How to get on the habit train
One way to understand meditation is that it is about creating a habit in our consciousness of constantly trying to be more aware.
For example, when we meditate and notice that we have been distracted, we are helping establish the habit of turning our attention back to the object or technique. We are also establishing the habit of equanimity by transforming distraction into its opposite, concentration.
In this way, we not only train to become more and more attentive when we meditate, but we also help make attention a habit in daily life.
This is why we practice by starting the meditation technique as soon as we begin our session. We do not start with breathing exercises or by calming down in any way. We start the actual meditation immediately, and in this way create a habit of being lightning fast with our attention when it is needed.
The habit of lightning-fast attention is invaluable, for example, in a crisis situation, where the chance of overwhelm is great. Instead of reactively entering stress mode, with its primitive fight-flight-freeze reactions, we will be more likely to respond appropriately.
In the longer-term perspective, establishing meditation as a daily habit is crucial for such other habits to take root. In fact, meditation is itself a habit that makes establishing all other habits easier.
We can expect a meditation practice to lead to five main results:
- Increased satisfaction
- Decreased suffering
- Deeper self-insight
- Spontaneous love and kindness
- Positive changes in habits
These five results all help each other. Let’s look at how several of them strengthen the establishment of new habits.
Establishing new habits often involves some discomfort. At the very least, we have to set aside time in a hectic everyday life. That in itself often takes a lot of willpower. But with a meditation practice, we learn to be less bothered by suffering, so the discomfort of establishing a new habit is not as heavy, and we are more likely to succeed.
Increased satisfaction from meditation also helps with new habits. The gains from new habits are often small in the beginning (as with meditation practice itself). But since meditation increases our satisfaction and appreciation from small things, we are more motivated to continue working on the habit by initial gains, however small. And it is through such continuation that habits are established.
At a basic level, we eventually find ourselves in the habit of being deeply satisfied, even for no external reason.
And finally, becoming more loving and kind also motivates us to change our habits. So when self-insight awakens us to our inner conflicts, love and kindness encourage us to create habits that benefit others and change those that just benefit ourselves.