Ninety days of navel-gazing

For several years now I’ve been intermittently trying to get into the habit of meditating.

For the first time, I think I may be succeeding.

You’ll see all kinds of stuff online declaring that it takes twenty-one days to form a habit. Or thirty. Or sixty. I went digging on this, and unsurprisingly, the actual answer varies wildly — not to mention that I wonder how the researchers who study this can actually tell. How do you detect “a habit” versus something you’ve been doing daily but it isn’t really ingrained yet? I think I have genuinely developed one in my Duolingo Japanese practice; I managed to keep my nose to the grinder long enough to achieve a 365-day streak, and in the month plus since then, I still haven’t missed a day. There aren’t any more achievements for me to unlock in the program, but I keep doing it anyway.

I’m a little over ninety days into the meditation practice/habit/what have you. Ninety-two, I think, but there was one day around 75 where I didn’t get my sitting done until after midnight, which broke my streak in the app I’m using. I did still meditate that “day,” though (defining that as a span of time between me waking and going to sleep), so it counts. This is longer than I’ve ever managed before, and I think I know why.

See, in the past I’ve started small and tried to build. If I’m doing well with ten minutes, I try for fifteen, or twenty. (I don’t think I’ve ever shot for more than twenty.) There’s certainly a benefit to going for longer, but this time I decided to prioritize the habit over the duration — it’s easy to squeeze ten minutes from my day, and definitely saves my bacon when I realize that oh crap, it’s 11:45, I need to sit down right now. And I think that’s contributing very substantially to my success in keeping this up. I don’t know if it’s a genuine habit yet, in the way Duolingo is, but it’s getting there. When it’s realio trulio ingrained, I’ll think about adding five or ten minutes to my regimen. But that might not be until some time next year. One study said the time needed for habit formation could range as high as 254 days (again, how do they tell???), so if I’m still just doing ten minutes come next June, that’s fine. The important thing will be that I am still doing it.

Is it making a difference? I think so. I’m just doing basic mindfulness, and I do think it’s improved my concentration and memory a bit. I also credit the equanimity I managed to maintain through election season to the fact that I started back in on this in early September, specifically because I knew I was likely to need something to keep me from losing my shit.

But what I do know is that I (mostly) don’t mind doing this anymore. It’s becoming routine. I think it would be better if I could manage anything like consistency in when I sit down . . . but what matters is that I’m doing this.

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