This paper looked at factors affecting meditation persistence in a population of 953 people in the United States (via online surveys). The authors framed “persistence” within two categories: the number of lifetime practice sessions and current practice frequency.
The authors of the paper found that people who were first exposed to a meditation practice through technology such as smartphone apps, websites (like this one!), YouTube or podcasts were LESS likely to develop a persistent regular practice.
They were also surprised to find that people who began meditating for reasons of mental health, emotional health, or simply as a method of stress reduction were also less likely to maintain a consistent practice.
The authors felt that one explanation for this is that people who take up practice for these reasons may discontinue it once they begin to feel better (the good-enough-level phenomenon).
Alternatively, the very symptoms they are experiencing may present aversive barriers leading to them discontinuing their practice.
Factors that DID increase the likelihood of developing a sustained regular practice included speaking with a meditation teacher and attending a meditation retreat as well as pre-existing ‘conscientiousness’ , a well-being growth mindset, and perceptions that meditation practice is effective.
Prior work has indicated that interacting with a meditation teacher and/or attending retreats are identified to be helpful forparticipants to normalize their challenging experiences with meditation and gain deeper insights during practice. Having spoken with a meditation teacher and/or attending a retreat might therefore lead to a more positive attitude towards meditation that in turn motivates continued practice.
The authors conclude:
To maximize persistence with meditation practice, it may be helpful to provide initial exposure through a non-technological pathway, provide opportunities to speak with a meditation teacher and/or attend a meditation retreat, reduce pragmatic barriers, increase knowledge about meditation and its potential benefits, encourage the view that wellbeing is modifiable (i.e., wellbeing growth mindset), and support opportunities to connect with other practitioners who share the subjective norm of meditation practice being beneficial. Moreover, having mental health reasons for initiating a meditation practice may decrease persistence. These potential facilitators and barriers may be helpful for guiding efforts to introduce and support meditation practice in the general population.
Link to full paper: Who Sticks with Meditation? Rates and Predictors of Persistence in a Population-based Sample in the USA
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