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But I Don't Have Time to Meditate

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Yes, you do. Time isn't the issue; it's priority, and specifically prioritizing yourself. I learned this the hard way this past week.

For those of you on an academic schedule, you know that once spring break is over, crunch time begins. The first thing that usually goes for me during crunch time is any type of self-care. Keep in mind that I know I need my daily meditation and yoga to be able to do what I do effectively. Doesn't matter. I think to myself, "It will free up so much time if I just give up ______." In reality, it won't.

Without my yoga and meditation, I become a tense, anxiety-prone mess. I get cranky. I don't sleep as well because I spend more time at night worrying, which only perpetuates the problem. So all the time I "saved" turns into time burned, wasted doing something completely non-productive, like worrying and list making.

Ah yes, I am the queen of list making. You might think, "List making is good, right? It helps you prioritize what you need to do." Sadly, no. List making, for me, only leads to more list making as I start putting stupid things down that really don't need to be listed like "brush my teeth," "check my email," or "go to work." Duh! Those are things I'd be doing anyway. And when I put something really important for my mental health on my list like "meditate," I ignore it and keep on jotting things down that I should be doing that either aren't important or I would do them anyway with or without the list reminder.

So let's talk priorities. To make meditation and yoga part of my day, I have come to realize that I need to do three things:

1) Figure out why it's so important that I meditate. (Hint: It can't be "because I should." That never works.) It should be a personal reason for you that you know without a doubt to be true. Something like, "I'm calmer," "I make better decisions," or "I sleep better."

2) Put it in your schedule -- pretend meditation/yoga/exercise/whatever your self-care thing is is a very important doctor's appointment or meeting at work. Something you know you would never make an excuse to miss. Treat it like that appointment. Make it sacred. And be specific: When are you going to do it? For how long? Another tip: Start small. If you haven't been taking care of yourself for a while, saying you are going to devote an hour a day to meditate is not realistic. Start with five minutes or one minute or six breaths. Once you can do that, start upping the time gradually. The last time I fell off the meditation wagon, I restarted at five minutes. I was up to 16.5 minutes when I fell off the wagon last week. Will I start back at five minutes? Probably not. As it's only been a week, 10-15 min is feasible for me. But start where you are, and if where you are is nowhere then start with 30 seconds or one minute -- whatever you think you actually can make time to do on a consistent basis.

3) Have a Plan B -- I know exactly why I stopped meditating. I had figured out for myself that the very best time for me to meditate was first thing in the morning before anyone else in my house got up. Then one morning my husband was up before I was. There went my morning meditation. Then it happened again. Pretty soon an entire week had gone by and I only meditated once. Can I blame my husband for disrupting my schedule? No. That only happened on those two occasions anyway. Besides, it wasn't his fault that he couldn't sleep; it was my fault for not having a Plan B. So here's the thing. Life happens. Sometimes Plan A will fail, and if you don't have a Plan B, you will likely fall off the track. So my new Plan B: My Plan A still holds. My meditation will occur first thing in the morning while everyone else is still in bed, but if for some reason that does not happen, I will immediately reschedule my meditation -- preferably for some time during that same day: at lunch, right before dinner, or at bedtime. I will allow myself to shorten the duration if need be. Five minutes is better than no minutes, but I will do it.

Okay, moral of the story: You've got to make time for yourself -- preferably every day -- to do something that refreshes you, centers you, and keeps you grounded. For me that something is meditation. It might be something else for you. That's okay. The point is: You need to figure out what it is and why you're doing it, and then schedule it in. Right now. That's right, take your planner out and schedule it in just like you would a doctor's appointment. Vow to honor that time you've set aside for yourself. If life happens (which it sometimes will), that's okay, but immediately reschedule your self-care appointment. Otherwise we both know what will happen: It won't.

For more by Mary Pritchard, Ph.D., click here.

For more on meditation, click here.

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