Meditation is one of the most powerful habits you can cultivate. It will help you manage your stress, reduce blood pressure, and help you respond appropriately to difficult situations
For lawyers, meditation can also help you keep a cool head in contentious situations. It will give you the ability to see your client’s case with a broader perspective instead of digging in your heels. You’ll learn more about your boundaries, and you’ll better manage your energy and time.
But meditation isn’t something you can do sporadically to reap the rewards. It requires persistent effort (just like going to the gym).
Here are ten steps for making meditation a daily habit.
1. Write Down Your Intention
There’s no right or wrong reason for starting a meditation practice. The reason is unique to you. Here are few common reasons why lawyers start meditating.
- Gain greater self-awareness
- Reduce stress and anxiety
- Become more responsive instead of having knee-jerk reactions
- Health or medical reasons
- Increase productivity
- To disconnect from noise and distraction
I encourage you to write your intention down and put it in a prominent place in your home or office. Stating your intention makes it more likely you will stick with your goal to meditate daily. When you are tempted to skip a day because you don’t feel like meditating, you can remind yourself of your intention and push through.
Sharing your intention with others will also keep you motivated. Tell your spouse, significant other, friend, or family member that you are practicing meditation daily. Declaring your intention publicly makes it more likely you’ll follow through. Plus, your family and friends will understand when you need to disappear for a few minutes to meditate.
2. Start With Two Minutes
You are a lot more likely to meditate every day if you set a goal that’s easily accomplished. The key is to set the bar low so you are less likely to fail. Starting at just two minutes a day is an easy goal to achieve. Research shows that if you meditate for just two minutes for twenty-one days, you can actually rewire your brain to work more optimistically and more successfully.
As you feel more comfortable with your practice, you can increase the duration.
3. Get Your Gear
All you need to meditate is yourself. No props necessary. However, some basic items are nice to have.
There are numerous apps available for meditation. Some apps have meditations; others apps are simply a timer. If you can resist the distractions that are naturally present with the smartphone, by all means, use one of these apps:
However, if you can’t pick up your phone without getting lost in Facebook, Twitter, or your inbox, consider using a standalone timer. Your kitchen timer will also work just fine.
Something to Sit On
If you are sitting on a chair, it’s best to find one where you can comfortably place both feet firmly on the ground. A chair without wheels work best. If you prefer, you can also try a meditation cushion or a bench. Note that the cushion or bench may be uncomfortable at first as your body builds the muscles necessary to hold your body upright.
A Blanket or Shawl
If you tend to run cold, you may find it helpful to have a blanket or a shawl to place over your shoulders or your legs. This is particularly helpful for longer meditation because you may feel chilly from lack of body movement.
4. Link Meditation to an Existing Habit
If you have a hard time remembering to meditate, try linking it to an existing habit. For example, meditate before (or after) brushing your teeth.
Once you’ve done this, you won’t have to think about meditating every morning. You will just get up, sit on your cushion, and meditate.
There are days where you’ll find yourself not wanting to meditate. On those days, either make a decision to skip a day or simply do a very short meditation (remember: just two minutes is enough). What you should avoid doing is having a lot of back-and-forth dialogue about whether you are going to meditate or not. Just get to it.
It’s similar to exercising. You either do or don’t. Don’t let yourself debate going to yoga for an hour then miss the class anyway as a result.
5. Set a Specific Time and Place
Incorporating meditation into your daily habits is easier if you keep a regular schedule.
Find a time in your day where you can meditate undistracted for a specified amount of time. I like to go straight to my meditation cushion in the morning. If I don’t meditate first thing in the morning, the business of my day will usually make it impossible to meditate later.
However, you can try a few different times and locations to find something that works for you. Try meditating as soon as you get into your office, before you go to bed at night, or during your lunch break.
6. Just Start Meditating
It is easy to over-complicate your mediation plan instead of simply doing it. You can spend the next year learning about the technical how-to on meditation, but that won’t be nearly as beneficial as just doing it. That’s like learning all the techniques and strategies behind running a marathon without actually lacing up your sneakers and going for a run.
For a basic practice, also try the following tactics:
- Find a comfortable seated position
- Close your eyes
- Bring your attention to your breath — feel the inhale and the exhale
- When your mind wanders, bring it back to the breath
7. Be Open to the Experience
Every morning, when I sit down to meditate, I approach it with curiosity and an open mind. Each day, I am slightly different and my meditation practice is all about becoming familiar with my inner state. It’s possible that I’ll have a whole week of “good” meditation where I’m able to focus my attention on my breath, have few thoughts, and feel more at ease at the end of the mediation. Then I’ll have weeks of practice where, each day, my mind feels like there is a tornado rolling through it. I feel antsy and full of emotions.
It takes practice to let go of the judgment — telling yourself you are “good” or “bad” at meditating. Instead of judging your meditation practice, see if you can approach it like a scientist would. The subject of your study is your own mind. So when you notice that every minute of your practice is full of anger, approach it with curiosity and seek to become more familiar with your mind instead of labeling it bad or saying you are failing at meditation. Observe the feelings that are persistent throughout your practice.
8. Be Patient
I find that many lawyers have unrealistic expectations about how quickly meditation should start “working.” Consider that the habits of your mind (defaulting to negativity, constant worrying, catastrophizing, etc.) probably took many decades to form. These habits are strongly ingrained in you and they won’t change overnight. It’s also possible that some of these habits never truly disappear, but you will have to learn to work with them.
One of the reasons why I started meditating is because of constant anxiety, especially around certain social interactions like public speaking. Even after years of consistent practice, I still feel anxious before taking the stage. What has changed is how I interact with the nervousness. So when my mind goes into full panic mode and says “I’m going to forget everything I’m supposed to say,” I no longer identify with that thought. I can simply see it as a thought (not fact) and move on.
9. Troubleshooting Common Issues
There are few very common issues that you may notice in your meditation practice. They include:
- Falling asleep or feeling sleepy: The most likely cause for this is that you are not getting enough sleep! Consider adjusting your sleep schedule to get more sleep if you are falling asleep during meditation. Meditating after a meal or before bedtime can also contribute to sleepiness. Try meditating first thing in the morning, when you are fresh. If sleepiness continues to be a problem, open your eyes and softly gaze at a spot about four feet in front of you. You can also meditate standing up.
- You can’t calm your mind: I can’t repeat this enough: meditation is not about stopping your thoughts or having a thought-free mind. Your mind will continue to produce thoughts during meditation. In meditation, you will learn to observe your thoughts like clouds in the sky. Thoughts will come and go. Let them.
- Physical discomforts: If you are used to sitting on a chair with your back supported (and probably slouching), it’s going to take a while for your body to adjust to sitting upright. You want to sit with both feet firmly on the ground with your back straight. Adjust your body so that your head, neck, back, and hips feel comfortable and aligned. Like this:
10. Always Be a Beginner
When it comes to meditation, the best approach is to always think of yourself as a beginner. Be open and curious to the experience. Meditation is the rare instance you are actively practicing doing nothing. Not striving for anything. Not working on being somewhere or achieving something.
Each day when you sit down to meditate, let go of trying to become an expert and don’t worry about correctly practicing meditation. The most important part of meditation is to simply practice every day. Even if you miss days, weeks, months, or even years, you can start over right now.
Featured image: “Business People Yoga Relaxation Wellbeing Concept ” from Shutterstock.