Habit Change for Starting a New Mindfulness Practice

Planning to Start a New Mindfulness Practice?

New habits – whether it’s an exercise program, a change in eating or spending habits, or making time for yourself – can be difficult to begin, and even more difficult to stick to. Starting a mindfulness practice is no different, and many struggle to make it a part of their daily routine. No matter how motivated we are, at some point, we will fall back on old habits. Using habit change for mindfulness can seem like a daunting task, especially if we’ve tried and failed in the past.

Habits, however, are not the enemy. In fact, we can use the science of habit-change to ensure mindfulness becomes part of our daily lives. Good habits help us prioritize our time, dedicate our energy, and achieve our goals. Check out our tips for making mindfulness a habit in your life, and the ways this can benefit you and your practice going forward.

“Mindfulness isn’t difficult. We just need to remember to do it.”

-Sharon Saltzberg

How to Start a New Mindfulness Practice

The best way to introduce mindfulness is to understand what it is – the more clear you are on mindfulness, the better you will be able to plan it into your day. Read definitions of mindfulness, find out why it works, and learn some fundamentals of starting a mindfulness program. Use this deeper understanding to set very concrete goals for your mindfulness practice – what do you aim to accomplish? What areas of your life do you want to apply mindfulness to? What benefits are you hoping to gain? Write down these motivations and aspirations, and keep them on hand to refer to if your drive for mindfulness wanes in the future.

After you’ve determined your motivators, it’s time to make a commitment. Include what you want to do, why you want to do it, and how long you want to do it for. As with your motivations, write this down in a visible place as a daily reminder and affirmation of your commitment. Make sure you are realistic in your goal setting – don’t try to take on too much too fast, especially if you’re new to mindfulness. Set something you can truthfully accomplish, and grow your practice from there.

Example: I plan to start a daily mindfulness practice at work. 

My goal is to be in better control of my emotions at work, and to handle frustrations gracefully. 

I will do this by trying meditations focusing on my breath  before each meeting to put myself in the right state of mind,

Using Habit Change for Mindfulness

Add to Your Current Routines

Research on habit change shows us that the best way to make a new habit is to attach it to an existing routine. Consider your current habits. Do you wake up at the same time every day? Drink the same amount of coffee? Have a regular daily flow of meetings? The routines already present in our lives can serve as cues to engage in our chosen mindfulness practice. Try to make your new practice “fit” with the cue: a body-scan meditation likely fits better with your evening wind-down routine than it does when you have a cup of coffee. A breath-based meditation might be better during your lunch than during your commute in. Pick a time and a habit loop that fits best for you. When you engage in your existing habit, use it as a reminder to begin your mindfulness practice.

Prepare for Success

In addition to adding on to existing habits, you can set yourself up for success by being prepared for roadblocks you will face. It is inevitable that other priorities, constraints, or extenuating circumstances will arise that will distract you from your mindfulness practice. Some days will be more difficult than others. The best way to deal with this is to address it in advance. Consider some of the difficulties you might face. How would you ideally address those issues? How can you help yourself to handle the issues well? How can you avoid facing these issues in the first place? As before, writing down your plan to deal with roadblocks that may arise can help you deal with these problems promptly and effectively.

Build in Accountability

Finally, we make habits through regular, disciplined effort. To form a true mindfulness habit, you will need to hold yourself accountable to practicing. Set yourself daily reminders, leave extra time in your day, and set intentions to practice regularly. This is not to say that you should beat yourself up if you miss a day – exactly the opposite. Use missed sessions as a chance to reaffirm your goals, remind yourself of your motivations, and adjust your plan to practice the next day as needed. Learning from why we fail to practice can help us practice better in the future.

“Our life is shaped by our mind, for we become what we think.” – Buddha

The Benefits of Habitual Mindfulness

Habitual mindfulness might sound like an oxymoron – mindfulness is about being aware, present, and focused, while habits allows us to run on auto-pilot, requiring less attention. Using habit change for mindfulness, however, is about forming a routine of making time and space for practicing mindfulness. Establishing a pattern of behavior that supports mindful practice will allow us to engage in it more often. The more we practice mindfulness, the stronger the habits we form, and the easier it becomes to engage in mindfulness in the future.

Although we suggest making a habit of practicing mindfulness, your mindfulness practice can, and should, remain open and thoughtful. There are many benefits to having a regular mindfulness practice. These benefits can be seen at work, through less stress, greater productivity, and even greater creativity. Mindfulness benefits also grow into other areas of life via increased resiliency and well-being. We can use mindfulness to guide us in many every-day situations, such as communicating with others or being focused and productive at work.

How SIGMA Can Help

SIGMA offers a range of services to help you introduce mindfulness into your life and sustain your practice over time. Check out our mindfulness page for our webinar, a sample of our mindfulness practices, and our workshop offerings for more information. If you’d like to learn more about how mindfulness can benefit you, contact us today.

About the Author

Brittney Anderson, Ph.D.

Senior Consultant & Executive Coach

Brittney is a member of our coaching and consulting team. She brings her expertise in evidence-based practice to provide companies with leadership solutions that meet their needs. Primarily, Brittney helps her clients prepare for their future with succession planning and comprehensive leadership development programs. As an executive coach, she helps leaders hone their skills using a process-based approach to development.