This extract from the book “The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It” by Kelly McGonigal Ph.D. shows how you can benefit from meditations even if you are bad at them. You do not have to spend years to get results. “Start with five minutes a day. When this becomes a habit, try ten to fifteen minutes a day. If that starts to feel like a burden, bring it back down to five.”
“Andrew felt like a terrible meditator. The fifty-one-year-old electrical engineer was convinced that the goal of meditation was to get rid of all thoughts and empty the mind. Even when he was focused on his breath, other thoughts sneaked in. He was ready to give up on the practice because he wasn’t getting better at it as quickly as he hoped, and figured he was wasting his time if he wasn’t able to focus perfectly on the breath. Most new meditators make this mistake, but the truth is that being “bad” at meditation is exactly what makes the practice effective. I encouraged Andrew—and all the other frustrated meditators in class— to pay attention not just to how well they were focusing during the meditation, but how it was affecting their focus and choices during the rest of the day. Andrew found that even when his meditation felt distracted, he was more focused after practicing than if he skipped it. He also realized that what he was doing in meditation was exactly what he needed to do in real life: catch himself moving away from a goal and then point himself back at the goal (in this case, focusing on the breath). The meditation was perfect practice for when he was just about to order something salty and deep-fried for lunch, and needed to stop and order something healthier. It was perfect practice for when he had a sarcastic comment on his lips and needed to pause and hold his tongue. And it was perfect practice for noticing when he was wasting time at work and needed to get back on track. All day long, self-control was a process of noticing that he was off-goal and redirecting himself to the goal. With this realization, Andrew no longer cared if his whole ten-minute meditation was spent getting distracted and coming back to the breath . The “worse” the meditation, the better the practice for real life, as long he was able to notice when his mind was wandering.”
“Meditation is not about getting rid of all your thoughts; it’s learning not to get so lost in them that you forget what your goal is. Don’t worry if your focus isn’t perfect when meditating. Just practice coming back to the breath, again and again.”
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