Distracted By Self-Dialogue

August 03, 2014

Distracted By Self-Dialogue

Each week here on the Headspace blog we feature some of Andy's responses to questions he has been sent by members of the Headspace community about their meditation practice.

Here he answers a question from a Headspacer gripped by the all too familiar scenario of finding a busy mind when you settle down for your daily practice. 



Thank you the new programme - I'm really enjoying it.

I wondered if you could advise - during my practice (and I'm a year in!) I'm still constantly distracted by self dialogue - just trivial things like what I have to do today, re-running insignificant things that happened yesterday, snippets of conversations etc. it's as though taking time out is giving my mind the opportunity to get organised and file away my experiences, which would be ok, but I'm trying to use the time to switch off!

Typically I have such things buzzing about in my brain all day so it's as though I can't break the routine during my practice. I've tried doing an 'ohm' as well as counting and am now skilled in multi-tasking all three things at once. I complete the meditation with a feeling that I've sat for 20 mins doing little more than I would have done if I'd just been thinking as normal - which is frustrating as I'm trying to use the practice to be still and centre myself ready for the day.

Do you have any advice for me please?



Hi, well done for completing your first year and great to hear you're enjoying Headspace V2!

There are several ways of looking at the situation you describe:

Expectation - I know I ramble on about it an awful lot, but as long as you are sitting there waiting for something to happen, expecting the mind to change, slow down or stop altogether, then you will be disappointed and frustrated in your meditation. I’m quite sure that you already know this and will have absorbed it intellectually over the last year or so. But it sounds as though maybe there has not been the physical application of that idea. So, it’s as though you know it, but your experience does not match up with the knowing it. This is why it’s so important to always check in at the start and examine what our motivation is. Is there even a trace of wanting the mind to think less? If there is, we need to see that thought, know it is just a thought, smile at it and let it go, knowing that the true essence of meditation is being at ease with the mind exactly as it is. It doesn’t matter whether it’s noisy or quiet, busy or slow, we simply stand back and observe. When we do this, genuinely open and not projecting onto the experience in any way at all, then the experience fundamentally changes. So this is expectation.

Effort - But sometimes it can simply be a case of not applying the right kind of effort. It can either be that we are applying too much effort and so the mind is acting like a fly caught in a box and just whizzing around, bouncing off the walls. Or it can be that we are not applying enough effort, that we have got a little lazy with our practice and so the mind is just wandering. The latter does not mean that we have to physically try harder. It is still an effortless effort, very gentle, but we need to remember to be mindful more often.

All this means is that we have to get better at seeing when the mind has wandered, letting it go and then coming back to the breath. To begin with it may feel like we are doing it so often that it is almost impossible. But even if our attention only lasts for a second or two, that is fine. We then do it again. And we keep repeating. After some time, maybe those few seconds of attention have developed into a few minutes of attention, or maybe even longer. But experimenting with the amount of effort being applied could be helpful right now.

Kindness - My final bit of advice is to be kind to your mind. When the mind is very noisy like this and it keeps wandering off all over the place, it can very easily get frustrating. So, when you see that frustration arising, as much as possible, smile at the mind in a kind and caring way, know that you are not alone in experiencing that frustration and know that by seeing this reaction more clearly you are learning to let go of anger. This is in itself is an extremely valuable practice.

I hope that’s helpful in some way and please do keep up the practice. Even if the steps feel small, these incremental changes are what will lead to lasting change.

Warm wishes, Andy


Do you have a question you'd like to ask Andy about any aspect of your meditation practice? Simply visit the Andy's Answers section of our community forum where you'll find instructions on sending your question in, as well as all the questions he has answered to date.

We also recommend you check out our FAQ section, which is full of helpful tips and insights to ease you along your Headspace Journey. 

Finally, if you are heading away this summer please read our Mindful Traveller blog and listen to the holiday podcast Andy has recorded here. If you know anyone going away please share it with them.

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August 3, 2014

This is helpful because I experience the same thing and was wondering if I had reached a plateau in Meditation and wasn't goining forward any more. (Meditating since March 2013)



August 3, 2014

Thank you for posting this. Relate to the question, all too well, and love the reply Andy.
My mind is in overdrive so often it pains me - keeps me from sleeping, keeps me from truly listening to others, keeps me anxious about all I need to get done. It's a matter of prioritizing, organizing and then learn to let go, right? When I first experienced mindfulness, at the end of a yoga class, tears streamed down my face. The instructor taught me how to do a body scan, to use 'So, hum' to help me focus on my breathing and I was able to stop abusing OTC cocktail in my efforts to shut my brain up and get some sleep. Still learning and on the path.



August 3, 2014

? to Andy:
In Version 1, Section 3 of the Discovery Series, I am observing the mind and the mental states. My question is, do I name the mental states as I notice them passing such as "happy, sad, confused, etc.?
Also, if a physical or emotional sensation is so strong that it supplants attention to the breath, is it a good idea to use that sensation as the new object of attention and label it such as "burning, throbbing, etc."?
BTW, I've surfed Vs. 2 and look forward to getting into it.


Vijay Sirigiri

August 3, 2014

The other missing aspect might be schedule.
Plan your day. Allocate time for meditation.
Choose a time when you want to meditate, when there would be less distractions.



August 6, 2014

Very useful insight Andy, thanks. The expectations trap is so easy to fall into. Quite often I find my mind shutting off, which triggers my anticipation of a shift in perception which peaks my attention and distracts me with thoughts again. All you can do I suppose is smile, relax and enjoy your breath.



August 28, 2014

Someone once told me: if you focus on what's similare, the will be little change. To change, you have to focus on what's different.
So what's different from day to day? Even the littlest things, the moment or two Andy mentions.