How to make meditation a habit

One of the frustrations of being human is that we often don’t do the thing we know is best for us!  You know, exercise, saving, eating well, calling our mum. Even when we have all the evidence and can remember how good it was in the past, sometimes it’s just so hard to ‘get the ball moving’.  A daily meditation practice can be one of these things.

It’s useful to note that life doesn’t move in straight lines. It tends to be more squiggly. And it’s totally natural that you’ll go through periods when you meditate a lot and periods when you don’t. However, if you’ve had a break from meditating for a while it can sometimes feel hard to get back into the habit. If that’s you, don’t despair! Read on to see how using the four laws of behaviour change may help you make meditation a habit in your life again.

Why bother making mindfulness meditation a habit?

What it means to you

Obviously, an important starting point is to remind yourself why it’s worth meditating to start with! Of course, there’s a whole lot of science on the benefits (and to be helpful I’ve listed some of these below, you’re welcome!), and this can be very motivating. But perhaps more importantly what does it mean to you, in your life?

If you’ve come on one of our courses before you’ll have done a reflection on what brought you to joining a course. You might take some time to reflect on this again. What’s important to you in your life? What qualities do you wish to cultivate in yourself (for example, acceptance, curiosity, kindness, focus, strength, stability, calmness, playfulness, presence, peacefulness, something else)? Are there people you care about you want to be more present for? Do you need to support yourself to deal with challenges you’re facing? Do you want freedom to enjoy life more? Or to connect with a larger sense of who you are?

Proven benefits to all humans

There have been thousands of studies on the benefits of mindfulness. Most of it done on the gold-standard of mindfulness training Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), below is a summary of the key areas in which mindfulness meditation has been shown to provide benefit. Read on to be inspired! 

Improvements in:

  • Ability to deal with stress
  • Emotional regulation
  • Attention and concentration
  • Self-awareness
  • Relationships with others
  • Sleep
  • Energy and productivity
  • Ability to cope with chronic pain
  • Immune system
  • Creative problem solving and focus
  • Wellbeing and balance
  • Sense of connection, meaning and purpose.​

Consistency is key

It’s also worth remembering that the benefits listed above come from consistent practice. We become really good at what we repeatedly do. Being critical of yourself, catastrophising, getting trapped in your thoughts, or accumulating tension and stress in the body can become a loop that repeats over and over. A daily mindfulness meditation practice can be an antidote to this. One practice won’t change your life, but practicing for a little bit most days will have a big impact over a year. Being more accepting of thoughts, becoming a bit more flexible in your thinking, letting things go a bit more easily, relaxing your body a little bit more. Over time these things compound to change your experience of life. 

You can train your brain to more freedom in life, but consistency is key. In this way it’s very similar to exercise. You can’t frontload all your exercise in January, then sit around on the couch all year and expect to be fit, healthy and ‘beach-ready’ for December! Nope, to be fit, strong and healthy you need to exercise consistently and build it into your everyday life. And it’s the same with exercising and training your brain.   

Hopefully now you’ve remembered why a meditation habit is beneficial. If your motivation and desire is clear and strong, that’s a great starting point! However, for most of us willpower and self-discipline may not be enough, so read on to learn how to get a daily meditation habit going!

Build a meditation habit with the four laws of behaviour change.

The theory of making meditation a habit: turn autopilot to your advantage!

On your course you would have discussed the pros and cons of autopilot. This truly amazing capacity means that when we repeat a behaviour enough times it becomes automatic – a habit. It’s both brilliant and dangerous! The brilliance is that it allows us to go through our day with as little effort and energy as possible. We can use this to our advantage when building a mindfulness meditation ‘habit’ in our lives. The aim is to make the act of going to our meditation cushion/chair/mat to meditate something that happens on autopilot for us! (Just to be clear, we don’t want the meditation itself to be on autopilot, just making the time to do it – like you would make the time to brush your teeth each day!).

James Clear talks about the four laws of behaviour change in his great book Atomic Habits (a highly recommended read btw!). He describes how the process of building a habit happens in four steps: there’s a cue, a craving, a response, and a reward. This got me thinking about how we could use James’ tips to build a regular meditation practice. If you’re wanting to get back into a regular practice, have a go with some of the suggestions below to see if they help.

1. Cue – Make it obvious

Your own experience will have shown you that just saying “I’m going to meditate more” doesn’t work! You need clarity! You need to give your brain clear instructions. This is called ‘implementation intention’ and plenty of studies show this works.  

The basic formula is “I will meditate for (x mins), at (time of day) in (location).

For example, I will meditate for 1min* at 7am in the spare bedroom. An alternative to this formula, sometimes called Habit Stacking, is to tack your meditation period onto something else you already do every day.

The basic formula is “When (x happens), I will meditate for x time.

For example, When I get home from work, I will meditate for 1min*. Or When I boot up my computer, I will meditate for 1min*. For increased clarity add on a location! When I wake up in the morning, I will meditate for 1min* in the spare bedroom.

*1 min?! I hear you say! You can fill in your own time period here, but read tip 3 below to see why a short time can be helpful initially to get a habit started!

2. Craving – Make it attractive

This is about finding ways to make your meditation practice attractive, some different approaches to consider are:

Doing the thing you need, so you get to do the thing you want. Make meditation something you do right before something else you really enjoy. For instance, After I meditate, I will make my morning coffee. Over time you will associate meditation with making your morning coffee and look forward to it!

Creating a space that you look forward to being in can also be useful. Set up a special meditation area that feels inviting and comfortable, perhaps with a warm soft blanket, an inspiring picture or nice plant. 

Another tip here is to check in on your attitude during the meditation itself. No one wants to regularly put aside time to subtly criticise themselves! Instead of being disappointed when you find yourself caught up in thinking, be sure to congratulate yourself for noticing – yes you are being mindful! Remind yourself you have a great opportunity to practice coming back to the moment again and are exercising your mindfulness muscle! Check out the section below on Expectations for more on this.

3. Response – Make it easy

Focus on doing somethingnot the length of time.  This can be a gamechanger. It’s so easy to fall into an all-or-nothing-cycle with the thought that if you can’t meditate for x amount of time (whatever your expectations are of an appropriate meditation length), then you shouldn’t do it at all. This is where doing less, really is doing more. In terms of building a habit, a behaviour becomes more automatic through repetition. The amount of time you perform a habit for, is not as important as the number of times you have performed it.

At the end of a month if you showed up 5 times a week every week to your meditation cushion for 1 minute, that will increase the chances of a daily meditation practice becoming a habit more than if you showed up twice a week for 20mins. It doesn’t matter if you show up for 1 min or 20mins. Show up 5 times a week, this will form the basis of the habit! Over time you will find you naturally increase the length of time you meditate for. 

Tip: Rebound quickly. If you were building a habit of meditating in the morning and you forgot until 9pm that night. Just go and sit there for 1 min when you remember. Even if it feels excruciating. Do it anyway. This is so valuable to build a habit. Showing up regardless! Also, if you miss a day of your new habit, just get back to it, start again. The quicker you rebound the better.

It’s also helpful to have an assigned place, and to get your cushion/chair/mat set up ready and waiting. If you have to get your meditation stool or cushion out of the wardrobe and grab a blanket from the hall cupboard you’re making it more of an effort. Get your items set up and ready to go so you just slide in with the least amount of friction possible. 

4. Reward – Make it satisfying

The feeling of progress is a great motivator to many people, so experiment with keeping a track of your practices. You could try keeping a calendar nearby and each day you practice give yourself a big tick. This builds a visual streak which a lot of people can find satisfying. 

Also be sure to pick a meditation practice you enjoy. Meditation doesn’t have to mean sitting. You might find you prefer walking or movement. Feel free to mix it up. Just do something! 

A little note about Expectations

Don't let your expectations get in the way.

Sometimes we come to our meditation practice expecting our mind to be a certain way, and to reach a certain state. Mindfulness meditation is about understanding the patterns of our mind, and embracing the way things are. Remind yourself to let go of outcome and expectations. The peace and ease we cultivate happens over time like a drop of water slowly filling up a bucket. It’s not based on any one practice. You can feel satisfied that you showed up. No matter what the experience was. Like turning up to your child’s football game on a Sunday. The important thing is that you are there, not whether they win or lose 20-2!


To be more mindful in life we need to develop a regular mindfulness meditation practice. However, life doesn’t usually go in straight lines!  Even when we know how beneficial it is, it’s common to fall out of the practice of meditating from time-to-time, particularly when we have changes in our routine. We can be quick to judge ourselves and think that’s the end and it’s all too hard. But just get back on that horse again!

Instead of relying on willpower try applying these techniques proven to build good habits: making it obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying. Potentially one that might have the most impact when it comes to mindfulness meditation is just to commit to a very short period – even just one minute a day – in the same place at the same time to get consistency going. Let go of all expectations of what a “good practice” looks like and “just put your butt there” as someone once said! 

If you are a graduate of ours, you may also find it useful to come back on one of our Full Days of Mindfulness to refresh and renew your practice. Check out the next upcoming day here.