Day 1: Start Small - The Power of Tiny Habits

Good morning Friend, 

Quote for Today"Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together." ~ Vincent Van Gogh

Recommended Exercise: Meditate for 1, 3 or 5 minutes. Read this email or check out the link to today's video. (Don't worry, everything is covered in both - you can read or watch.) The video starts with 3 minutes of silent meditation, so you can get your daily meditation in with me! 

Today's Video Reflectionhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IlhOd__1FWY

A few quick logistical items:  

  1. We'll have a beginner's meditation instruction tonight at 9pm EST. Don't worry if you can't make it, it will be recorded. We'll stream live on Youtube here
  2. We'll host interactive beginner's sessions every night this week, typically at about 9pm EST / 6pm PST. The information for connecting will be in the daily emails and these sessions will NOT be recorded because they are a chance for you to work in small groups with our instructors.
  3. I'll be running a blog post where I'll be adding the daily emails in case you miss them. Check that out here
  4. I'm here to help! So are our 22 volunteer meditation instructors. Email me (reply to this), text/call me 203-613-3122 or pop into the Facebook Discussion Group.  

Reflection:  Happy New Year! I'm so glad we're starting the year off meditating together. Thank you for joining us! 

When we show up for a meditation practice it is because our motivation is very high. Something is going on in our life that needs a solution and we've found a practice that we will help us. 

A common problem many of us encounter is we start off with daily goals that are too ambitious. A central belief of our community is that a daily meditation practice is the answer: Starting small, focusing on slow and steady, is the way we'll see real change in our life. 

Put another way, if you want the most from your meditation practice, focus on meditating everyday more than you focus on sitting for long periods of time. 

Dr. BJ Fogg has a brilliant TED talk focusing on the power of Tiny Habits. If you have some time, check out the video. In short, he suggests that our motivation inevitably wanes and we get left with goals that are too ambitious when our motivation has disappeared.

I studied habit formation during my master's research, specifically for new meditators, and I can tell you the science is clear: It takes 66 days on average to create a new habit. That means for the first two months sitting a little bit everyday is the best strategy.  

We are what we do repeatedly. We experience the benefits of meditation not during the time on the cushion, but rather from the way our day to day life changes. Practicing a little bit everyday is the most powerful way to reshape your life. 

Summary: If you walk away from this challenge with only one lesson, let it be this: 3 minutes of meditation a day can change your life. It takes a long time to install new habits, so start small and celebrate consistency over the length of your practice.  

May your practice be strong and your life go well. 

Warmly, 
Anthony A. Cernera, M.Ed. 
Founder & Meditation Instructor
New Leaf Mediation Project

P.S. If you haven't yet, join the Facebook Discussion Group where over 5,000 of our friends support each other and talk about things like this challenge! 

Day 1 Part 2: How to Meditate

Good evening Friend, 

I had a great time with the group in tonight's introduction/kick off video.  If you haven't meditated before or you need a brush up, the recording might be helpful: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wwWEhSWFSuY
 
Reflection: Tonight we practiced "Zazen" (zen meditation) which is a concentration practice and a "breathe awareness meditation." It is the oldest and most practiced form of meditation in the world. It is a simple practice, but by no means easy. 

  1. Sit in a solid chair with an upright spine. Take a relaxed but wakeful posture that allows for deep natural breathing. Good posture will help us sit completely still. 
  2. Breath in and out of the nose. Try not to "control" your breathing.
  3. Bring your awareness squarely to your breath focusing your attention on the experience of your breath all the way down in your lower abdomen. 
  4. Count each in and out breath. When you notice your mind is wandering, don't judge or criticize yourself. Your mind is merely doing its job. Brains think, eyes see and ears here. Just acknowledge that you were thinking, let go of the thought and bring your focus back to your breath.   

For a 7 minute video summarizing this check out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UYhmjIV-BM8
For the whole long conversation tonight check out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wwWEhSWFSuY
For a short blog post on this: http://www.newleafmeditation.org/blog/a-short-introduction
Our "How to Meditate" page with some additional resources: http://www.newleafmeditation.org/howtomeditate/

Some additional tips and resources: 

  • App Recommendation: "Insight Timer" is a great Android and iPhone app. You can adjust the settings to mute your phone while you are meditating and it will automatically turn the ringer back on when you are done.   
  • Join the Discussion Group: We have 5,000+ members in our discussion group on facebook. It is a great way to connect with other meditators, get inspired, have questions answered and support each other. Find the group here: www.facebook.com/groups/newleafmeditation 
  •  Email me: It is me, Anthony, on the other end of this email. Reply and you go straight to my personal email. If you are having a problem, a question, a worry or a success, please don't hesitate. Send me a note and say hi! 
  • Daily Beginner's Groups: Keep an eye out for all the emails this week. We have a beginner's meditation group everyday this week! 

Nice work tonight! I look forward to being in touch this week. Remember, I'm here to help. I'll send little reminders in the morning with some words of encouragement. 
 
May your practice go well. 

Warmly, 
Anthony A. Cernera, M.Ed. 
Founder & Meditation Instructor
New Leaf Mediation Project

Day 2: Events This Week

Good evening, 

As promised - I post the events for this week. Here is the link with all the details: newleafmeditation.org/events 

Here are the highlights of what you'll find on that events page:

  • Tonight at 9:30pm EST / 8:30pm PST - Beginner's Instruction with Leann
  • Tuesday - Beginner's Instruction at 8:30pm EST with Danielle 
  • Tuesday - The Weekly Book Club at 9pm EST (No reading required - show up - we read together!) 
  • Wednesday - Beginner's Session at 8:30pm EST with Kevin
  • Thursday - Experienced Meditators Huddle: Falling off the wagon and other challenges at 9pm EST with Chris  

We use some really cool software called "Zoom" which you can connect to us by computer, mobile device or phone! There are details on the events page about how to connect to our zoom channel. 

May your practice be strong and your life go well. 

Warmly, 
Anthony A. Cernera, M.Ed. 
Founder & Meditation Instructor
New Leaf Mediation Project

P.S. We'll have more events for the weekend but they aren't scheduled yet! We'll keep the events page updated and I'll let you know by email as they get updated! 

P.P.S. I'm open to taking requests! If you have a topic or a day/time you're interested in, let me know and I'll staff it with a volunteer meditation instructor and invite our friends to join us! 

Day 3: Link New Habits to Existing Habits

Good morning, 

Quote for Today: “The chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken. ~ Warren Buffett  

Recommended Exercise: Meditate for 1, 3 or 5 minutes. Email me or jump in the discussion group and tell us what existing habit you identified to link your meditation practice to. 

Today's Video Reflectionhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_k_IpsSKP58

Reflection: Gosh, I like this meditation group of ours. We had an amazing session last night. 20 people showed up for our beginner's instruction with Leann. I loved meeting so many of you and I hope more of you will show up this week. There are groups all week. Check out newleafmeditation.org/events for the complete schedule.
 
Today many of us are going back to work. From a habit formation perspective this is a great opportunity. Here are two well researched facts that will hopefully change your enthusiasm for returning to work today: 

First, whenever we have a break in a routine like a week long vacation, starting a new job or moving, we have a perfect moment for installing new habits. Why? Because our previous habits are just a touch weaker than they normally are. Typically what prevents new habits from taking hold is our tendency to revert to our old habits. A reset or change of a routine is a great opportunity to break an old habit or insert a new one. 

Second, habits are like little programs our brain runs so we don't have to make decisions all day long. Personally, I wake up, shower and brush my teeth, in that order, everyday. When I started linking my meditation to that habit loop, I started seeing a great increase in my ability to remember to meditate every morning. My new program is wake up, shower, brush my teeth and sit on the cushion to meditate. 

Today's exercise is simple. Think about your day and identify a daily habit that you would like to link your meditation practice to. Email me or add your voice to the discussion group to share what existing habit you'll add your new habit too. Hopefully sharing our ideas will spark some realizations for our friends. 

May your practice be strong and your life go well. 

Warmly, 
Anthony A. Cernera, M.Ed. 
Founder & Meditation Instructor
New Leaf Mediation Project

Day 4: Two Types of Writing to Help Your Practice

Good morning Anthony, 

Quote for Today: “Without knowing the force of words, it is impossible to know more.” ~ Confucius

Recommended Exercise: Meditate for 3 or 5 minutes. Try one of the two writing exercises discussed in the reflection.

Tonight's EventBeginner's Instruction with Kevin at 8:30pm EST 5:30pm PST

Video Reflectionhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YL_uzU7MlBA

Reflection: It is hard to develop a new habit.
 
Fortunately, I have a weird trick to help you and it is scientifically proven to work.
 
In a famous study “The Methods of Interrogation and Indoctrination Used by the Communist State Police” Lawrence Hinkle and Harold Wolff, examined how the Chinese government “brainwashed” American prisoners of war to become vocal proponents of China. The so called brainwashing was perplexing to the American military who funded the study. There was no evidence of torture, drug use or hypnosis typically associated with such a dramatic reversal of opinions.
 
The Chinese secret police had discovered through small, incremental steps of essay writing the opinions of the prisoners could be deeply and profoundly molded. Simply writing and sharing essays on the merits of communism could change a prisoner’s most cherished beliefs. (Hinkle, 1957)

In the science of habit formation public statements are effective but written statements prove to most effectively shape future behavior. (Read, follow through.)  

Try this exercise:

  1. Stop right now and grab a pen and paper.
  2. Visualize when you would like to meditate.  I find it is best to link a new habit to something you already do daily like showering or brushing your teeth.
  3. Write down this commitment. “I will meditate for ____ minutes immediately after I __________.” 
  4. Send me an amazed email in a week telling me it worked!

This has been tested and proven in a number of ways over the last 50 years. I did a research experiment for my master’s thesis which confirmed just how powerful this simple trick is.
 
In my research I gave basic meditation instruction to 30 new practitioners. All agreed to meditate daily and report back their success. The control group got basic instruction. The experimental group got the same instruction plus the recommended steps mentioned above.
 
The difference was surprising. The control meditated 4.5 days on average and the experimental group meditated 5.75 days.
 
It is a simple trick and it works.

My friend Sheila has a great tip for helping quiet our mind during meditation.
 
Before sitting, Sheila dedicates a few minutes to writing in a notebook. She empties her mind of any of the random thoughts that she might need to process, let go of, or remember later.
 
Sheila tells me, “despite having a calendar, apps on the phone, etcetera, I keep details of things in my head and miraculously, they surface when they need to. When meditating, though, I find all those ‘reminders’ that bubble up to be distracting.”
 
She continues, “Sometimes there are bits of conversations and experiences that resurface because they feel unfinished. Often I replay these thoughts where I felt hurt or I get concerned that I left the wrong impression  and sometimes I don't even know the underlying 'why' until I revisit it. I write all of it down because it means that there is something there that requires further attention on my part.”
 
Sheila concludes, “After a few minutes of unloading my mind on paper, I feel ready to dedicate myself to my practice. I find sitting quietly comes more easily.”
 
I love Sheila’s practice and in trying it myself I find it very practical and effective. There is good scientific research that proves it is also a very helpful way to reduce stress. 
 
May your practice be strong and your life go well. 

Warmly, 
Anthony A. Cernera, M.Ed. 
Founder & Meditation Instructor
New Leaf Mediation Project

 

Day 5: No Super Humans

Good morning Anthony, 

Quote for Today: “You are perfect and complete, just the way you are.” ~ John Daido Loori

Recommended Exercise: Meditate for 1, 3 or 5 minutes. Look out for a moment where you are critical of yourself and ask if you would have said the same thing to a loved one. 

Today's Videohttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AgdRb9BXcD4

Tonight's Event: Experienced Meditators Discussion - Challenges and pit falls with Chris at 9pm EST / 6pm PST. Details here

Reflection: I can say some pretty ugly things. 

Almost never about or to anyone else, of course. I try very hard to be caring, compassionate and kind with my words. I avoid swearing and work hard to never say something about a coworker or friend I wouldn't say if they were in the room. 

But me? That's a whole different story. 

When I first started developing these challenges four years ago, I tested it out on my friend Celia who I had been meditating with for years. At the start of week three I was typically doing a loving-kindness guided meditation. In my skype call with Celia I asked if she would like to do the guided or if she preferred silent meditation. 

She said she wouldn't mind just being silent. I replied, "Great, I can't stand the sound of my own voice." 

I then sat there for 10 minutes meditating with Celia and thought to myself, "wow, I would never say that about another person. Why am I okay with being so ugly to myself? 

After years of meditating I've come to strongly believe there are no super humans, no sub-humans, just human humans. 

Of the thousand people in this challenge I have emailed or talked with probably a quarter of you in the last week.I was a little heart broken to hear how hard many of you are on yourselves. Where many of you see the failure to live up to an inspirational ideal, I see a person who should be praised because they are trying to move in a positive direction. 

If you are finding yourself being critical about your meditation practice, I'd encourage you to take a minute and think about how you'd talk about this with someone you loved. Would you be harsh and damning? Or would you be supportive and encouraging? 

May your practice be strong and your life go well. 

Warmly, 
Anthony A. Cernera, M.Ed. 
Founder & Meditation Instructor
New Leaf Mediation Project

Day 6: Problems and Solutions for Experienced Meditators

Good morning Anthony, 

Quote for Today: “Above all, don't lie to yourself.” ~ Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Recommended Exercise: Meditate for 1, 3 or 5 minutes. Jump into the discussion group and let us know what challenges you've faced in your meditation practice and what solutions you are trying.  

Video Reflectionhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xsJkUM1dCYU

Reflection: We had a great discussion led by our friend and New Leaf Meditation Instructor Chris last night. Our topic was challenges facing experienced meditators and what we're doing about it. Thank you everyone who participated, you certainly helped me! 

At one point Chris paraphrased a meditation instructor (whose name I can't remember!) as saying, "the only rule in meditation is to not lie to yourself." This basic level of self awareness will go along way to helping you understand the challenges facing you and your ability to try out some solutions. Here are a few themes that came up last night. 

Problem #1 - Aversion to sitting: Many of us shared about the experience of having a challenging time in life and finding that when we meditated the emotions were very strong and it made sitting uncomfortable. So we started to avoid it. Solution: We all agreed there was no way around a problem or a difficult time, there was only through it. By accepting this and being gentle with ourselves, we found a solution of decreasing the period of time we were sitting. We knew it was going to be hard, but found with less time we could face our difficult emotions and slowly make our peace with them. We also discussed switching to guided meditation or substituting yoga or other mindful activities for a short period. 

Problem #2 - Boredom: Some of us who have been sitting for years talked about hitting a plateau and finding our meditation a bit routine or uninspired. Meditation started to feel more like a chore. Solution: Three themes emerged here. The first was obvious, try a new technique and see if that helps us rediscover the benefits and enthusiasm for our practice. The second was less obvious; try drilling down on the basics and refining the practice. There are only the 101s of meditation, nothing to graduate from. If we renew our desire to bring curiosity and inquiry to our practice we rediscover the subtly of the practice with new vigor. Third, use the boredom as a point of questioning. Why am I bored? What does boredom feel like? Why can't I accept being still? Why do I run away from feelings of discomfort, even those as subtle as boredom?   

Problem #3 - Life is going too well: Jan shared about her professional life as a psych nurse. She said so many patients stop taking their meds after they get better. For many of us we come to a meditation practice because we were suffering. Eventually that suffering fades, especially if we've been practicing and the motivation to meditate can disappear. Solution: Renew your commitment to sitting by reminding yourself of why you started. Do you want to return to that state of distress? Try writing down a list of all the things you love about the benefits of meditation and remind yourself that you value these. 

Problem #4 - Too much time: I basically took 2016 off and when I had all the time in the world I meditated less than I did when working 50 hours a week while in school. Why? Something about a lack of structure gave us few existing habits to link our meditating habit to. Solution: Create structure. Join a group, get a partner and try the writing exercise from Day 4. 

Problem #5 - Life changes: Many of us talked about moving and how this upheaval changed our routine and we lost our daily practice or sitting group. Solution: Don't be hard on yourself! This is understandable. In the same way we discussed changes being an opportunity on Day 3, we find that they can erode existing habits. Hit a hard reset. Go on a retreat, join a new group, invest in your relationship with this community, start small and celebrate your successes. 

Such a wonderful conversation last night. Thank you everyone who came and contributed their challenges and solutions. 

May your practice be strong and your life go well. 

Warmly, 
Anthony A. Cernera, M.Ed. 
Founder & Meditation Instructor
New Leaf Mediation Project

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