5 Tips for Making Meditation a Daily Habit

The act of meditating might not seem difficult. Sit quietly with your eyes closed. Simple. The difficult part is making meditation a daily habit that persists whether you're on vacation, having a busy week, or are just too darn tired.

Difficult things are often worthwhile things and a daily meditation habit is no exception. There is much evidence, scientific and anecdotal, that suggests regular meditation leads to several health benefits including a reduction in anxiety and an enhanced ability to focus.

Check out 3 science-based health benefits of meditation, here.

Habit Formation

If you've ever tried to establish a daily meditation habit you know that it can be tough. Life gets in the way with attractive distractions like television, Netflix, YouTube, and social media. These distractions are hard to avoid because they are designed to take advantage of the evolutionary habit forming mechanisms in your brain. The good news is that you can replace these hollow habits with a meditation habit by exploiting the very same evolutionary mechanism that these products hijack.

Habit Formation Cycle

  1. The Cue
  2. The Action
  3. The Reward

      This cycle is super-effective because when all three stages are present it will create a positive feedback, or self-perpetuating, loop. Consider Instagram as an example. You post a flattering picture of yourself and a few minutes later your friend likes the post and leaves a nice comment. Instagram instantly sends you a notification. This notification is the cue. It causes you to check your phone to see what your friend has liked and commented on, so you check your Instagram post. This is the action. Reading your friend’s kind comment, you feel validated, like you’re part of a community. Who doesn’t like a compliment? This feeling is the reward. In your mind, the reward is then associated with the cue that led to it and the action that produced it. Because of this association you are more likely to take the action next time you encounter the cue. Every instance of the reward will further reinforce the cycle. You begin to see how this forms a positive feedback, or self-perpetuating loop.

      The Reward

      The reward is key to this positive feedback loop. The good feelings from the above example aren't superficial. They have an underlying biochemical mechanism. Research has shown that your body produces dopamine in response to positive social media engagements. Dopamine is a chemical produced by the body to reward evolutionary advantageous behaviour and habits. In the distant past, dopamine would be produced by behaviours that led to an increased chance of survival like finding clean water, shelter, or a food source. We don’t share these problems with our ancestors, yet our bodies are still programmed the same way. Unfortunately, this translates to dopamine being produced as a reward for behaviour that can be counter to one’s health and well-being, such as eating sugar-filled food or enjoying low stress activities. Behaviours that lead to complacency and poor health. And as mentioned earlier, companies and content creators take advantage of our habit formation cycle to keep us coming back to their products. The good news is, we can use the same tactics to reprogram our brains for a better, more productive habit, like meditation.

      It's important to address the 3 stages of habit formation when trying to start a daily meditation habit. The following 5 tips will help you take advantage of the habit formation cycle and establish a consistent meditation practice. 

      5 tips for meditating daily

      1. Be specific

      The more specific you are with your daily meditation habit the more successful you will be. This applies to all three stages of habit formation. Decide on a specific time of day that you will meditate. This will ensure the cue is consistent and easy to recognize. If you can tie this to another daily activity it will be more effective. For example, meditate immediately after getting out of bed. Research has shown that event-based cues are more effective in habit formation than simple reminders, like an alarm.

      Decide how long you will meditate for each day. Clearly define the action. Being very clear about what the action is will increase your chances of success. No time will be spent thinking about what to do. For example, commit to meditating for 60 minutes everyday for 60 days.

      Lastly, you need to reward yourself. Again, being specific will help to establish your habit and protect against forming other bad habits. For example, have your morning cup of coffee or tea immediately after meditating. You will associate your enjoyable morning drink and caffeine buzz with your meditation habit. Being specific here is important, it will ensure that you never forget to reward yourself during habit formation and it will stop you from over indulging in the reward at the risk of forming a bad habit.

      2. Keep it simple

      This is a design principle used by the U.S. Navy that originates from minimalist concepts like Occam's Razor. It's important to remember that most systems will function best when kept simple and unburdened by unnecessary complications. This is true of your daily meditation habit.

      You don't need anything to meditate. There is no barrier to entry. You don't need candles, incense, specific clothing, or a fancy meditation paradigm. All you need to do is sit quietly with your eyes closed. That's it. There is no reason that you can't start today.

      Keep it simple, stupid.

      3. Track your progress

      Tracking your progress is a huge help in any habit formation.  Tracking metrics of any activity and seeing them increase can act as an additional reward. If you've ever been obsessed with something where tracking results is integral, like weight lifting or golfing, you already know the power of this tip. Not only does tracking your progress keep you accountable to the commitment you’ve made, but, it adds a game-like quality to your habit that will feed into the three stages of habit formation. As you track the number of consecutive days, or total time spent meditating you will trigger the dopamine system involved in the reward step of habit formation. This further reinforces the cue and the action and solidifies the self-perpetuating loop you are seeking.

      You can track your meditation with an app like Insight Timer or just put a checkmark on your calendar every day you meditate, keep it simple.

      4. Replace a bad habit

      If you have too many bad habits that don't add value to your life or actively sabotage your health and happiness, like watching too much news or spending too much time on social media, consider trying to replace one of these habits with a daily meditation habit. You can hijack the cue for your bad habit and replace the action with meditation. This is a very powerful strategy because you are simply altering a current habit cycle, instead of creating a new one from scratch.

      Ask yourself if there is a bad habit that can be cut out and replaced with meditation. Double the benefit.

      5. Don't miss twice

      Life can get in the way. We all fall short from time-to-time. Realize that it's okay to miss a day of meditation here and there. Don't be too hard on yourself as that might lead to negative associations with the action of meditation and foil your habit formation. Instead acknowledge that you screwed up, forgive yourself, but don't forget. You can't miss it twice. A one-off is easy to recover from. However, when you start stringing together misses you risk derailing the entire habit formation cycle.

      Don't make missing meditations a habit. Do not miss meditating two days in a row. Simple as that.

      Meditation may not seem like a difficult act. However, establishing it as a daily habit can be tough. Luckily, we have a decent understanding of the human habit formation cycle and have some tricks to take advantage of our own brains. Apply these 5 tips to your daily meditation habit while keeping in mind the 3 stages of habit formation, the cue, the action, and the reward, and you'll be much more likely to succeed and reap the benefits of meditation. Best of luck!

      If you're starting a daily meditation habit and need something to sit on, you should check out our floor cushions!

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