Get The Benefits Of Meditation, Even When You Think You Are Bad At It
You’ve heard people say it, “to meditate, just clear your mind”.
When you have tried to meditate, you had high hopes of reaching that deep, peaceful, distraction-free space people talk about. Maybe you even felt it yesterday or last week. But this time, it didn’t happen.
Then you felt like a failure and maybe even that you weren’t cut out for meditation. You might have criticized yourself a little.
What happened instead was that you kept thinking about things; your upcoming day, the meeting you just had, when to pick the kids up, the game your team lost last weekend, and on and on and on. In fact, you might even have forgotten to focus at all. It might have felt like all you did was sit down and think.
If you have ever felt this way, you are not alone. All of these feelings are completely normal. Every meditator feels this way sometimes. It doesn’t mean you are bad at meditation at all. Talk to any seasoned meditator and they will tell you they get distracted too. They will likely tell you distraction is their biggest challenge, even after 30 years.
When your mind is having a distracted day, it’s ok to still meditate or even just try. In our culture of constant stimulation, most people will feel distracted when meditating more often than not. And, that’s ok.
That when you need to sit down and breathe the most.
Changing your mindset is the first step to turning around this feeling of failure. Following are some things to try.
1. Give yourself a break
Judging yourself about whether you are “good” or “bad” at meditating is not helping. There is no such thing as a bad meditation. You will get some benefit from every session, even if it didn’t feel ‘productive’. When you drop the goal setting, the feeling that you need to get somewhere with this, the need to progress, then you can really start getting the benefits of sitting still for a few minutes.
This is a time for compassion; for your busy life, how crazy your mind feels, how many details you juggle, and how much success you had today just by sitting down.
When you notice yourself thinking, you could gently say something like, “ah, ok, welcome back to noticing my breathing now”.
2. Embrace the distracted meditation
Consider a distracted meditation session as the best opportunity to work with your focus. Distraction is part of everyday life and this is the perfect opportunity to counteract the effects of gadgets, social media, and our speedy lives.
Watch the brilliance of your brain and how it loves to work so hard. Notice what is coming up in your thoughts. Gain insight to what is on your mind and take a moment to reflect on why that topic is so important to you at this time.
Once you recognize what is happening in your mind, try letting those thoughts go and come back to your breathing, even if just for a moment. Your breathing is something that is always happening in the present moment so it can be helpful to use it as something you can always return back to.
3. Add a dose of discipline
Meditation requires effort. It takes practice, discipline, and concentration. It is a learned skill that can be honed and maintained. And, you will get as much out of it as you put in.
Effort doesn’t mean struggling or trying too hard. Find a middle ground for your discipline, neither too tight nor too lose. It can be as simple as staying with your breathing one more second by choosing to ignore one distracting thought or itch.
4. See the gift in every session
Even a meditation session that was a bit on the shallow, distracted, or superficial side is quiet time and stillness; a gift in itself. If a particular meditation experience turns into one long planning session, there were likely a few times where your brain got to exercise focus by bringing attention back to your breath.
It’s the repetition of sitting over and over and tuning into your object of focus that builds up over time. Every time you sit down and focus, it’s helping you in many unseen ways. It’s not so much what actually happens in each session as the habit you are forming.
5. Recognize that meditation is not a linear path
Training your brain is not like training a muscle. A muscle will build slowly over time with exercise. But, the brain will get excited and calm based on internal and external factors. While your concentration ‘muscle’ can develop over time, your brain is affected by stress, busyness, hormones, time of day, blood sugar levels, mood, temperature, and much more.
Many times people will assume that because they had one calm, deep meditation — particularly on a retreat — that they have now arrived at a new level, only to be disappointed when the thoughts come rolling back in like partying roommates home from a vacation. That’s why it’s called “practice”. There is no destination you are going to arrive at, just one big, wonderful (and sometimes exasperating) journey.
When you can let go of your expectations for what a meditation session should be, you can relax into your meditation, no matter what it is like —judgement-free. You can let go of the critical feelings you have had about your abilities as a meditator. Instead of beating yourself up for not being good at it, you can know that you are not alone when your mind wanders. You’ve been good at this the whole time and you didn’t know it.
Making the commitment to stick with meditation through the ups and downs will be rewarding. You might even begin to enjoy the ups and downs. You might get curious about them and look closer to see how they work when they come and go, and how you feel about them. You might even come to embrace your ups and downs.
Ready to kickstart your meditation practice?
Download my Meditation Made Simple guide. It will give you all you need to create a meditation practice today in 7 easy steps.