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4 unhelpful thoughts that can derail a meditation

Lee Breslouer

My mind is like that annoying person I always seem to be stuck talking to at parties—it just won’t take the hint and shut up. Thoughts often distract you from being present, especially when you’re trying to meditate. Here are some of the most common thoughts people have when they’re learning to meditate, and why it’s OK to have them.

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  1. “I’m thinking too much!”

This is one of those “thinking about thinking” thoughts that is absolutely frustrating. Granted, it’s a step in the right direction to be able to observe a thought like this, but this M.C. Escher-esque infinite loop of thinking about thoughts is enough to make you bang your head against the wall. This is your brain being self-critical. Try to just acknowledge the thought and go back to the breath or visualization exercise.

  1. “I’m not doing this right!”

I’ve been practicing meditation for a little over a year, and in my first few months, I could not kick this thought. I wanted someone to come to my house and show me what I was doing wrong. I wanted to be perfect at it right away. But I realized that worrying about what I was doing wrong was just another way for my mind to distract me from the practice. Nice try, brain! When I stopped worrying about whether I was right or wrong, I was able to better focus on the meditating at hand.

  1. “I wish I could focus better!”

I remember listening to a Headspace session that sums up why this wish is so misguided. It said that wanting to focus better while meditating is like trying super hard to fall asleep—it just doesn’t work. While understanding this concept still makes me want to stomp my feet like a 3-year-old who was just denied a piece of candy, it’s completely freeing to acknowledge this thought and let it go. I know that focus is something that I can’t force, and that’s OK.

  1. “I wonder if that party will be fun tonight” or “Boy did I say something dumb in that meeting yesterday”

Before I started meditating, my brain was constantly trying to predict the future or thinking about the past. With time, I’ve become better at focusing on the present moment, but I often find myself flashing backward or forward in time the second my eyes close during a meditation session. It makes sense—when I give my constantly-stimulated brain (one that’s almost always in front of a computer, TV, or phone screen) 10 minutes off, it gets confused. Surely there must be something to do here other than focus on meditation, it seems to be saying. Oh, how wrong my brain can be. The sooner your brain (and the human being connected to it) understands that it’s just as simple as focusing on the meditation practice at hand, and that there is literally nothing else to do, the easier meditating will get.

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