“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” —Aristotle
We often hear from people who are frustrated because they want to develop a mindfulness meditation practice but find it hard to transition from not meditating at all to meditating regularly. Or some people simply can’t find room in their schedules. Taking the time to sit down and be present for 20 to 60 minutes isn’t easy—nor is creating new habits. Our advice is to start small.
Really small. If you’re new to meditation, start with just 15 seconds a day for the first week. Find a time—whether it’s immediately after getting out of bed but before starting the day, during a midday break or before bedtime—that’s going to work for you consistently. It shouldn’t be too hard to carve out 15 seconds, but if your ultimate goal is to develop a deeper practice, then consider a schedule that will allow for protracted stretches down the road.
That first week, set the stopwatch on your smartphone for 15 seconds every day around the same time, and give all of those seconds 100 percent of your attention. (If you need tips for how to start meditating, simply focus on one of the first three in this list of “What to Focus on During Meditation.”).
The following week, keep meditating at the same time of day and set your stopwatch for 25 seconds. Each week, add another ten seconds until you reach a period of time that feels right for you. Some people thrive on hour-long sessions, while others need only 10 or 15 minutes. There’s no right or wrong way to meditate or right or wrong length of time. If 15 seconds is all you manage, make those 15 seconds count. The point is to build up that muscle of being able to focus your attention so that you can be more present during the rest of your waking hours.
We didn’t invent this approach. Many behavioral scientists have found that reaching big goals is best done via small steps. So if you have other habits you wish to build, set a big goal (e.g. I’d like to read more books) and then break it down into micro pieces (e.g. I’ll start by reading one page each night before I go to bed for the first two weeks and then read three pages the following week). After a few months, these motions become new habits.