Lockdown: Mindful Habits To Cope With Ups & Downs

Lockdown: Mindful Habits To Cope With Ups & Downs

After nearly 7 weeks of quiet sedentary life, I catch myself sliding towards apathy more than I care to admit. I struggle to stay engage with my humble training program, I can’t focus much on my work and existential questions creeps in. Am I doing anything meaningful these days? If you’re on the same boat (no bad joke intended), bare with me. I’ve done some research and I believe there is hope for us.

Making peace with COVID-19

After escaping Saudi, Sven and I ended up in a small German town in the countryside. At first, I was simply grateful to have landed somewhere friendly. As much as I enjoyed our time in the Kingdom, being trapped within closed borders with nowhere to hide would have been more than we bargained for. A week later, the fight or flight state was gone, leaving me with an urgent need to do something with myself. 

This period of uncertainty is stressful for everyone. Suddenly, we must reinvent our way of life. As travelers, this comes with a particularly painful twist. Whenever things go back to “normal” for most people, we’ll have to wait again several months, years even, before resuming our nomadic lives the way we used to. 

My inner Stoic urges me to tackle the question and prepare. Am I ready to cope if things get worse? Whether I like it or not, my life will change and I can’t do much about that. What I can do is react in ways that won’t hurt me and others around me more than necessary. Maybe it is time to stop fooling around with mindfulness and experiment with a serious daily practice… Now how am I going to make that work? 

5 Helpful tricks to adopt a meditation routine

1. Meditate first thing in the morning. Do not touch your phone, computer or anything that could trigger a though process before your meditation, including books! Keeping a clear mind before sitting helps focus on the breath (or whatever technique you are observing). It’s not an absolute rule, but it surely makes things a bit easier. 

Cat Sea Quiet
Quiet resting spot by the Mediterranean Sea

2. Use a timer set to a pre-determined time. You could also choose a piece of meditation music and terminate your session when the music ends. Whether or not you should listen to music while meditating is totally up to you. It can help as well as it can distract you. Try it out and see if it suits you. In any case, you should not look at your phone or clock mid-session. The timer (or music) allows you to focus on your practice without worrying about how much time is left. 5 minutes to begin with is plenty. Build it up progressively.

3. Choose a space where you won’t be disturbed. Many can’t enjoy the luxury of a space entirely dedicated to meditation, but being consistent with the space you choose can help build a routine. Confinement might limit your options. With everyone at home, your place might be more crowded than usual. Explain your intentions to your flatmates, parents, children or life partner (who knows, maybe they’ll want in!). This way, they will be prepared to avoid speaking to you when you’re in the middle of a session. As a bonus, sharing your goals with others makes you accountable and helps foster commitment 

surf surfer partner group together team
Don't you feel like diving in as well?

4. Team up! If someone in your home is up for it, that’s awesome. (Sven is too much of an early bird these days…) If you don’t have access to a physical person to sit with, don’t worry. Several meditation schools now offer virtual sessions because of the pandemic. Many are free and that might be worth investigating. Another way would be to reach out to potential partners and meet through Skype, FaceTime, Zoom, name it! Having a partner simply helps committing to your practice, so it doesn’t matter if you are physically far from each other. It’s also a way to keep positive ties with friends you might be temporarily separated from.

5. Journal for a few minutes after every meditation to keep track of your progression. Write about how you felt, what you observed. Note any progress or drawback and learn from them. It will be encouraging to see if you can sit longer without letting your mind slip away, but meditation is not about winning. If you had a “bad” session, it is still a constructive one. You might also come up with brilliant ideas after your session and these are precious! What you take away from your meditations will motivate you to pursue them, so embrace it ALL. 

Cracking habit formation to fight your inner troll

If you want to maintain your meditation practice as part of your daily routine, or any good habit for that matter, chances are you’ll have to fight for it at some point. Understanding how a set of good intentions turn into a healthy second nature can help you keep your eyes on the prize when temptation joins the party. 

Mental trainer Jason Selk brakes down this process into tree phases: “the honeymoon”, “the fight thru” and “the second nature”.

 The Honeymoon: After a few daily sessions, you’ll probably feel proud of your commitment and might even start observing results. At that point, keeping the beat shouldn’t be an issue

 The Fight Through: Sooner or later, that initial drive will fade and you’ll notice that you are distracted before your session time. You might find it more difficult every day to bring yourself to sit. If you give in now, you’ll probably not make it to the next phase, so buckle up!

 

Surfer Waves
It's ok to slip, you'll ride the next wave!

It’s ok to skip once in a while, the idea is to win 2 “fight thru’s” out of 3. Selk insists on that being critical and shares a few steps that can help you win:

  1. Acknowledge what’s happening. Learn to recognize the feeling and to move past it. Don’t give way to the temptation, but don’t punish yourself for experiencing it. Every time you choose to meditate instead of falling back to older habits is a win. Every win makes it easier for the next time. On the contrary, if you give in, it will be harder to win the next “fight thru”. 
  2. Ask yourself how you will feel once you are done if you decide to go through with your meditation. Then imagine how you would feel if you didn’t. This might help you remember why you started meditating in the first place. It’s a way to get emotionally aware and involved with your practice. 
  3. Project yourself in the future. If the two first steps weren’t enough to bring you to sit, visualize in detail how your life might be five years from now if you maintain a daily practice. Allow yourself to be completely honest and emerge yourself in the feeling. If you still don’t manage to meditate, you nevertheless won’t walk away empty handed. Win! 

It is easier to meditate when the mind is not running in all directions. Asking yourself about your deepest personal motivations or trying to imagine your future goes against that principle, but this is why winning the “fight thru” is so important.

surfer meditation
Surfer taking a mindful moment after a session in the waves (Haifa Bat Galim, Israel)

The Second Nature: You’ll know you’ve reached it when your start finding your flow. Sitting will appear natural, a part of your routine that you don’t question anymore, and you’ll be able to do it with a fresher mind. At least that’s the idea! Not questioning the habit is a thing, walking into your meditation with a clear mind is an other. 

Expect a few setbacks. You might allow yourself to doubt your practice at some point: “Is it even worth it?” “I haven’t been able to empty my mind all week, this isn’t working!” Meet your inner troll. Don’t imagine you’re alone in this, we all have one. Perhaps the inspiration will stick, but a change of pattern in your daily life will disrupt your practice for a few days or weeks. Yes, you will have to fight through again and again, but experimenting failure builds confidence and resilience. Embrace it too. 

3 practical Conditioning tricks

1. The Routine Anchor: Try tying your new habit with an already existing one. Instead of a generic “I will meditate once a day” or “I will meditate every day at 7:00 am”, try to attach your meditation practice to an activity that is already a part of your daily routine. For instance, you could opt for “I will meditate every day when I wake up” or “I will meditate every day between yoga and lunch”

Beach Coffee ritual
Make sure to have your morning coffee AFTER your meditation!

2. Existing Trigger: you can utilize already existing triggers to foster healthier habits. 

Let’s say that you can’t help but grab your phone when you wake up and scroll down your Instagram feed. You could put another item where your phone would usually be (and hide the phone!) to trigger a different behaviour. For instance, you could put a card the size of your phone with a reminder to go meditate. You could even write down a few words of motivation, a picture that speaks to you, etc Or maybe you took the habit to watch Netflix after you daily walk, why not exchange your favorite series by an online guided meditation. You are already sitting with your computer everyday at the same moment, why not use that to your advantage? 

Observe yourself, notice your habits and patterns without judgement and be creative with what you could turn them into. Even if you struggle with your new practice, you’ll collect precious information about yourself and enhance your self-awareness in the process. Another win! 

3. Beat the path: whatever habit you are trying to adopt, make it as easy for you as possible. If you want to start practicing yoga on a daily basis or train regularly, avoid deciding what exercises to do just before your session. Maybe that morning you will feel sleepy, maybe your lunch will still make you feel heavy. If you start deliberating whether or not you are fit for those exercises or worse, try to decide what to do that day, you are done! Plan ahead so that when the time comes, you know exactly what to do. No room for excuses or doubts. It will make it easier to win the “fight thru”.

It’s a bit similar with meditation. Decide how much time you want to dedicate to your meditation practice in advance and set a timer when it’s time to sit. However you may feel, just do it. Embrace what comes without questioning your mental fitness or judging the result. Remember, a “bad” meditation session is a win nonetheless. 

Morning light Nile Sudan sunrise
Sunrise over a perfectly calm Nile (Wadi Halfa, Sudan)

Finding discipline under lockdown is challenging. Our routines have been disturbed, our pace slowed down, and it makes it harder to keep up with some of our old habits. While it might have compromised some of our healthiest patterns, this pandemic offers an opportunity: to break and transform those that weren’t deliberate.

Let’s make the best of this situation and instil our daily lives with a bit of mindfulness! We don’t have that much control over when and how the world is going to open up, but we can work on ourselves to be more patient, compassionate and loving when it does. 

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