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How to meditate when you’re just “not good at it”

People often say that they don’t enjoy mindfulness meditation because they “aren’t good at it”. When I ask about this further, some of the common reasons I hear are “I can’t clear my mind”, “It’s really hard to meditate when I’m feeling ….”, “My mind won’t stop wandering”, or “it’s too hard for me”. If you’ve found yourself thinking the same things, as I did when I first started practicing, these tips might be helpful for you!

It’s too hard!

Many people, myself included, are surprised at how hard they find mindfulness meditation when they’re getting started. We’re not used to being still and sitting with our own thoughts and sensations without distraction. For many people the difficulty of doing this the first few times is enough to put them off trying meditation again. It’s perfectly understandable to feel this way, if you haven’t yet felt the benefits of a regular meditation practice, it’s very likely that you won’t want to persevere with it.

If there is a part of you that does still want to give it a try, this is what worked for me:

Schedule your practices

Try scheduling your practices for at least a week, and committing to those practices regardless of how difficult or frustrating you might find them at first. For me, as I started to notice benefits of meditation in my everyday life, it became easier to stick with the practice.

Practice non-judgement

This is a big (and at times tricky!) part of mindfulness meditation. Whatever you experience in your practice is perfectly okay! If your mind wandered a million times, no worries! If you were super distracted by thoughts or sensations, that’s okay! Your mind kept going back to work/kids/worries/to-do-lists/day dreams/problem solving? Perfectly normal! Mindfulness meditation is about noticing and accepting your experiences without criticising or judging them.

I can’t clear my mind

This is one that I hear a lot! Thankfully, the purpose of mindfulness meditation is not to clear your mind. We all have thoughts, that’s what our minds do! You may have noticed that the harder we try to “stop thinking” a thought, the more it sticks around. When meditating, notice what your mind is doing and observe your thoughts without judging them or “thinking further into them”, before gently bringing your attention back to your practice. We’re not trying to get rid of our thoughts, I like to think of it as letting those thoughts “hang out and do their thing” while I shift my attention back to where I want it to be.

My mind won’t stop wandering

Often when we practice meditation our minds can drift off into thought, and before we know it our minds have been wandering for minutes before we become aware of it. This is also a normal part of practice. If you have noticed that your mind wandered, great! This is one of the great skills that mindfulness meditation practice can bring to our everyday lives. Chances are before you started meditation practice your mind was frequently wandering without your awareness. The more that we become aware of our mind wandering, the more we can train ourselves to gently bring our attention back to tasks at hand.

I have aches, pains or bodily sensations that are too distracting

Body sensations, like thoughts, are a normal part of the human experience. You may notice that while being still without distraction, sensations can come to the forefront of our attention. At times, this can be overwhelming, and our natural response to this is to try to figure out how to make the sensations go away.

Instead, spend some time noticing these sensations objectively, without judging them or labeling them as painful or uncomfortable. Where is the sensation? What exactly does it feel like? Is it hot/cold/moving/still? After half a minute or so of curiously observing the sensation, let it “hang out” while you gently bring your attention back to your practice.

Easier said than done I know, but why not try to do this consistently in your practice and see what happens?

I’m feeling too anxious, upset or emotional to practice

Research has shown us that people who are more mindful may more effectively regulate their emotions, and that mindfulness meditation may help to decrease how emotionally reactive we are. Emotions, just like thoughts and sensations, are a normal part of life. It may be difficult to practice meditation while you’re experiencing heightened emotions, but why not experiment with keeping up a consistent practice regardless and see what happens.

Try to notice the sensations that come up for you when you’re feeling an emotion, and see what happens when you observe these sensations without judging them or wishing them away. How do you feel at the end of your practice compared to before you started?

Have any of the above made it hard for you to meditate? What small changes could you make this week to give meditation another try?