Having a strategy for mindfulness practice is as important as a technique. Many of the participants in the Mindfulness 101 class that I teach at the Colorado Mental Wellness Network already know about meditation and mindfulness. Many have practiced sporadically. Their challenge is not that they don’t know some basic meditation techniques, but that it is difficult to sustain a practice on a regular basis.
Our class provides information on simple techniques but also focuses on strategy. Commitment to practice is strengthened by knowing what we hope to achieve. If we were planting a garden, we’d know what we expected to harvest. Whether it was heirloom tomatoes or roses, we’d have a clear picture in our mind of our end goal. Picturing that harvest gives us the space to be nurturing and patient with the gardening process. We don’t get tomatoes the day after we plant seedlings, but we know they are coming. The same is true for our mindfulness garden. Our first strategic step is to identify our goals for meditating. If you find that the picture of what you hope to accomplish with meditation is a little fuzzy, check out this article from Psychology Today on reasons to meditate.
Once we have a clear idea of what we are nurturing with our mindfulness practice, we can develop a plan for making it happen. Being honest about the time we are willing to devote to the practice is the next step. It is better to start with 5 or 10 minutes a day and be successful then to commit to 30 minutes and feel like a failure if we can’t make it happen. There are very few people who can’t commit to 10 minutes a day. (If you are one of them, then try for 5!)
Identifying the roadblocks that will trip up our practice and a plan to deal with them is the next step. Usually it is easy to list the roadblocks which can include things like small children, demanding pets, noisy neighbors, a grueling work schedule, or falling asleep when we try to meditate. It may be harder to come up with a plan for these barriers, but brainstorming with friends and family can help.
The last step is creating a way to track our progress. It’s motivating to track the time we are putting in and keeps us coming back. A simple chart could include our practice goal at the top of a page, the days of the week listed, and a space to write in the minutes of practice. If you’re more creative you can embellish the chart with art work . Progress can of course be tracked on the computer, but a paper chart hung in a conspicuous place can be a powerful visual reminder to practice.
And here’s the thing: we don’t have to do any of this forever. Once we begin to feel the benefits of meditation we won’t want to walk away from the practice. We simply need a plan for the short term. The four simple steps are:
- Know why we want to establish a meditation practice
- Set a reasonable daily goal
- Identify and plan for roadblocks
- Track our progress
And maybe there is a fifth step: Be patient and give your mindfulness garden time to grow.