Why Meditation Feels Impossible + 3 Simple Ways To Change That

Photo: Christine Hewitt

I roll out of bed to the sound of my alarm clock as a cool summer breeze graces my cheek. It's yet another morning of my fifth-grade lazy summer vacation, but this day is unique. My dad and I are venturing out on a fishing trip. We leave the house before the sun has even risen, and there are no other vehicles on the road except for the milkman.

Since all the other shops are still closed, we stop at the gas station to stock up on picnic snacks. This is my favorite part of the trip, as my dad gives me carte blanche to pick all the sandwiches, chips, and other snacks I want. I'll be honest: I don't enjoy fishing. Being with my dad and enjoying the picnic is the real reason I'm here.

Sitting and observing a fishing line for hours seems like more of a chore than a hobby. I don't understand how anyone can really enjoy it. When I first started meditating, these childhood memories of fishing and boredom (and pestering my dad about when we would go home) came flooding back. And this is why meditation has been a struggle for me, even though I can appreciate the benefits.

First, let's just come out and say it—meditation is hard. It's a challenge, especially when first starting out. We often get the sense that other people have an easier time than us, or that we're doing something wrong. But the reason we fail to make progress in meditation stems from a perception problem rather than an actual problem. We resist the idea of having to sit in silence for 30 whole minutes or an hour. Going into meditation with this sense of forced effort feels heavy. It feels like work. So it's not hard to imagine how being alone with your thoughts is often regarded as pure torture, with electric shocks being preferable for many.

Like flossing, we know we should meditate and we know the benefits of doing so. Each week it seems like a new study comes out making us feel even worse that we have yet to make meditation a regular habit. My initial resistance to meditation has given me some insight—hopefully, insight that you can use to make your practice easier and more consistent.

1. Redefining meditation

The first step to reducing the friction in your meditation practice is truly realizing that it is not just sitting in silence. If we continue to think of meditation as a painfully boring activity, our brains will rebel against it at all costs. This is because we define meditation by what it is not: It is not stimulating; thus it must not be fun. We can't truly grasp what meditation is until we let ourselves experience it fully.

Instead, we have to begin looking at meditation as a mental adventure—one that will bring about changes in our physical reality, making us mentally stronger.

When I ran the Melbourne marathon, toward the end of the race I longed for it to be over. Each step was painful. But then realized that I had made the choice to sign up for this marathon. I was going to enjoy the experience even if it was painful and challenging. If we change our mindset, we can apply the same thinking to meditation. There may be no finish line with meditation, but we still have the opportunity to see it as a challenge—one that makes us stronger.

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2. Just take a minute.

The thought of meditating for 30 minutes can be a daunting one, with a great deal of psychological friction. This results in us putting it off, which adds to our stress. If you can say to yourself: "I am going to meditate for one minute," you reduce the friction of getting started, the hardest part.

The next 29 minutes are just a repeat of the same process. Don't give yourself a rigid time requirement if it hasn't worked for you in the past. Instead, just take a minute and observe, allowing yourself to extend the time. Getting started is the hardest part, and then the momentum takes over.

3. Don't try to reject thoughts.

Many beginners think that meditation is about stopping thoughts and forcing the mind into a mode of silence. But if you've ever tried meditating after a busy day at work or an argument with a loved one, you know that trying to stop thoughts (and feelings) is futile. You're not supposed to battle your consciousness into submission. Instead, ride the stream of thoughts, allowing your mind to wander if it wants. Notice what it attaches itself to.

Let whatever comes into your mind float through, but don't follow it. That decision to not follow a thought? That's meditation. By cultivating these habits, you can see how you think without identifying with it. It is a third-party perspective: You become the observer.

The next time you are having resistance to meditating, try one of the above techniques and see if it helps you to form the habit of meditation.

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