Back in my Booty Doctor’s days (the radio show my friend and I used to do for men, regarding their sexuality and relationships), I subscribed to Men’s Journal magazine. I thought it would give me some good ideas of topics for the show. Month after month, there was never one article in there about sex. I couldn’t believe it! I concluded that the magazine owners must be very conservative, and started giving away the magazine each month to my male clients.
This morning I was sitting in my office waiting for a client who was running late. I picked up the latest copy of Men’s Journal, which I hadn’t even cracked. I thought to myself: “ok, I’ll read the damn magazine, I have nothing else to do.” (As you can tell, I was a little cranky about the whole situation.) Much to my delight, I ended up reading a very useful article about the science of creating a habit.
The article talked about someone trying to start a habit of daily jogging, but my mind went directly to meditation. I’ve talked to hundreds of people who say they’d “like to” start meditating every day, but they never quite get there. So here’s the pearl in the article: most people think of a habit as simply a routine, doing the same thing over and over. The truth is, there are three parts to a habit: a cue, a routine, and a reward.
Let’s apply the concept to creating a habit of daily meditation, since my strong bias is that it is one of the most beneficial things anyone can do for themselves, and for their relationships, too, for that matter. You need a cue. The cue could be as simple as a sticky note that says “meditate” on it attached to your alarm clock or your toothbrush. That way you will be cued at a certain time each day. Most people use both of these items in the morning after awakening and in the evening before going to bed. These are good times to meditate. Now decide which time you will choose to develop your daily habit of meditation.
Only you can decide this. My personal theory about it is that night owls tend to do best with an evening meditation while early risers with a morning meditation. Try both, and see which you prefer. If you are going through a particularly tough time in your life, I recommend you meditate not once but twice a day. Each meditation can be relatively brief. Ten or fifteen minutes per session is adequate.
So, the meditation is the habit part. For more details on how to meditate, see my blog from December 2011 in which I prescribe meditation as the cure for holiday stress.
Now for the reward. You get to decide what the reward will be. Eating a piece of chocolate was the suggested reward in the article, and I personally like that one. If you choose that, just know that chocolate, especially dark chocolate, is practically considered health food these days. Between the antioxidants and the healthy fat, you can’t go wrong!
If you follow this pattern- cue, habit, reward- soon your brain will start releasing dopamine (the feel-good chemical that the reward gives you) as soon as you see the cue. You form an association, a positive one, between the cue and the reward. Just like Pavlov’s dogs and the dinner bell. After a couple of weeks, you can eliminate the reward as the new habit becomes reward enough in and of itself (but you can still eat chocolate if you want to ).