How to make mindfulness a habit
Sharon Salzberg once said, “Mindfulness isn’t difficult. We just need to remember to do it.” And nothing could be more true when it comes to getting started with or sticking to a regular mindfulness practice. Lots of parents I speak to love the idea of mindfulness. But they struggle to prioritise it and practice consistently. They simply don’t know how to make mindfulness a habit.
Why should mindfulness become a daily habit? Because mindfulness is a highly effective emotion regulation strategy that can help us be calmer, less reactive parents. Regular practice of mindfulness helps us lower stress, reduce nervous system reactivity and learn how to respond rather than react to our children. It is a powerful strategy to master that will bring benefits not just to you, but to your whole family. If only you could remember to do it.
We all start out with good intentions of course, but as busy parents, life can get in the way. So, if you’re wanting to make mindfulness a daily habit, but you’re having trouble making your practice stick, check out the tips below.
10 tips to help you make mindfulness a daily habit
1. Understand your “Why”
Any time I ask clients to begin something new and potentially challenging – I ask them to start by thinking about why it’s so important to them. What are your BIG reasons for wanting to practice mindfulness? How does a mindfulness practice fit in with your values? Your vision for yourself and your family? How do you envision mindfulness helping you or changing things for your family? How do you imagine it will impact your parenting? When we connect with our deeper, purpose driven reasons for doing things, and we keep those reasons front and centre, it becomes easier to stick with things. Even when they become challenging.
2. Set realistic goals
Once you’ve thought about why a mindfulness practice is so important to you and how it helps you live your best life, you can set clear, realistic goals that are aligned with your values. When you set goals, think about the SMART acronym. Specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and time based. Setting a goal to do 30 minutes a day of meditation when you have 4 small children and a job, may not be realistic for you. Especially if you’re new to mindfulness. Start by setting small, specific goals for yourself. 10 minutes of practice, 3 times a week for the next month is much more achievable. Your mindfulness practice doesn’t have to be perfect! So take the pressure off and just have fun with it!
3. Schedule it in
Once you’ve got a clear goal, make space for your practice in your planner. It could be the same time every day if that’s helpful for you, but it doesn’t have to be. Just work with the availability you’ve got and slot your practice in whenever you can. Planning ahead and scheduling it in ahead of time means you’re much less likely to forget about it or put it off for later. I personally love the satisfaction of ticking off tasks in my planner, so if it’s written in there – it’s getting done!
4. Create a mindfulness space
If you enjoy meditation, then setting up a cozy space to practice each time can help you create a consistent habit. Perhaps find a spot in your home that already feels comfortable for you or that you enjoy spending time in. Then cozy it up! Add some cushions, a scented candle, or a snuggly blanket if you like. The idea is to make the space warm and inviting, so you WANT to use it. It doesn’t have to be inside either. If you enjoy sitting outside and meditating in nature, you can absolutely set up a little space in your garden too!
That being said, mindfulness is about more than sitting still and meditating. So if a mindfulness space is not possible or doesn’t sound appealing to you that’s ok too! You can practice mindfulness anywhere.
5. Habit stack
One of the most effective ways to establish any new habit is to use “habit stacking”. This is where you add your new task to an already established habit or part of your regular routine. For example, you can meditate during your daily shower, while you brush your teeth, or as you drink your morning coffee. Since these things are already well established habits, you are more likely to remember them. And before long, your mindfulness practice will become habit too!
6. Create visual reminders
Visual reminders, or anchors, around your home are a great way to remember to stop and have a mindful moment. Pop post it notes up on your walls, use an affirmation card, or stop and take 10 deep breaths every time you walk past a particular spot or item in your home. For a long time I had a mindfulness rock in our home. Each time I walked past it I used it as an opportunity to practice some mindful breathing. You could also practice a 2 minute breathing exercise each time you do a certain task or action – like a load of washing or some vacuuming. And if you’re someone who tends to ignore visual reminders, set an alarm on your phone instead. That way every time it goes off you know its time to stop, drop and meditate!
7. Use transitions
Transitions are a regular part of everybody’s day and tend to be something we think of as wasted time. The time you spend walking from your car to the office, driving to and from work or school pick up, waiting for the bus or train, waiting for the lift, or on the phone, or in the line at the post office or grocery store. These are all transition times that we tend not to think too much about. We sometimes spend these times on our phones, scrolling social media, or impatiently waiting for it to be over so we can get to the main event!
But these moments are great opportunities for practicing mindfulness. They turn an otherwise boring and mundane moment into something much more valuable! Why not listen to a short meditation while you wait to pick the kids up from school, or practice a 2 minute breathing exercise while you wait for the lift? And for more tips on how to incorporate mindfulness into your every day life as a parent, check out this blog post.
8. Get the kids involved
Many parents tell me they can’t practice mindfulness because they can’t get alone time to meditate. But who says you have to meditate alone? Mindfulness is great for all ages and can be lots of fun for kids! Mindfulness doesn’t have to be a quiet activity – you can do anything mindfully, including running, skipping, jumping, dancing and crafting. So if you are struggling to find quiet moments in your day to practice, try getting the kids involved instead! Not only will you get some mindfulness practice in, it’s also a great opportunity to connect with your kids, and teach them some self regulation strategies too! Check out this blog post for tips on introducing mindfulness to kids And see this blog post for some fun ideas for practising mindfulness with your toddler.
9. Join a community
It’s easier to establish a new habit when you’re surrounded by like minded people with similar goals. A group provides you with accountability of course. But it also provides you with support and inspiration. The success of other people can be a huge motivator, and when you run into challenges you have a community of people who have been there before who can empathise and support you. If you’re looking for your own supportive community of like minded parents, we chat about all things mindful parenting (including mindfulness for both parents and kids ) inside of my free Facebook community, Raising Mindful Little Minds.
10. Complete a challenge
There is research to suggest that all it takes to experience the positive benefits of mindfulness is 10 minutes of practice a day for 10 consecutive days. So why not set yourself a challenge? In fact, inside of The Mindful Little Mama this month, we have done exactly that! Members have chosen a short 10 minute activity to complete each day and are tracking their progress over the 10 days to see if they notice any positive change! It’s been lots of fun so far. If you’d want to join in, the challenge is part of my monthly mindful parenting membership, The Mindful Little Mama.
Sarah is a psychologist, mama of 4 and the creator of Mindful Little Minds. She has over 10 years of experience working with children, adolescents and families experiencing mental health problems and has a special interest in anxiety disorders in children. In her spare time she enjoys hugging her kids, drinking coffee, and telling anyone who’ll listen how tired she is.