The hardest thing about meditation is actually doing it.
This doesn’t mean you don’t want to meditate, but we’re creatures of habit by nature—literally, that is how we have evolved. We create habits that satisfy our basic needs to get us through our day. But you can use your everyday habits to build new ones, like adding meditation to your daily life. It is a process called habit stacking—you piggyback a new habit on top of an established habit.
Here’s how it works: Let’s say you want to read an article day. Combine that with something you already do, like drinking your morning coffee or eating your breakfast. When you drink your morning coffee (established habit), read an article (new habit).
The trouble most people get into is that they create a laundry list of new habits like eating right, meditating, and getting outside more. To successfully build a new habit, focus on one at a time.
To successfully build a new habit, focus on one at a time.
Habit stacking was popularized by S.J. Scott, author of Habit Stacking: 97 Small Life Changes That Take Five Minutes or Less. Scott proposes that there are eight elements to successfully creating a new habit:
It takes less than five minutes to complete.
It is a complete habit.
It improves your life.
It is simple.
The entire routine takes less than 30 minutes to complete.
It is logical.
It follows a checklist.
It fits into your life.
Essentially, Scott advocates the new habit should initially take just five minutes and be stacked with a habit that, when combined, can be completed within 30 minutes. Using the example of reading one article a day, you would start with short articles—five-minute reads. It also needs to make sense and benefit your life in some way.
Here are some examples of habit stacking:
While you brush your teeth, you stand on a balancing disc for improved balance.
When you sit down for a meal, you take three deep cleansing breaths.
When you roll out of bed, you practice one yoga pose, like downward-facing dog, to gently stretch your body.
When you prepare dinner, you silently say to yourself one thing you’re grateful for in your life.
Habit stacking pairs the new habit with something you do rather than a place or time. We often set reminders or fix a location (like the gym) to establish new habits. While these methods work, habit stacking uses built-in cueing. It can be particularly effective with learning to meditate because meditation doesn’t require special equipment or a dedicated location. And just five minutes of meditation has been proven to relieve stress, increase energy, and improve health.
Here are three ways to use habit stacking to add meditation into your daily life:
On your way to work. Whether you drive, take public transportation, or walk, you can meditate on your way to work. Use a meditation app and start with just five minutes. Listen to the meditation—it’s OK to keep your eyes open, and please do, especially if you’re driving! It is a misconception that meditation must be done sitting cross-legged on a pouf! Try this walking meditation in the morning or evening, or outside on lunch break, and try to take the basics of it into your everyday walking.
Before eating. A beautiful meditation practice that has some perks, like improved digestion, is taking a few minutes before eating to ground, find your breath, and express gratitude. When you set your plate in front of yourself, close your eyes, place both feet on the ground, and take three deep breaths. Pause at the top and bottom of each breath. With your eyes closed, think of one thing in your life that you are grateful for. If you can’t think of something, be grateful for the food in front of you. The more you practice, the easier it will be to find parts of your life to express gratitude. Listen to this mindful eating meditation to guide you through the process.
Before going to bed. Practice a five-minute body awareness meditation with your eyes closed. Begin at your feet, noticing your feet, move upward to your legs, your hips, and your trunk. Notice each body part. Include your shoulders, arms, and hands. Focus on your neck and head. Take deep breaths as you scan your body and focus on relaxing. Or pop in some earbuds and try this deep sleep guided meditation.
Establishing a new habit doesn’t happen overnight, but when you pair it with something you’re already doing, it can be easier to incorporate the new habit into your everyday life.
You'll need to commit to one of these practices for four to six weeks for the best results that stick. Science shows that it takes between 21 and 40 days to develop a new habit. But the rewards of meditation are worth the effort.
If you want to make some positive changes in the new year, try habit stacking…and don’t forget to make the steps small and the rewards for a job well done special!
Jessica Crow helps people harness the power of meditation and mindfulness to change their lives and the lives of others for the better through practical courses and personalized mentorship.
Check out her book 'The Power of Guided Meditation', published by Fair Winds Press and her New On Demand Course 'The Power of Guided Meditation' or anyone who wants to harness the power of meditation in their own lives. Follow her on Insight Timer or Subscribe to her Podcast to listen to free guided meditations.