Renting a Habit – Making the Meditation Habit Stick

Don Draper MeditatingCan you rent a habit? And if so, should you rent a habit? I was thinking about this recently when I reflected on using a smart phone app to help me meditate. Prior to using an app, I had tried to meditate off and on for at least two years with fleeting success.

I turned to the app Headspace for help. Headspace is specifically designed to help aspiring novice meditators like me get started and continue the practice. There was a free trial, which I liked, but in order to continue I would have to sign up for a subscription service.

Paying for a meditation subscription made me feel gross. It would be like renting the meditation habit. My friend Ellen challenged my thinking by asking, “How is that different from paying for a gym membership? Is that renting the exercise habit?” That’s a fair question.

HeadspaceHeadspace markets itself as “Your Gym Membership for the Mind”. Check out this cute graphic on the Headspace website of a cartoon mind pressing a dumbbell. The implication is clear; Headspace let’s you use its mental dumbbell. However, the metaphor starts to fall apart when you think about who owns the dumbbell you’re using.

With a gym membership, the gym owns the dumbbell. You can only use it while you’re there. It’s different for Headspace. You own the mental dumbbell because you own your own mind. By subscribing to Headspace, I would effectively be paying rent on something I already own.

jillian-michaels1Instead of being “Your Gym Membership for the Mind” Headspace is really your mind’s personal trainer. That’s useful but expensive. At a certain point you need to take ownership of the routine and make it your own exercise habit. Would you pay for a yearlong subscription to a personal trainer? I don’t think many people would, and most trainers seem to understand this because they typically sell their services as a fixed number of sessions.

I suggest you approach using a meditation app the same way you would use a personal trainer. If you have to do so, sign up for a limited duration training session, not a subscription. Since Headspace and its ilk require a subscription you need to take active steps to make it a session and not an endless subscription by turning off the auto-renew.   Reality Check: If you can’t establish a consistent mediation routine that’s more or less on self-autopilot after the first month (or worst case 3 months) you’re probably wasting your money.

The personal trainer method is exactly what I end up doing to form my Meditation Habit. I subscribed to Headspace for a month to test it out and reinforce the habit. I’m happy to say it worked! I now meditate daily, even when my regular routine gets disrupted. I’m confident now that I could miss a day here and there and not relapse into a month long meditation dry spell.

Getting back to my original question, can you rent a habit? More importantly, should you rent a habit? In other words, is renting a habit a good thing? I say it’s ok in the short term if you can’t get started on your own, but it’s bad over the long term. If you are going to use a subscription in this manner make sure it’s limited and finite in time when you sign up.   Otherwise, you inevitably end up paying too much for a service you no longer need or even worse don’t use at all.

This was the toughest post for me to write to date. I have some complicated feelings about subscriptions that I probably need to explore more. Especially since subscription services have become more common recently. I’m very curious what your thoughts are on using subscriptions. I cannot deny their conveniences, but often times they come with hidden costs.

Thanks for reading!

Don

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