Why is it that the healthiest habits – like eating well, working out regularly, and being mindful – seem to be the hardest to keep up? I know numerous scientifically-backed benefits come with mindfulness meditation. In the past, I’ve tried keeping a daily meditation blog, journal, and chart. Yet, somehow, my habit wavers. To try to form a mindfulness habit, I tried the mindfulness app and program Stop, Breathe, & Think. I also got some expert advice from its co-founder, Jamie Price.
In 2000, inspired by her Tibetan meditation teacher, Price left her job as an investment banker to teach mindfulness to inner city teens. "We experienced great results with the teens we were working with, and thought we could reach more people by creating an app," she says. Using more than a decade's worth of experience with teens, along with the Tibetan Buddhist traditions, and the plethora of scientific support for meditation, the app was born.
If you struggle like me to keep up with daily meditation, you're certainly not alone.
"I think that inertia has a lot to do with it," says Price. "It’s so much easier to remain unchanged! Most of us have spent years being lost in thought, worrying about the past and future rather than being fully present with what’s happening right now. It takes time to unwind that habit to stay focused on the present."
Price says to really reap the benefits of meditation -- whether thru her app or not -- consistency is the key. "There is research to suggest that at least 20 minutes a day can yield positive results," she notes. "In my experience however, even just 5 minutes can transform my state of mind and have a calming effect on my body."
My Week with Stop, Breathe, & Think
When I got started with Stop, Breathe, & Think, first I checked in with myself by ranking my mental and physical well-being. As a part of this, I picked five top emotions, ranging from positive emotions like appreciative and grounded to negative ones like heartbroken and full of contempt. Already, I was practicing mindfulness via emotional awareness. After I checked in, the app recommended meditations based on how I felt. I picked the gratitude meditation.
Right away, I was pleasantly surprised because the gratitude meditation sounded all too familiar. While I’ve used other apps that modernize meditation so much they lose the traditional Buddhist roots, the gratitude meditation was clearly a modernized version of loving-kindness meditation. After the meditation, I checked in again. At first, this felt difficult – I realized that I don’t think enough about how I’m actually feeling in the present. Just this check-in before and after meditating helped me feel more aware of myself and my feelings moment to moment.
The next day, my chosen meditation gave me the option to meditate for shorter or longer. Funny enough, having the option made me want to meditate longer. The app gamifies forming a mindfulness habit in many simple but effective ways. It tracks daily streaks to encourage you to rack them up and even gives you stickers for progress. My first one was “Gaining Insight.”
Overall, the app also gets high marks from me because it emphasizes the multifaceted nature of mindfulness with over 50 meditations and activities. In one week, I got to take a mindful walk, engage my senses, and perform a full body scan. If I forgot to meditate in the morning, I found meditations I could do any time of the day, like a meditation for falling asleep.
Some meditations require a purchase (think 5 meditations for $1.99 or 3 for $0.99). You can feel good about your purchase, though – 10 percent of net revenue goes to Tools for Peace, a nonprofit dedicated to helping at-risk youth experience mindfulness and meditation.
6 Tips for Making Mindfulness a Habit
While I wish an app could magically help me practice mindfulness more often, I still struggle. Price gave 6 key tips on how to create a mindfulness habit.
1. Create a routine.
Make mindfulness and meditation part of your daily routine, like brushing your teeth or washing your face. Set aside a regular time and place, and record it in your calendar.
2. Set reasonable goals.
As Price says, “Start small, with just a few minutes a day - even just a few breaths a day - and build from there.”
3. Take mindful moments.
Take little breaks throughout the day to practice mindfulness. Price recommends mindful walking, even if it’s only the walk from your car to the front door.
4. Consistency is key.
As Price says, “It’s more effective to practice for shorter periods of time more consistently, than to do a long session and then forget about it for a few days or a week.”
5. Go easy on yourself.
Don’t expect to reach expert status right away – and enjoy the time you’ve set aside to take care of yourself.
6. Celebrate your successes.
This is where the stickers come in. Take time to celebrate every time you practice. As Price notes, “The simple act of celebrating creates positive momentum and helps to reinforce new habits.”
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