“Start small” is more than just a saying

In the fall of 2014, I took an 8-week course in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). I won’t get into the details of it here, but there’s a wealth of information about MBSR online if you’re interested in learning more.

Meditation and mindfulness weren’t knew to me, but I wanted to delve in a bit deeper. Oddly, the most important thing I took away from that course was something I hadn’t “intended” to learn: it’s okay to start small. In fact, it’s often the perfect way to start.

Oddly, I didn’t feel that we started small in that course. We were invited (ah, yes, “invited”) to do a home practice of 45 minutes of meditation or a specific mindfulness practice every day. It seems reasonable for someone to carve out 45 minutes a day, but in the end many of us ended up doing at least one of the following things:

  1. Freaking out about the idea of doing 45 minutes of meditation each day and not really getting started with it. Where would we get that time? What if we got bored or sleepy or anxious?
  2. Being very dedicated to our 45-minute practice for the first few days, then missing a few days, then shortening the time a bit, then either completely giving up or being very irregular and feeling very guilty about it.
  3. Meditating for 45 minutes a day, every day. Really, who did this? Who? And why were they taking a beginning MBSR course?

Nobody was forcing me to do this or making me feel guilty about the 45-minutes-a-day thing, but the number still stuck in my mind. I got through the course with a very spotty meditation/mindfulness practice schedule, and for the next year and a half I was very dedicated to thinking about meditation.  Not so much on the doing. I even left a 3-day meditation retreat halfway through the weekend.

Then, a week ago, I stumbled on this article: “Am I Doing This Right?” in Mindful magazine. I’m not always a fan of what they put out, but I did love this piece. This quote gives a good summary of what I found reassuring:

“Decide how big the “pool” of breaths you want to move within should be. This will change over time, and be different for everyone. It may start as five minutes a day, three times a week. Or ten minutes a day, five times per week. While more practice is inevitably going to result in more depth, setting aside an amount of time that seems reasonable is essential to building your confidence so you don’t become frustrated, resulting in mindfulness becoming the fad toy that ends up on the shelf once it loses its newness.”

So, yes, somehow I needed permission to start meditating for 5 minutes a day.

Jon Kabat Zinn quote 2

I’ve always felt that it was something I wanted and needed in my life, for many reasons. But I’d also heard so much about the “ideal” length of time to meditate. Five minutes just didn’t seem worth it.

But, in keeping with most of what we know about habit change, starting small makes a lot of sense. I have very few excuses for not spending 5 minutes meditating each morning. My legs don’t even fall asleep.

It’s an easy place to start, so I’m starting there.

 

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