These three meditation tips turned my once-frustrating meditation practice into something far more enjoyable and life-enhancing.
I used to think I sucked at meditation, and while that was untrue (I was just a beginner experiencing the things many beginners experience), it certainly made my attempts a lot less fun than they should have been.
Since I didn’t know anyone who meditated and had just read a few books on the subject when I first started trying in 2003, I assumed that I just wasn’t cut out for it. My brain kept wandering and wouldn’t stay centered on the moment. I often ended up feeling more agitated after a meditation attempt than before.
Why wouldn’t my mind stop wandering? How hard can it be to simply not think?
But reframing my goal, tweaking my meditation duration, and playing with frequency really turned my practice around and made it dramatically more enjoyable and effective.
Meditation Tip One: The Reframing Piece
What’s the point of meditation? It’s not an academic discussion, since it has a huge impact on your ability to perceive success, and therefore find satisfaction in what you’re doing.
But for me, those are just awesome side benefits. I decided that the point of meditation was to strengthen my brain’s ability to concentrate and remain present in the moment and with what I was doing, which made a huge difference.
Why? Because it turned my failures into successes.
If you go to the gym to get stronger, seeing a weight on the floor that you haven’t yet lifted shouldn’t make you feel like a failure because it’s just an opportunity to get stronger. If you want to get stronger, you walk over and pick up the weight a few times. This is called doing repetitions, or reps.
If your goal is to improve your ability to concentrate and stay present in the moment, you also need to do reps, but with your mind.
I define a rep in meditation as a two-part process. It starts off with the act of realizing that my mind wandered away from the present moment and has gotten caught up in thought. The second part is when I engage my willpower to quiet my mind, bring my attention back to the moment, and refocus to stay there (see my free guide to meditation for more info on how to reanchor yourself in the present moment once you’ve done this).
Now if you’re trying to get stronger physically, there are two easily quantifiable ways to tell if it’s happening without having to look in the mirror.
The first is an improvement in muscular endurance, which is represented by the ability to do more reps with the same weight. The second is an improvement in muscular strength, which is represented by the ability to lift a heavier weight.
In meditation, there are also two ways to quantify improvement. The first is that you can’t do as many reps because your mind just isn’t wandering as much. The second is that you’re able to “do reps,” or stay centered in the moment, under increasingly more trying circumstances, such as excitement, anger, stress, or other emotionally-charged circumstances.
If you get physically strong by lifting weights but then you stop lifting, within a month your strength will have declined.
Similarly, if you get mentally strong doing meditation reps but then stop meditating, you’ll notice serious declines in your mental strength (along with emotional poise and ability to stay focused whiling working or being creative) after a couple weeks (some people say they experience declines in shorter or longer periods of time).
I think that it’s fine to perceive your gains or losses in muscular strength, but the key is to savor every opportunity you’re presented with to get mentally stronger by returning your mind from distraction to the present moment. I actually often count each time I do this in my head as , “1 rep,” “2 reps,” etc, which helps me frame my actions as being in line with my meditation goals.
Meditation Tip Two: Time Spent Meditating
In the last few years I’ve noticed that it’s become vogue in meditation books to suggest that if you find meditating for long periods of time daunting, that you should simply meditate for less time. I’m all for meditating a bit if you can’t meditate a lot, and a 30-second mindfulness break amidst your day can certainly recenter you, but my experience is that I never really experienced many gains when doing only short sessions.
I started finding my meditation sessions dramatically more relaxing and centering after I started doing sessions of at least 15 minutes.
Imagine stirring up a fish tank full of water and then dropping a bunch of dirt into it. The water would be murky for awhile, but gradually, as the water settled down, the sand would begin to sink to the bottom. After a few minutes, the water would be completely clear.
I often find that when I start meditating my mind is thought prone. But as I try to still my mind through mecitation, the “dirt,” of thoughts gradually settles to the bottom, and my mind is a lot calmer, more centered, and less likely to have random thoughts intrude upon it. I start to notice the difference at the 10 minute mark, on most days, and after 15 minutes, things are really getting clearer.
Personally, I consider 15 minutes to to be the minimum effective dose for creating the large-scale mental performance and emotional improvements I’m going for, preferably early in the day so the effects have a chance to improve all aspects of my life that day.
During the day I like to take short 30 second to three minute mini meditation breaks to recenter myself, but that only really works if I’ve already had longer session that day.
So if you’re currently no seeing much benefit with the shorter sessions currently being suggested, try for 15 minutes and see if the “sediment,” of your thoughts doesn’t start to settle down.
Meditation Tip Three: Consistency
One of the most interesting aspects I’ve noticed about meditation is how quickly you lose your, “mental strength,” after you stop practicing. It’s a rate of loss that kicks in far quicker than what you’d experience with declines in physical strength after you stop lifting heavy things.
Recently I went on a two-week road trip, which really disrupted my meditation schedule. I managed to meditate a bit as I was driving, and had several evening sessions before bed, but by and large I didn’t really have any great meditation sessions. I could have made it more of a priority, but I just chose not to.
When I finally arrived home in Austin, I found that, even after I started meditating again, the quality of my sessions had greatly declined. It was more of a struggle to keep my mind clear, and I was counting way more “reps” during each session. I’ve noticed this same thing happen time and again as I take breaks from my meditation routine – resuming is a lot harder than continuing steadily.
If you wanted to rate meditation session satisfaction on a one to 10 scale, with a one being very unsatisfactory and 10 being amazing, then my first week didn’t see a single session above a five, with many twos and threes mixed in. But by the end of week two, I was consistently getting sixes and above, with several eights mixed in.
So if you want to see the compounding benefits of meditation kick in, and your enjoyment of your practice skyrocket, then consider doing at least two weeks of 15-minute meditation sessions to gauge how much of a difference regular practice makes.
Getting Started With Meditation
If you’re new to meditation and consider the idea of starting a practice daunting, consider checking out my free guide to meditation, which you can find here.