Updated: May 28
Tired of setting goals and not achieving them? When you know how to form a new habit, then you can turn success into a series of daily actions. This lecture can help you not only help you develop the routine of meditating, but it will teach you how to create any habit that you desire. The trick is to chip away at your goal in small, incremental steps.
Researchers at MIT have taken the process of building habits and transformed it into a simple step by step process that you can immediately execute.
Let’s get to it…
How do you develop a habit?
1. A cue, which is the trigger that causes you to perform the habit in question 2. A routine, which is the habit itself 3. A reward, which is the benefit you gain from making the habit
For example, You walk into your favorite coffee shop and smell the aroma of a fresh cup of coffee. That smell triggers you to go to the counter and order your ideal blend. As you take your first sip of coffee, the reward centers in your brain give you a thank you in the form of a boost in dopamine.
In a moment we will explore how to use this understanding toward developing the habit of meditation. But first, let’s break down the five steps that you need to make a new behavior a habit.
Step One: Start Small
Research has shown that willpower works like a muscle. This idea is known as ego-depletion, and it reveals that just like a physical muscle, your willpower gets increasingly fatigued the more you use it. You can think of your willpower as a battery that gets charged when you rest. When you wake up in the morning, your willpower battery will usually be fully charged. As you get out of bed and start your day, your battery level will drop a bit for every decision that you make throughout your day. Willpower isn’t some trait that you are born with; instead, it’s something that fluctuates throughout your day depending on how many choices you need to make.
The message here is to start so ridiculously small that when it’s time to do it, it would be silly to say no. This strategy is useful because it guarantees that your habit won’t fail because of random fluctuations in your willpower. Don’t set the goal of meditating for 1 hour twice a day when you are just getting started. Promise you will sit down quietly and assume the posture for meditation, even if only for a minute per day. Your practice will grow over time.
Step Two: Build a Chain
Have you ever thought the following things? “I’m full, but I might as well keep eating because I’ve paid for the food.” “This movie is terrible, but I might as well watch the whole thing because I’ve watched an hour of it already.” This desire to continue is based on a Chain of Events. You’ve committed, so you don’t want to break the chain. The longer your chain gets, the harder it will be for you to stop because you don’t want to lose your investment.
So what you need to do here is create a chain-building system. There are two ways you can do this: Get a real wall calendar. Hang it on a wall where you will see it often and put a pen right next to it so you can easily track your progress every day. Download a habit tracker. If you prefer working digitally, you can download an app that measures your progress.
Step Three: Choose a Trigger
At this step, we get to the first part of the habit loop, which is the trigger that will remind you to initiate the behavior. All you do is reframe your goals as “if-then” statements. “If” calls for a situational cue and “then” is your prepared reply to that cue. If we were to apply this technique to meditation, it would be: “if” I walk past the area where I meditate, “then” I will sit down in a meditative posture for as long as I feel I should.
You can also tie a new habit to an old one by habit stacking. We’re looking to fill in this sentence: After/Before [established habit], I will [new habit]. So: “after” I have my morning tea, I will sit in meditation for a few moments calmly watching my breath.
Step Four: Create a Reward
Now that you’ve decided on a trigger and the little habit that will follow it, it’s time to get to work on the last part of the habit loop, which is the reward.
In behavioral theory, reinforcement is “the act of following a response with a reinforcer.” Reinforcement is one of the primary tools in a technique called operant conditioning. It’s also what we will be using to automate the habit you’re working on so you’ll stick to it consistently.
In the case of meditation, this is simple. Meditation lowers your stress hormones and raises your sense of awareness. The habit will produce the reward on its own. You can, however, reinforce the habit will a bit of additional biochemistry by using some well-prepared tea. Tea contains an amino acid called L-Theanine. L-Theanine promotes alpha brain waves, which are the brain waves associated with a calm state of focus.
Step Five: Get Accountable
The Hawthorne effect is a term referring to the tendency of some people to work harder and perform better when they are participants in a group or an experiment. You can use this to your benefit when starting a new habit, by just letting others know what you are trying to accomplish. Don’t go it alone. Make sure you have at least one person who is continually following up on your progress and making sure you’re sticking to your plan.
Step One: Just get started Step Two: Build Your Chain One Link at a Time Step Three: Create a Trigger – If I walk past my meditation area, then I will sit down Step Four: Note the reward of your practice Step Five: Get Accountable
Until next time!
Founder of the Jade Dragon Qigong School – Click for a FREE 7 day meditation video course!