you can relax.
- Set a timer for three to five minutes.
- Begin by focusing on your breath. Notice the sensation of each inhale and exhale. Breathe slowly and deeply, in a way that feels natural.
- As soon as your thoughts begin to wander, acknowledge the thoughts that come up, let them go, and return your focus to your breathing. Don’t worry if this keeps happening—it will.
- When your time is up, open your eyes. Pay attention to your surroundings, your body, your feelings. You might feel different, you might not. But over time, you’ll probably notice yourself becoming more mindful of your own experience as well as your surrounding environment. These feelings linger long after you finish meditating.
There’s no right or wrong way to meditate. You’ll have the most success when you practice in a way that works for you, so don’t hesitate to try different approaches until you find one that fits.
When you begin noticing greater compassion, peace, joy, and acceptance in your life, you’ll know it’s working. Just have patience, since these benefits probably won’t show up overnight. Remember to show up for yourself with curiosity and an open mind, and you’ll stay on the track to success.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.