Meditation: A simple tool that will change your life & 7 tips to overcome the most common challenges
Have you ever tried to meditate, only to give up quickly claiming, "I’m no good at meditation. It doesn’t work for me because I can’t stop my thoughts and empty my mind.”
You’re not alone. As coaches, we recommend meditation to many of our clients as a tool to help them become more mindful and identify how they think and feel, and we’re often met with this response.
So why is meditation so beneficial and how do you meditate? In this blog I share why you find it so difficult at first, and 7 tips to overcome the most common challenges with meditation.
I’ll be honest with you… the first time someone recommended meditation to me, I lay down in a quiet room, alone with my thoughts, and within 3 minutes (it felt like 30!!), I was up again telling myself I couldn’t do it.
What I failed to acknowledge at the time is that everything I’ve ever learned – how to speak (a limited amount of) French, play the piano and solve a more complicated math equation - took time. Even the things I don’t remember learning, like walking, reading and tying my shoe. Rarely have I mastered something on the first go, so I don’t know why I thought meditation would be any different!
The biggest issue here is that most of us think we’re in control of our mind and therefore our thoughts. Read that again. We think that we are in control of our mind and therefore our thoughts. We believe that we can make a conscious decision to do something, and it will simply happen.
But in fact, your unconscious mind is making the decisions based on your perceptions. And your perceptions are not necessarily reality. They are formed by childhood conditioning, societal standards and expectations, beliefs and values adopted from your early influencers, like parents, caregivers and teachers.
So, it makes sense that when we first sit/lie down to meditate, our mind takes over. It races through our to do list, the things we haven’t yet achieved, the emails we need to send, appointments to book… almost everything, it seems, that you haven’t thought of recently but for some reason is now top of your mind!
And so we conclude with, “I’m no good at meditation because I can’t stop my mind from racing.”
I partly blame this on the misunderstanding that many have about meditation, being that you must completely empty your mind of all thoughts and be completely still and at peace. But I ask you, is it possible to rid your mind of ALL thoughts? Being aware that you’re not thinking anything is a thought in itself, isn’t it? So we’ve set an unfair expectation on from the outset.
According to Harvard psychologists, whether you realise it or not, you spend almost half your waking hours lost in thought. It’s only when you limit distractions around you (i.e., when you meditate), that you truly realise it.
So how do you take control of these thoughts in order to help you understand what you’re thinking, feeling and doing?
You need to retrain your brain, and one of the most powerful ways to do this is through meditation.
Meditation is about retraining your mind, becoming aware and getting a healthy perspective on the different parts of your life. It’s not about turning your thoughts and feelings off, more so tuning in to observe them, without judgement.
When you master your mind through meditation, truly incredible things happen. You begin to make intentional decisions and take focused action. This new level of self-reflection allows you to identify what you’re feeling and thinking, and act accordingly, rather than allowing your emotions to rule your life.
It’s a practice that allows you to just be.
As Isabelle Cornish writes in her book, The Why – Healthy Habits for an Epic Life, “If we can witness the thoughts of the mind in meditation, we may begin to further understand that we are not the mind.”
There are officially several different kinds of meditation, and you’re not limited to just these. You can find a meditative practice in many everyday tasks to get you started, and it’s important to find what works for you.
You might ask, what’s the benefit of this greater awareness?
Well, it offers the opportunity to change your way of doing things, your responses and reactions to the events in your life and ‘see’ them differently.
When we contemplate those aspects of ourselves, we begin to make our brains work in a different and new way.
It’s as if the brain does a ‘scan’ of all your existing beliefs and stored knowledge and experiences and starts organising these into a new model that supports your ‘new self’ or the self you wish to become.
The world of elite sports is a very good example of how observing yourself or your opponents, can provide insights to how we currently operate, and where changes can be made that will give a real edge; the difference between being good and excellent. For example, to improve a golf swing, a coach may record your swing so you can see what you’re doing wrong, and where improvement is needed. Elite sports teams view their games and those of their opposing teams, to know strengths and weaknesses of their opposition, to profit from them in terms of strategy.
How can you use meditation to make changes in your life now?
Consider this… if you’re unhappy and you want to be happy, you need to stop thinking the thoughts that make you unhappy. You may not even be aware of what these thoughts are yet, but when you take the time to stop and reflect inwardly (meditate), you provide the opportunity to identify these negative thoughts and flip them into ones that instead make you happy.
You also need to stop feeling the emotions of pain and sorrow, bitterness and anger. When you acknowledge your negative thoughts and turn them into happier ones, this has a flow on effect to the way you feel.
And then you need to stop doing the things that make you unhappy. When you begin a regular meditation practice, you give yourself the opportunity to acknowledge your thoughts, feelings and behaviours, and turn them into new thoughts, feelings and behaviours that will lead you to your new self.
In summary, you can retrain your brain to adopt thought processes of your choice. YOU are in control, but you first need to make the decision to take control.
Meditation provides the opportunity to be more focused, able to concentrate, and be more ‘present’ for yourself, and those around you. It moves you from unconsciously producing thoughts beliefs, actions and emotions and take control of them through the conscious application of your will.
It increases your ability to regulate your emotions, decrease anxiety, stress and depression, which in turn has a positive physical effect.
Perhaps you’re like me and when you first tried to meditate, you found it hard which led you to believe that you couldn’t do it. Or perhaps it was another reason. I’ve included 7 common challenges people encounter when they begin meditation, and how to move past them.
If you are serious about making changes in your life, it’s time to step up and take action.
Meditation will support through this time of transformation and create a huge impact. If any of the below resonate with you, take notice and push through.
Common objections about meditating and how to overcome them
1. I don’t know how to meditate
There’s a lot of information out there about meditation, all you need to do is look. And it’s important to find something that works for you. The thought of lying down in silence, alone with your own thoughts, can be daunting for a first timer. Begin with a guided meditation (you can download ours here) that will make it easier by taking you through step-by-step. Or choose an activity that you find meditative. Perhaps it’s brushing your dog’s coat, sweeping leaves off your driveway, or sitting in your garden with your eyes closed.
Check out Julia’s experience of listening to our Guided Meditation! (INCLUDE TESTIMONIAL)
2. What if I do it wrong?
The truth is, there is no right or wrong way to meditate. But it’s natural to question something new. In fact, resisting meditation (or any other strategy for that matter), is your mind’s go-to move to keep you safe. It’s saying, “This feels a little uncomfortable, don’t do it.” This only becomes a problem when you listen to that internal voice. Instead, acknowledge the thought, thank your mind for trying to keep you safe, let it go and return to your practice. It will take time to master, but you can be sure of one thing. The only way you will master meditation, is to keep practicing.
3. I don’t have time
You only need a few minutes to meditate. In time, when you experience the benefits, you will want to meditate for more than a few minutes. And honestly, the benefits are greater when you meditate for longer. But starting small is ok. After all, a start is a start, am I right? So, begin with a 5-minute breathing exercise every morning. It will go a long way. Slowly build on this to 10 minutes, then 15 minutes over a few weeks. Set a reminder on your phone or build it into your daily schedule. And set a timer for your meditation if you are worried about falling asleep!
4. I lose motivation to meditate
Understanding your ‘why’ is vital when creating any new habit. If you’re not clear on your purpose, the excitement of beginning a new activity will quickly fade and you’ll find excuses not to do it. So before you begin, take a minute to consider why you want to meditate regularly. What will the benefit be to you? How is it going to change you and the way you think/feel/behave? What impact will that have on you and those around you? The motivation to meditate may change over time and that’s ok. But the clearer you are on your ‘why’, the easier it will be to see it through.
5. Why do I feel uncomfortable when I meditate?
Beginning any new habit can make us feel uncomfortable. It’s our mind’s go-to move to keep us safe. It goes back thousands of years when discomfort usually meant danger. While that isn’t the case anymore, our brain hasn’t moved on. We’re also used to being busy! We’ve been conditioned to believe that we should be ‘doing’ something all our waking hours, that if we stop, we’re being lazy or selfish. We’ve been taught that multi-tasking is a strength, when in fact it’s an inefficient way to get anything done. When you slow down to breathe and observe your thoughts, you may feel ‘bored’, because of the slower pace. And it’s likely that your mind will try to tell you that could be doing something more productive, but in fact what you are doing right now is far more beneficial to your brain and parasympathetic nervous system, than anything else you could be doing. So stick with it. You’ll soon come to enjoy the down time and the benefits that come from it.
6. How long will it take to master meditation?
That’s an interesting question! If you’ve read Jay Shetty’s book, Think Like a Monk, he shares that there are many Monks who don’t yet believe they’ve mastered meditation. After all, enlightenment is a life-long search. Meditation is like any other skill… it takes time and consistent practise. It also requires a degree of self-love. Next time you’re meditating, and you feel the urge to criticise yourself for ‘not doing it right’, show yourself compassion instead, for the fact that you have taken the time to meditate. Be ok with the fact that retraining your brain takes time and effort. You will encounter different challenges every day but they will become easier. After all, that’s why meditation is called a practice.
7. How do I deal with distractions while meditating?
Set yourself up for success as much as you can, by turning your phone to silent or off, placing a do not disturb sign on the door, giving the kids an activity that will keep them occupied for the time you plan to meditate, put the dogs in another room, and so on. However, distractions in life are inevitable, but that’s no reason not to meditate in the first place. Simply hit the pause button on your meditation, deal with the distraction, and return to your place or start over. But there will be others that you can’t stop, like a noisy car on the street, someone coming to your door uninvited, or even a siren. Don’t let these things distract you from your meditation. Instead, refocus on your breath, acknowledge the sound and how it’s making you feel, and let go of your need to react. And remember, once you notice that you’re distracted, that is awareness in action. The more you notice your thoughts, feelings, emotions and distractions, the more aware you become – the ultimate goal of meditation.
- Written by Rebekah King
If you find yourself constantly ‘reacting’ rather than simply ‘responding’ in life, book a FREE 45-minute Discovery Call with us today to find out how we can help you transform your life.
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