How Often Should You Practice Mindfulness? (And Why It’s Okay When You Don’t)

  • By: Ryan Kane
  • Updated: January 27, 2022
  • Time to read: 4 min.

Here’s a scenario you might have faced:

You’ve decided to take action—you’re going to get your mindfulness practice off the ground, and improve your wellbeing.

You don’t want to burn out, so you settle on 15 minutes of meditation a day, plus writing a few things in your gratitude journal. A 20 minute commitment.

And then—life happens—and you find it’s been a week since you’ve done either. You’ve fallen off the wagon.

I’ve been there. In fact, this is my story. (Rinse and repeat a few times.)

But I’m here to tell you that this is okay.

Mindfulness often feels like you’re failing—and that’s ok

Are you supposed to be mindful all the time?

No way. That’s an impossible standard.

Your mindfulness practice can be seen as “training,” with the goal to have moments of awareness and mindfulness more and more throughout your day. When you’re training at something, you’re not expected to do it perfectly, or even that well at all.

But even the example I gave of the seemingly easy target of 20 minutes a day of meditation and gratitude is destined to fail at some point. Life gets in the way, or your motivation falters, or you start to feel stuck in the same routine.

We’re not robots! Humans get bored and distracted.

Even so, it can be good to set an intention for yourself to know what to shoot for. Then, you can shift your intention as you start to get a feel for what is feasible and sustainable for you and what isn’t.

How many times a day should you practice mindfulness?

Your end goal is to experience mindfulness as much as you can, but in terms of practicing mindfulness with “training sessions” like meditation, breathwork, yoga, journaling, and gratitude, the answer is entirely personal and based on what you feel you need.

Practicing mindfulness daily has definite advantages, especially to build momentum for your habit.

You can look for examples to get a baseline.

For instance, a Tibetan meditation practice called shamatha is typically practiced for 10-15 minutes several times a day. Others recommend once in the morning and once in the evening. And frequently in the studies done on mindfulness, the frequency is once per day.

How long should you practice mindfulness for?

Shoot for 13-15 minutes a day over the course of 8 weeks. This puts you in line with many of the studies that have shown the benefits of meditation.

For example:

15 minutes per day of meditation can show benefits, according to Harvard University. That’s closely in line with a 2018 study that showed 13 minutes a day (over the course of 8 weeks) can show benefits.

20 minutes a day is another common benchmark, often recommended by practitioners of Transcendental Meditation. Then there’s the 45 minutes a day laid out in the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program.

However, if you’re just getting started with mindfulness, you’re more likely to create a sustainable practice if you shoot for small wins at the beginning.

Your commitment to yourself can be as short as a one-minute “mindful moment.” Five minutes is a common starting point for beginners using popular meditation apps. And if meditation isn’t your cup of tea, you might start with the intention to write down three things in a gratitude app or journal each morning.

Are you supposed to be mindful all the time?

No way!

Mindfulness and meditation are not about “perfect.” Take the experience of meditation itself, for example. In the course of your meditation practice, you’re likely to get distracted and find your thoughts running down a rabbit hole many times. As you notice this, you gently bring your thoughts back.

Take this lesson, zoom out and apply it to your mindfulness efforts writ large.

You have an intention to practice mindfulness at a certain pace, for a certain amount of time, in certain contexts, and you (inevitably) miss the mark sometimes.

As you notice this, gently nudge yourself back into your practice.

Creating a mindfulness practice that works for you

Mindfulness is fascinating because there are so many studies that show its ability to improve our lives. Studies that show successful reductions in stress with 13 minutes a day of meditation for eight weeks make mindfulness feel almost like a “prescription” that can be followed.

And the prescriptions you see in studies may very well work for you.

But even though mindfulness has been studied extensively and there are rough benchmarks as to how much and how long you might need to practice, at the end of the day, you need to find what works for you.

We all have different minds.

Mindfulness is, in part, the practice of figuring out how your own mind works and what practices are most effective at training it to be more present. Mindfulness is inherently personal, and your job is to become an expert on your own mind.

So start with rough guidelines and benchmarks if they’re helpful to you. But remember that your goal in the end is to understand your own mind, and learn how to train it.

Which mindfulness techniques, how long, and how many times a day?

That’s entirely up to you.

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