“Why can’t I meditate?”- Maybe you need to change your approach. A simple, easy way to overcome the steep learning curve of meditation and make it part of your daily life.
Meditation is not known for being beginner-friendly. The steep learning curve for new meditators can be huge. The central undertaking of focusing for a chunk of time on one object can be a challenge if you haven’t already been meditating for some time.
You will know what I mean if you’ve tried it.
Staying with a breath or two is no problem. But beyond that your intent to focus dissolves into dreamlike images, mental chatter, and agitation.
Why Do We Get Stuck
The problem certainly isn’t lack of how-to instruction. Anyone with access to a library or the internet can find comprehensive instructions on hundreds of meditation techniques.
I believe the problem has more to do with how we approach the guidelines, and how we respond when there is ambiguity and doubt.
Because meditation is a personal inside job, there’s no way to learn it by watching others, as we do other things. This makes the skill of meditation seem like something more special than it really is to the beginner.
We have no way of knowing or gauging what a “good” meditation looks or feels like. There are no highlight reels of superstar meditators to inform our experience. Any image you might have of effective meditation will be completely abstract, or based on stereotypes. “I should feel calm, I suppose?”
When things don’t play out a certain way we judge the event as good or bad. This is where the problem begins.
If you don’t know what it looks like how can you remain still and focused inwards for lengthy periods of time?
The Fundamentals 101 for Meditation
The basic guidelines of meditation are pretty simple. For example:
• direct your attention to an object
• relax unneeded tension in the body
• Return repeatedly from distractions without getting upset
• notice subtle sensations in the body and mind
• allow experience to unfold without interruption
These skills sound easy in theory; however the reality of dropping into the pure experience of the moment, which is the essence of meditation, can be frustrating for many meditators, especially beginners.
It is an unusual learning situation. Meditation is a skill like any other, but it’s impossible to observe someone doing it, unless that person is you. This proves to be a big obstacle for new meditators to overcome, causing them to give up before they have really started.
Meditation quickly becomes yet another rock in the backpack of modern life – another “have to” that takes time and mental energy out of the day.
So what can we do to get over this barrier?
Is there a way that can simplify the process to gain insights that we are moving in the right direction?
Accessing the Problem
This challenge was my introduction to meditation many years ago.
I had this preconceived idea what meditation should look like. I viewed meditation practice and life as separate. I saw meditation is that thing that happens for 10-30 minutes, where we get present with the breath while sitting in silence, away from the chaos of life.
The longer I sat the more disillusioned I became.
Over time I learnt a simple way to overcome the obstacle that was standing in my way.
Rather than trying to climb Everest on a daily basis without the required knowledge to get me there, I decided to change my approach. I decided to set my sights on easier targets to gain experience and confidence.
It became a simple adjustment in the way I learned to focus.
How to make Meditation Easy and Win every time
The key to engaging with mindfulness meditation is like learning to swim for the first time. You need to start out small and simple. You need to get a feel for an experience.
Rather than diving straight into the deep end and trying to hold your focus on your object of concentration for as long as possible, you need to rethink your tactic.
Constantly seeing the mind wander for new meditators provokes a sense of failure. The harder you try, the more frustrating it seems to get.
A better option is to decide to enter via the shallow end and hold your focus for a very short period of time – five to ten seconds- ‘THE PAUSE.’
A few seconds of focusing is always attainable, even for a beginner. It’s a small, but highly repeatable win. Once you meet that first goal, you promise yourself to set another and another.
When your task is so small –- feeling a single complete in and out breath through the nose or listening to a sound mindfully for five to ten seconds – you’ll most likely stay focused. You will actually complete your meditation.
Once you have done it once you are free to do it again. The pressure to succeed is drastically reduced and the possibility of distraction is greatly diminished.
This incremental approach is more effective because it guarantees progression towards your bigger meditation goals. It doesn’t have to be an “all or nothing” situation.
Let’s say your meditation object is the sensation of your foot in contact with the floor. You focus on this sensation, noticing how it feels, opening completely to it, for just a five to ten count. Then you stop. Congratulations. You’re over the hump and on your way. You have focused from start to finish.
Then you let go from the point of focus. You just sit for a moment. Then, when ready, do it again. Five to ten more seconds of concentration feeling the sensation.
As you continue to focus in these bite size periods, you need much less of a break between them to get ready to focus again. As momentum builds, confidence builds and you settle into short grooves of focus that can progressively increase with time.
Before long you’re achieving focused mindfulness meditation practice.
There will still be gaps in your focus where you still get distracted. However, there’s much less frustration.
If you have reached that point of frustration with meditation, this alternative might help you.
It helped me gain momentum with my mindfulness practice when I first started.
Working this way, meditation becomes an experience of repeatedly succeeding rather than repeatedly failing, and that changes everything.
How to make your meditation a habit
It is essential for our wellbeing to take a few minutes each day to cultivate mental spaciousness and achieve a positive mind-body balance.
Once you’ve set a meditation goal, you need to make sure that goal becomes part of your daily life. Any goal you only work on once a week or once a month is destined to be forgotten or pushed down on your priority list.
To combat this, your five to ten second meditation needs to become part of an existing “habit stack”. A habit stack is a series of small actions you do in relatively the same order each day.
Most of us have a habit stack. A good example is when we get ready for bed. Generally we wash our face, brush our teeth, and set the alarm. You never skip a step because the habit is set and you go from one activity to the next without even thinking about it.
Choosing to link your five to ten second meditations to your existing daily habit stacks is a perfect easy way to integrate this mindfulness goal into your day.
Here are four simple ways you can incorporate mindfulness meditation into your daily life.
- Practice mindfulness at the beginning, during or the end of a routine daily activity such as brushing your teeth, having a shower or making a cup of tea.
- Practice mindfulness when you wake up or when you are about to go asleep.
- Practice mindfulness while you wait at the traffic lights, bank or supermarket.
- Pick a prompt to remind you to be mindful such as the hourly alarm on your watch.
The STOP Technique for creating the PAUSE in your day
When we drop into the present, we’re more likely to gain perspective to how we are feeling inside.
STOP is an acronym for a PAUSE practice that can frame your five to ten second meditations. By applying mindfulness to these short experiences during your day, your mind will be less on autopilot and you will be able to connect in with how you are feeling, what you are thinking, and what you are doing.
STOP ACRONYM STANDS FOR:
S: Stop. Whatever you’re doing, just pause momentarily.
T: Take a breath. Re-connect with your breath. The breath is an anchor to the present moment.
O: Observe. Notice what is happening. What is happening inside you, and outside of you? Where has your mind gone? What do you feel? What are you doing?
P: Proceed. Continue doing what you were doing. Or don’t: Use the information gained during this check-in to change course. Whatever you do, do it mindfully.
By occasionally reminding yourself to stop during your day, you can increase your awareness of what is going on around you and inside you.
You may stop and notice you are engaging in a lot of negative self-judgments. Using STOP may help you recognize when your body is becoming tense, and allow you the opportunity to correct it before you are in pain.
The more you STOP during the day, the more you re-engage with reality, and disengage from the habitual busyness of your mind.
What would it be like in the days, weeks, and months ahead if you started stopping more often?
We all have ten seconds to enjoy the moment.
This could be your entry point to making meditation part of your life.
If you need any help or guidance please reach out.