Meditation has a huge number of benefits. It reduces stress, improves concentration, enhances memory, gives you a sense of wellbeing, promotes emotional health, increases self-awareness, and so on.
It’s also very simple. It basically just consists of sitting in a comfortable posture and focusing on a single thing, such as the breath flowing in and out of the nostrils.
The thing a lot of people struggle with is actually getting into the habit of meditating regularly. Like physical exercise, meditation is the sort of thing you need to do regularly to experience significant benefits.
3 steps to making meditation a habit
So here are some guidelines as to how to get into the habit of meditating on a daily basis.
1. Create a cue for meditation
The first thing to do, if you want to get into the habit of meditating every day, is to figure out when exactly you’re going to meditate.
Your chances of successfully forming a new habit increase if you pick a time to perform your chosen habit that fits into your daily routine in a non-disruptive way.
And the best cue for a new habit is a habit you already regularly perform.
So, for example, if you want to meditate every morning, think of something you do every morning without fail that would be a good activity to use as a cue for your new habit of meditation.
Then, start getting into the habit of going and meditating straight after performing that activity.
For example, imagine that, every morning, without fail, you get up, use the bathroom, wash your hands, then wash your face.
Washing your face could then become your cue for going and meditating.
Being very specific about exactly when you’re going to meditate, and choosing an activity you already do every day to use as a cue for your new habit of meditation dramatically increases your chances of successfully forming the new habit you’re trying to form.
This is a much more effective approach than just intending, for example, to meditate ‘in the morning’: though the intention is there, the lack of a specific cue makes successful habit formation less likely.
But choosing a habit you already have to use as a cue for the new habit you’re trying to form uses your current pattern of behaviour to your advantage.
Without this, there’s a high chance your routine will remain unaltered, and your intention to start meditating regularly will remain an intention, rather than becoming an actual habit.
Use a visual reminder that will remind you to meditate
Once you’ve chosen your cue, another thing you can do is put a visual reminder in the location your cue-behaviour takes place.
In our example, the cue-behaviour is washing your face in the morning – a behaviour which takes place in the bathroom.
You could therefore put a visual reminder in the bathroom, somewhere you’ll see it, without actively looking for it, when you wash your face.
You could put, for example, a little statue of a person meditating on your bathroom counter, or just write ‘meditate’ on your bathroom mirror with a whiteboard marker.
Having a visual reminder right where your cue-behaviour takes place means you’ll automatically remember to perform your new habit. It takes ‘trying to remember’ out of the equation.
That’s the thing with forming new habits: the important thing is taking all the roadblocks out of the way, to make behavioural change as easy as possible.
The less effort or willpower performing your new habit takes, the more likely you are to successfully form the new habit – which is perhaps a new way of thinking about habits and behavioural change.
You may need to play around a bit with different cue-behaviours and times of day to figure out what works for you, given your daily routine.
But once you figure this out, you will have overcome a significant hurdle in regard to successfully forming the habit of daily meditation.
2. Start small – don’t do too much too soon
The next thing to remember is that it’s important to start small.
An error many people make when trying to form a new habit is trying to do too much too soon.
Imagine, for example, you’re not in the habit of exercising at all, and haven’t been for quite a number of years, but you want to get in shape and start exercising regularly.
If you try to get into the habit of going for a forty-five minute run every second day, right from the get-go, you’re unlikely to succeed, because you haven’t given yourself time to adapt to this drastically different, unfamiliar behaviour.
But if you start with something much easier, such as walking around the block every evening, you’re much more likely to actually take action. You’ll then have something to build on, and will be able to gradually increase the amount of exercise you do, as exercising regularly becomes more and more normal to you.
It’s the same with meditation.
If, right from the beginning, you intend to meditate for half an hour every day, there’s a high chance your motivation will waver after a short time, as sticking to this regime will feel like a lot of effort.
But if you start with a very small amount, meditating won’t feel like a chore or take a lot of willpower, and you’re much more likely to actually do it.
As you get into the habit of meditating for a short time each day, and it becomes more and more normal to you, you can gradually start increasing the duration of your meditation sessions.
This is a much more effective approach than trying to sit for long periods right from the start.
In the beginning, the focus needs to be on simply forming the habit. For that, you need to start small. Once the habit becomes ingrained, you can slowly start increasing the size of the habit. But it’s extremely difficult to start a very big, difficult habit all at once, and trying to do so will be fighting against how habit formation naturally works.
You can start with as little as two minutes, or even thirty seconds, of meditation if that’s what it takes to get you to actually sit down and meditate on a consistent basis.
Don’t worry that you’re doing a very small amount when you first begin. The focus, here, is on forming the habit loop.
As the new loop of behaviour becomes more and more ingrained, you can gradually extend the duration of the behaviour, as you feel comfortable.
This makes willpower and motivation irrelevant, and is incredibly helpful where successful habit formation is concerned.
3. Reward yourself by recording your progress
The final thing to do is reward yourself when you complete your new habit as planned.
The good thing about meditation, as is the case with many beneficial behaviours, is that it’s its own reward, since it makes you feel good.
Even so, giving yourself some kind of reward after you meditate helps to associate meditation with positive feelings, making it a behaviour you want to repeat.
If you meditate in the morning, having breakfast afterward would be one way of giving yourself a reward.
You could also reward yourself simply by smiling to yourself and using some kind of positive self-talk, such as thinking to yourself, “Good job,” or “Well done”, or something of that nature.
As corny as it sounds, this type of thing tends to make us feel good, reinforcing in our minds that the preceding behaviour was positive and worthwhile.
Finally, one of the best ways to reward yourself is to record your progress.
You can do this by, for example, putting a tick on your calendar on the days you meditate, or having meditation on your to-do list, and crossing it off once you’ve done it.
This accentuates the sense of accomplishment associated with doing your session of meditation, and activities associated with a sense of accomplishment tend to be ones we want to do again.
It’s best to administer your reward straight after doing the behaviour you’re rewarding yourself for, to create a clear mental link between the behaviour and the reward.
Rewarding yourself after you meditate is another way to help you get into the habit of meditating regularly. The reward completes the habit loop, and makes the behaviour more likely to be repeated, since it seems so, well… rewarding.
So these are some guidelines as to how to get into the habit of meditating every day: think about your daily routine, use an already established habit as a cue for the habit of meditating, and use a visual reminder; start small, establish the habit of meditation, and slowly increase the duration of your sessions over time; and reward yourself after you meditate, to reinforce the idea that meditating is something you want to do.
You can use the same basic pattern to help you succeed in forming other new habits as well.
So I hope you enjoyed this post, and I hope it helps you get into the habit of meditating every day, so you can experience all the benefits that meditation brings!
About the author
Lincoln has a blog where he writes about subjects such as meditation and self-development, makes jokes, and tells stories about his life. He has a philosophical side, a pragmatic side, and a ridiculous, crudely humorous side. You can find him at lincolndodd.com.