By Gavin McKay, Founder & President
This blog came about because after a long period of committed meditation practice and study I slowly faded. Five days a week became three, then one and my books turned into all fiction titles.
Cycles of motivation and commitment are quite normal in all healthy habits like exercise, eating or meditation, so I want to share my key strategies to get my regular mediation practice back on track. Whether interested in beginning to practice meditation or not, this blog contains pearls ya’ll, pearls.
1. Get Curious
When we are curious about something, it becomes intriguing and we want to read about it, hear about it, learn more more more. We take each opportunity to go a bit deeper, whereas before we might have passed it up or not even noticed that our friend is posting about meditation. Ask questions, listen to podcasts, tell people you are interested in knowing more about meditation. By surrounding ourselves we will then meditate more and more. So many people try meditation without the proper understanding, where it came from, what the purposes are, the different methods, etc. They quickly get bored, decide they can’t do it right, or think their TV watching gives them the same peaceful effect. When you don’t understand properly you cannot make sound judgements and you won’t be motivated to do the daily sitting and reading that it takes to really GET the power of meditation.
2.Get A Coach
If you want to be held accountable we need a coach or partner that is totally on board. The thought of meeting up with them alone is often enough to get you to remember to sit quietly. This is true for any habit, especially nutrition and fitness. Statistically our partners are a huge plus or minus to our commitment, so find someone into meditation, introduce your partner to it or find a new one, haha. A coach however can offer us so much more. A coach has been there, so they can authentically encourage us and provide guidance as to what works and what doesn’t. A coach is the way to truly guarantee our success and the Shambhala meditation center in Philadelphia (and every major city) where I have trained offers them for FREE!
Will power is notoriously weak whether it is meditation or desserts, it usually fails. Its guaranteed to fail if the environment is set up against our goals so we need to create and seek out spaces, people, environments, situations that will naturally encourage our desire to meditate regularly. There are three ways to set the mood for meditation:
- Go to a special place, like a meditation center or group, where it will be all set up for you.
- Create a special peaceful place in your home that has cushions, timers, lighting, etc.
- Listen to a podcast or track that has guided meditations or music. My recommendations are Pema Chodron, Tara Brach, Jack Kornfields, Sheila Chandra, Krishna Das.
4. Set Reminders
We are forgetful beings, but there are many technological ways we can support our healthy habits these days. I like to add things to my calendar so that I build in time and they are grouped with my regular tasks for the day. Another is to use an actual alarm set to your meditation time each day and you could set it up to play your favorite meditation track so all you need to do is just sit down when you hear it, even for 5 minutes to be able to stick to the habit. Lastly, a new cool tool, Pavlok, uses primal conditioning to change habits, an electric shock from a wrist band that doesn’t hurt but definitely wakes you up!
5. Start A Program
Why do we go to school? Because we wouldn’t study on our own. Why do we join a sports team? Because without others we won’t enjoy learning. Why do we start must programs? To get a structured and social approach led by teachers. Ideally we can find a philosophy we agree with, a true master to teach us and a community that we can relate to, but it’s not always right in front of us. Twelve years ago when I came back from my travels and a Tibetan Buddhist retreat center that was ideal for me, I didn’t find a center that fit. I went to two or three temples and meet ups, and gave up, hence my meditation practice never took root. My interest remained and five years later I found my home at the Shambhala center, so do thorough research as there are now lots of options available in America, more than in Asia ironically.
6. Start A Challenge
Recently I listened to a business podcast about innovation that interviewed the creator of the XPrize, which started with a contest around space innovation awarding a few million in prize money. What happened next is astonishing and proves that humans just love a challenge. Many teams of scientists and engineers formed, got sponsorship and invested 10 times as much as the prize money in their efforts to WIN. Pure inspiration to achieve our best! Another amazing example is the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge where so many of us donated money to film ourselves getting doused with ice water.
It is not the prize that matters, it is the challenge, the shared purpose, the social drive that makes us work harder and smarter. All it takes is a little structure, communication and maybe a prize. These days we can easily join others via online communities in challenges like Unite’s seasonal eating challenges (Carb Cleanse starts Monday!) to jump start our consistency until the habit starts to stick.
If we don’t feel good doing our healthy habits, then there is no intrinsic motivation to continue. Your mindset or attitude about meditation and your “performance” is critical. If we see it as “work”, something we “should do” when we have extra time, than we aren’t experiencing the immediate good feelings that it always delivers. When done with the right attitude, meditating makes us feel peaceful, compassionate, humble, focused…even amidst a little boredom and frustration! And who isn’t motivated by feeling good. One could become addicted.
If we are too hard on ourselves when we first start meditating, we will never feel its innate goodness. Our speedy, judgy, monkey mind is still jumping around distracting us with “I’m not doing this right”, “I’m uncomfortable”, “I rather be doing x”. We must go easy on ourselves, lower our expectations, and relax with the need to excel. Meditation cannot be mastered if you are trying too hard to master it. There is so much irony in these moments, because trying to meditate is the instigator of the crazy mind, yet the principles and practice of meditation are the cure as well. I see it at Unite’s final rest when people are tapping their hands or leave to avoid it. These are the exact people it would help the most.
8. Feel The Difference
I talked about feeling the goodness of meditation while actually meditating, however the benefits stay with you all day and over time change you all together. We know that a workout creates a heart rate, hormonal and chemical reactions in your body that lasts for hours afterwards, and over time those effects add up to upgrade our cardio vascular, musculoskeletal, and all the physical systems.
Well guess what? Meditation is the workout for your neurological, endocrine and other stress related systems that impact your thoughts, feelings and ability to heal. Brain scan studies have proven that meditating regularly actually changes the brain matter and pathways, like creating better, smoother roads that don’t rise, plunge and hit potholes as much. With regular meditation I started to readily notice the stinging feeling when I made a nasty remark. What’s more those poor behavior moments are almost always on days that I didn’t meditate. So I am in control! My staff also noticed the difference in my words and actions. The more attuned I became to the difference between when I meditate versus when I don’t, the more motivated I was to sit on the cushion. It’s exactly like our transformation clients who start to smile, workout more and eat cleaner once they start feeling, seeing and hearing about how different they are now, how much healthier and happier.