When starting on the path to mindfulness, which you can read about in a more general sense here, it can be difficult to start and maintain any sort of mindful living. It is something I have struggled with, and continue to struggle with, in honesty, since I first came across the idea of mindfulness. Let’s take a look at how to create a mindfulness habit you can stick with!
The first step to creating a mindfulness habit is understanding why we fail
If you have ever tried to meditate you will know that trying to focus on just one thing can be a challenge. Often, during meditation, you will focus on the breath. This is particularly true when first starting out and learning about meditation. But you will find your mind wandering. You will then bring it back to the breath once you notice how your mind has wandered – this is all part of the process and noticing that your mind is drifting on to other thoughts is actually a display of mindfulness in itself.
Note how often your mind would wander when starting out though. Even when typing this I am distracted by a television in the distance and the noise of others in the house. You are able to bring back your thought to the matter at hand as you are actively trying to focus on a certain activity. However, when you are intending to practice mindfulness it can be difficult to, essentially, remember to do it. You forget about it as your mind wanders on to other things. With no activity you are currently doing to focus back on to (remember you haven’t started with your mindful moment yet!) your mind continues to wander.
One of the reasons I found that this happened, especially at the start, is that I didn’t really know how to practice mindfulness. I had a basic understanding of mindfulness meditation and of other small aspects but I struggled to create a habit out of them as they had no structure in their occurrence. I would sometimes meditate at odd times of the day, and practice other forms of mindfulness when I remembered, but without a reoccurring structure I failed to maintain any sort of long term practice.
There are a myriad of things that require our attention throughout the day so having some sort of structure which incorporates mindfulness is important to developing a habit. Equally, however, it is important to realise that your whole day cannot be consumed by mindfulness – at least at the start.
It is easy to burn out when trying to do too much too quickly – especially when trying to introduce new habits into your life. I’ve discussed how this affected me in my yoga journey and in my general fitness journey. Suffering from burn out is incredibly common and I’m guessing that every person will experience it at some point in their lives. Avoiding burn out requires new habits being slowly introduced, instead of simply forcing an entire redesign of your life. That sort of thing never works.
Aside from a general unwillingness to make the change to mindful living – you must be willing in order to receive any sort of benefit from mindfulness – these are the two main reasons why people fail when trying to start a mindfulness habit.
How to create a mindfulness habit
As established then, in order to form a new habit we must repeatedly take the same action in order for it to become second nature to us – a habit. This is because of how our brains work. Performing a new action creates a pathway in your brain. At first it is weak, but by repeating the action it becomes stronger. The stronger and more established a pathway (neural connection) is, the easier and more natural it is to repeat an action (or thought) without actively thinking to do it. It can be done subconsciously.
In order to normalise your new mindfulness habit, you need to repeat actions (that are mindful) in order for them to become second nature.
Here are 4 ways to create a mindfulness habit:
- Set a timer on your mobile phone – set a timer to go off every hour or so on your phone. Set a tone that isn’t offensive to the ears and it can serve as a reminder to either stop whatever you are doing to perform a mindful task or to continue with whatever you are doing but mindfully. This is an easy way to be mindful throughout the day but beware not to do it for too long as you might become reliant on the sound of the timer finishing to be mindful. If you forget to set the timer then you won’t be mindful. As with all things, coming at this from multiple angles is recommended.
- Make a mindfulness date with yourself – set aside some time to have a date with yourself with you do an activity mindfully. Maybe on Tuesday, you’ll eat your dinner mindfully, or on Thursday your walk to work will be mindful. This is an easy way to start getting into the habit of regular mindfulness, particularly when mixed with the other tips. Set a reminder on your phone or your physical calendar if you check it often enough. Try to move away from using reminders after a few weeks of regular mindful activity – or don’t, if you normally use a lot of reminders in your life anyway.
- Leave little notes laying around which remind you to be mindful – this one is simple enough. Write something on a note reminding you to be mindful when you see it. Perhaps leave one on your bathroom mirror so when you clean your teeth you are reminded to do it mindfully, or wash your hands mindfully. Don’t go overboard with the notes though, otherwise, they might just start to annoy you. Plus, no one wants a house covered in sticky notes!
- Commit to performing a particular action mindfully every time you do it – This one is probably one of the most difficult ones to maintain as it is possible to simply forget to be mindful when performing the action after some time has passed. If this does happen, do not chastise yourself but merely reaffirm that you will act mindfully next time. The action performed can be literally anything from preparing your breakfast to opening a door to grooming your pet.
If you manage to maintain any of these for a month then congratulations – you’ve developed a habit! From there you can slowly expand the mindfulness habit to include many more things. Who knows, maybe one day you’ll be able to be mindful at all times?
If you are struggling, remember that you should not over-commit to any new habit in order to avoid burn out and simply forgetting the many new things you are trying to do. At the same time, try to do a little of each of the above ideas in order to create a well-rounded foundation to your new habit. If one way doesn’t work for you, try another or a combination of others.
Good luck on your journey to mindfulness! I hope you create a mindfulness habit to enrich your life!
Already have a mindfulness habit? What is it and how did you make it a habit? Any advice for those looking to create one? Let me know in the comments below!