Develop a daily practice
I’d heard it so many times before: it was important to develop a daily practice. CEOs and startup founders talked about it when they were interviewed on podcasts. All the research pointed to how important it was to develop a daily practice of meditation. Develop a daily practice, people said, and I’d think one of two things:
a.) I know I need to do this, but, gah, I just don’t have the time. There’s so much to do! How does anyone stay on top of it all? Let me read the book by so-and-so about their daily practice maybe that will give me some ideas…I’ll think about what I want to do for a daily practice, and I’ll start sometime…I’ll start on Monday. Starting on Monday feels right. Fresh week. New start. All of that.
b.) Okay, okay, okay, I need to develop a daily practice. I’m gonna do it, this time! I’m going to do something daily! I’ll start with a challenge—yes—a 30-day challenge. Roll up my sleeves, here I come, this daily practice thing is HAPPENING! Yeah! I’ll give myself gold stars, and I’ll track my progress. Positive reinforcement. I’m setting this goal, I’m going to do it, and it’s going to be great.
When I took the first approach, it was mostly just a delay tactic. I read about other people’s daily practices and got inspired, and then made a lot of excuses about not having enough time to develop a daily practice that I could reasonably sustain.
When I took the second approach, it was mostly just perfectionism—I was going to be “perfect” about the daily practice—and then I’d immediately feel chained down to it, like ugh, was I really going to “have to” meditate every day for the rest of my life? I’d feel obligated and want to rebel, or I’d grit my teeth and put in the time and all, but then I’d feel all motivation leave me once I’d hit some kind of official milestone. If the challenge was 30 days, I’d feel proud of myself for making it to day 30, and then day 31 felt lackluster.
And then everything changed.
Develop a Daily Practice That Feeds You
I’m not totally sure how this clicked, but there came the day when this felt like the truest thing I knew: to not give myself the time and space for my daily practice, was akin to not feeding myself. I eat every day to feed myself, physically—and I needed to develop and sustain a daily practice, to feed myself, emotionally.
You would never eat your regular meals on a Monday, and then consider eating on Tuesday and say, “Well, I could eat today, but I did eat yesterday, and eating takes so much time…”
Someone could counter that by pointing out that hunger is a physical sensation, one that gets painful to ignore, that we require eating daily in order to sustain our lives.
I’d say: yeah, and your emotional hungers are also physical sensations, and they get painful to ignore, and whether you admit it or not, you require daily emotional nourishment of some kind, in order to sustain your life.
When you are…tired. resentful. overwhelmed. exhausted. worried. ruminating. angry. irritated. doing too much. unable to focus. difficulty prioritizing. experiencing physical symptoms of illness. navigating a big life transition. caring for the sick or those who are dependent on you. reactive. trying to make big changes in your life or on behalf of the world. stretching into a new space that’s outside of your comfort zone. spaced out. numbed out. zoned out…
When you are any of the above, you are going to be emotionally hungry.
Some of you who are reading this may be downright starving.
A daily practice is not a burden, an obligation, a thing you “must do” in order to be a good person, and a daily practice doesn’t need to take a lot of time—and yes, you do have the time.
A daily practice is something we must give ourselves, in order to have any kind of a life. A daily practice of some kind, where in some way you slow down to connect to yourself, is critical.
Different Types of Daily Practices
Maybe something in you knows that this is true—that a daily practice of some kind is required nourishment. The next thing you might wonder: what type of daily practice should you do?
Well, there’s really no “should” to it all. Your practice doesn’t need to be fancy, does not need to involve elaborate ritual, does not require a specific cushion to sit on or a special room, does not need to be specifically a meditation practice, does not require watching your breath.
You could have a daily practice of spending five minutes in total silence. You could have a daily practice of checking in with yourself to see where you are in integrity, and where you feel you want to realign with your integrity. You could have a daily practice of taking a morning walk. You could have your daily practice while you are in the shower, getting deeply present to the sensory delight of water on skin and feeling gratitude for each breath. You could have a daily practice of sketching quietly with colored pencils. You could have a daily practice of dancing wildly and ecstatically. You could have a daily practice of listening to inspiring, uplifting audios while you’re commuting to work.
What kind of daily practice do you want to do? Does your life need more color? More quiet? More laughter? More getting present with who you are and what you truly want?
The Cons. The Pros.
The cons of not having a daily practice are things like feeling tired, irritable, resentful, overwhelmed, and on and on.
The pros: having more energy. being less reactive. feeling less overwhelmed. tapping into more joy. feeling more gratitude and appreciation. noticing more of the goodness in the world. having better ideas. being more creative. feeling less stuck. navigating life challenges with a bigger perspective. feeling resourced and rejuvenated even amid difficult circumstances. optimism. better focus and concentration. improved immunity. stress resilience.
Believe in the Power of Five Minutes
The next hurdle is often one of time and believing that there are too many other things that are more important to do, thus preventing you from “fitting in” the daily practice.
“I don’t have time,” I told myself year after year, as I spent time each day surfing Facebook, or watching television, or flipping through the latest issue of Us Weekly to find out about the money and clothing and divorces of celebrities I’d never meet.
This “I don’t have time” thing is always an interesting one to look at. We all have the same number of minutes in each day, and whether I was working 80+ hour weeks between multiple jobs in order to scrape together enough to pay my bills, or I was dictating my own hours after becoming self-employed, “I don’t have time,” was something I’d hear myself saying. It’s something I hear a lot of us saying.
How much time are you spending checking text messages? Or on social media? Watching television? Could you spend 20 minutes less on those options? Are you willing to confront your resistance to prioritizing just 20 minutes for yourself?
And if you truly—really, really, and truly—do not have 20 minutes, then okay, what time DO you have? Could you spend just five minutes on a daily practice? If you truly feel like you can’t cobble together 20 minutes—and it’s worth asking oneself the hard questions about one’s own resistance to really believing that somewhere in your life, 20 minutes is available—then choose five minutes. Or ten. Or fifteen. Or seven.
“It feels like there wouldn’t even be a point to just five minutes,” I can hear someone say, to which I’d reply…
…that five minutes is better than no minutes. Five minutes of slowing down to breathe is better than no minutes of slowing down to breathe. Five minutes of sketching with colored pencils in the middle of your workday is better than no minutes. Five minutes of offering yourself validation and acknowledgment for being a good human being are better than no minutes. Ask any minister, preacher, or religious leader, and I’m quite sure that they will tell you that five minutes to pray to the god of your understanding is better than no minutes.
“It just seems so self-indulgent,” others may protest.
And sure, it is. Self-indulgence in and of itself isn’t a bad thing, especially if it enables you to show up for your life in ways that are kinder and more compassionate. We live in a world where people suffer emotionally in greater numbers than ever before, and it is no crime to create ways to build your emotional resilience. That’s what a daily practice does for your life—it builds that emotional resilience.
In addition, the benefits of your own emotional resilience are far reaching and extend beyond you. You aren’t likely to feel patient, compassion, and kind with others if you aren’t doing it with yourself. When you are physically hungry, it’s difficult to think of anything other than your own physical hunger. When you are emotionally hungry, you may not realize this, but it’s more difficult to really give to anyone else.
Choose your Priorities
When you don’t feed yourself, physically, the longer you go without feeding, the worse it gets. That’s why you must choose feeding yourself physically, as a priority.
When you don’t feed yourself, emotionally, the longer you go without feeding, the worse it gets. This is why you must choose feeding yourself emotionally, as a priority.
When you feed yourself physically, the healthier and stronger you are.
When you feed yourself emotionally, the healthier and stronger you are.
If you are one of the lucky humans in this world who has access to food to feed yourself physically, it would be senseless to simply just choose not to eat.
If you are one of the lucky humans in this world who has access to five minutes to feed yourself emotionally, it would be senseless to simply just choose not to take the five minutes.
Something shifted when I realized that a daily practice was essential to my happiness and well-being, and therefore skipping a daily practice was basically saying, “I have the option to do something to improve my happiness and well-being, but hey, I won’t take it.”
It’s my wish that in reading this, something shifts for you, too—that you get ruthless about deciding to evaluate how you use your time, find the 20 minutes, and commit to nourishing your emotional health as a central priority in your life.
There are so many people on the planet who do not have access to the resources that they need. If you do have access, then I beg of you, use those resources fully, because there are so many others who would trade you for your circumstances in an instant. To have access and then squander those resources seems like such a tragedy. To have access is such a gift, and it’s a gift that carries so much potential. To use the resources you have, and see if that gives you more capacity to make the world better for others, could be the gift the world is waiting for.