In my last post, Why Learning to Meditate is Like Learning to Run, I noted that I had never managed to make room in my life for regular meditation sessions.
Like most people, I would go through brief phases of trying something new (meditation included), but would never stick with it. Plus, meditation interfered with my yelling at my kids a while back, kind of cramping my style.
But guess what? I’ve meditated almost every day for a month now. It feels great, the same kind of great I felt when I realized that running had become an entrenched habit, even after hating it at the outset (read more in Soul Run).
Though running and meditation may seem like very different types of activities, I found that three things were required to persevere with both:
3 Things You Need to Sustain a Program of Running or Meditation (or Any New Habit)
1) A routine that protects your priorities
2) The right equipment
3) Conviction that it’s worth it (the cost/benefit test)
The numbering is not in order of priority. You need to develop a routine and have the right equipment to get yourself off to a good start; a little conviction is needed at the outset, but more is required over time if you are ADD like me and have trouble sticking with things.
How to Develop a Routine that Protects Your Priorities: The Spreadsheet Strategy
A little over a month ago, I set out to improve the efficiency of my daily routine (remember, I used to be an economist, and economists like efficiency). There were a few things that I had come to recognize as being essential to my well-being on any given day.
High on the list was running or a fitness class. Writing time was another top priority. I also wanted to try again to bring meditation into my day, both as part of my mindfulness practice and to clear the way for writing ideas to surface.
I tried to keep track of time spent on each activity, but the notes I jotted down on scraps of paper disappeared like single socks in the laundry.
My solution was to create a simple Excel spreadsheet. It took me less than 10 minutes to set one up (tip: using landscape orientation gives you more room for your columns).
The columns on my spreadsheet include: Date, Out of Bed (what time I got up), Meditated (# of minutes), Ran (minutes on the trail or in a fitness class), Word Count (words written), Blog Post Work (to record the days I posted) and Notes (which I added later as a space to record excuses, like “kid home sick from school” or “soccer tourni, early start”).
Obviously, anything can be put in the columns depending on what habits you are trying to incorporate. It takes about 30 seconds (max) to update it every day. I now have a month’s worth of data to look back on, which is pretty cool.
The good news is that “Date” and “Out of Bed” are filled every day. That’s better than the alternative. And I see now that having the notes/excuses column is not only a guilt reliever the day you are recording, it also helps you see trends over a longer period. For example, staying up too late prevents me from waking early enough to meditate before the kids get up (duh).
Most of all, I’ve found that there’s something about the spreadsheet format that creates burden sharing between my right brain and left brain. The logical, quantitative (and these days under-used) left brain likes those symmetrical columns of cells. Empty boxes shout out “Fill me! Fill me!”
The left brain hates to see a zero where minutes are called for, and whips the right brain into taking creative action. Creativity is not only needed for writing. Because I can’t quantify why the exercise (and now meditation) is so crucial to my overall wellness each day, I’m assuming it’s my right brain that helps me to recognize the benefits. I’m no scientist, so feel free to tell me if I have it all wrong. It doesn’t really matter though. For whatever reason, the spreadsheet system is protecting my priorities.
Next up, how the right meditation equipment has made all the difference for me. In the meantime, tell me about what systems you use to keep yourself on track!