A Motivational Tip to Meditate (and Do Other Things in Life)

“If you can’t be disciplined, be clever.” – Shinzen Young, The Science Of Enlightenment.

Motivation and Discipline are in that category of abstract concepts that sells books, DVDs, and seminars, not to mention hopes and dreams that we will be a better person tomorrow than we are today.

It is also elusive to us at one point or another. For me, it’s daily. Everyday, I keep thinking that I will go to bed earlier tomorrow, that I will read more books, that I will organize my closet. But when tomorrow becomes today, I lack the same motivation or inspiration that I had yesterday.

For the longest time, I struggled with the motivation and/or discipline to meditate daily. Then I discovered Shinzen Young and his Science of Enlightenment lectures where he gave one little tip that rocked my world. He was addressing the typical challenge of finding time to meditate and … well, just doing it. “If you can’t be disciplined, be clever”, advised Shinzen. Sign up for a retreat and send in the full amount of money. Put it on your calendar. Buy the plane ticket. Create the conditions where you can’t easily back out.

Following this advice, I went on a 10-day Vipassana retreat to kick off my sitting practice. I figured if I could survive that, I just might pick up the habit. This worked, to some extent. After sitting for 14 hours a day, sitting for 10 or 15 minutes doesn’t seem so bad any more. However, I’ve had much more time to practice *not* meditating daily. 10 days is nothing compared to two decades plus. And because the habit of not meditating is that much more ingrained than the habit of meditating, it’s still a daily conscious act of telling myself: I will meditate today.

Telling myself that I will do something doesn’t always mean that I do do it. More often than not, I find an excuse not to follow through. Having an intention is well and good, but without execution, it’s moot. So, I’ve  devised some clever means to “trick” myself into doing my meditation.

  • First, I put my cushion right by  the side bottom of my bed . I see it every day, and if I don’t do my sitting, it’s there to remind me, or actually, to make me feel guilty. I don’t do well with guilt trips, and I’m using that to my advantage.
  • Second, I have a meditation clock (from Now & Zen) which I place right in the center by my bed. I can’t get in bed without stepping over it. Sometimes I put the clock on my bed before I leave my room in the morning. I can’t get under my covers without touching the clock and putting it elsewhere. That extra little bit also reminds me to do my sitting.
  • Third, I put my yoga mat next to my bed as well, not rolled up, but spread out, basically to block the entrance into my bed. I put it there because I know that I would make excuses that I’m feeling “too tight” to meditate, and that I just need to stretch out a bit, maybe do a down dog or two. If my mat is elsewhere, there’s no chance that I would make the extra effort to go get it, especially if it’s night time and I’ve already changed in my PJs. Since my mat is right there, I have one less excuse.
  • Fourth,  I decided that I would meditate before I go to sleep every day. So, the only time that I don’t meditate would be when I don’t go to sleep. This makes it so that I have to do it every single day, save a few exceptions. Night time also works because, again, I have less excuses. In the morning, I might be running late, I might need to do this and that, etc.

The success of building a habit, any habit, depends on the consistent timing. I know many teachers would tell you to meditate whenever you can. The idea is to just do it, regardless of when. I understand this philosophy. Instead of enforcing a time, which can be rigid, giving yourself the permission to do it any time can increase the probability that you’ll do it. However, for someone like me, who can come up with a really good excuse *not* to do it virtually any time of day, this doesn’t work so well.

In yoga, and in life, having a will, determination, goal, or purpose is often the first step to making some sort of desirable changes. I don’t usually lack motivation. Staying focused on what I’ve resolved to do, though, takes more work, since I’m not always focused :). To make up for that, I try to be clever and trick myself into doing the things I know I want to do, if only my will weren’t so weak and I had more discipline.

Does my cleverness work perfectly all the time? Not even close. There are times when I’m so tired that I trip over my meditation clock and don’t even think twice about meditation. There are times when I don’t spend the night at home with my clever arrangements. But, most of the time is better than none of the time. As Shinzen Young said, “any number of time is infinitely more than zero.”

I write this post in hope of giving you one way to kick your meditation practice in gear. If it works for other things, so much the better. If you have any tips, for meditation or otherwise, please let me know.