The Daily Practice That Has Helped Me Feel Calm and Centered This Year

This year, I started a new job at a company that offered a morning meditation group. I'd always wanted to try meditation, and between my Jan. 2 start date and the company's wellness-focused mission, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to make meditating my New Year's resolution. I'd meet in a common space with a small group of people at 8:15 a.m., sit on a cushion, and listen to a guided meditation, either from the group leader or from Headspace.

I was terrible at it. I focused on everything but meditating: my to-do list that day, the names and faces of the people in the group, what I was wearing, whether it was safe to leave my lunch in my bag for 15 more minutes — the list goes on. When we started working remotely in March, I tried to continue that meditation practice at home, thinking that maybe meditating in the office was the problem. Everyone I'd met was wonderful, but as one of the youngest people at the company, I'd always felt a little self-conscious. Besides, I always start my mornings with a short yoga session, and ending it with meditation seemed like a natural fit.

I decided that, instead of worrying myself into a tizzy, I'd direct that energy positively with affirmations.

As it turns out, meditating in general wasn't for me, whether I was in the office or in my own room. I have an anxious, always-on brain, and when it was supposed to be quiet, I always found myself brainstorming, planning, prepping, worrying — and this year, there was a lot to worry about. The space I chose to meditate in didn't change that at all.

There were parts of the practice I enjoyed — namely, taking a minute to be mindful and intentional about my day, even if that mindfulness was directed toward my to-do list and my respective plan of attack. I decided that, instead of worrying myself into a tizzy, I'd direct that energy positively with affirmations.

I was familiar with the idea of affirmations through yoga and other influences, but I'd never tried them on my own. Affirmations can be anything you want them to be: an acknowledgment of the present or a commitment to manifest something in the future. The idea is that, by writing down something every day, you can write it into reality — not literally, but by directing your thoughts and energy to that goal. (Do I sound woo-woo yet? I promise, these are seriously powerful.)

The easy part of the routine is writing them down every day; the hard part is coming up with them. We're often at a loss when we have to say nice things about ourselves. (I know I am.) Amid so much uncertainty, I chose to focus on creating confidence in my present, rather than focusing on the future, which, during a pandemic, opened up a world of unknowns. What helped me the most was identifying areas of insecurity — those that needled my brain over and over — and counteracting them with something I knew to be true. For example, as someone who always overthinks every personal interaction I have, one of my affirmations was this: "I am confident and secure in my relationships."

They've shifted slightly throughout the year, and I've added and subtracted new ones in times that I needed them, but my core list has five. They focus on affirming my abilities, intelligence, and best qualities — and remind me to work on things I'd like to improve. (Another affirmation is "I do not dwell on the past.") They also remind me to stay true to those best qualities in every interaction: "I am kind."

This practice is a short one — under five minutes, depending on the length of your affirmations — but it's important to give it the time it deserves. While it's easy to let your affirmations become rote, I've found using my best handwriting and saying them aloud helps me be mindful of their weight. Meditation may not have been for me, but I'm grateful that it led me to affirmations, as channeling that focus into five simple sentences has become the most important thing I do to start my day. It helps me center myself not just in my to-do list but also in my abilities, self-efficacy, and personal power to conquer it.