4 Beginner Meditation Mistakes That Might Be Holding You Back

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You've decided you want to meditate. Maybe you've been reading about the health benefits, you're hoping it will help you cope better with stress, or you're simply curious. But, despite your best efforts to choose a spot in your home that radiates serenity and curates the perfect Zen playlist, after a few sessions, you're starting to suspect that it's not working as it should.  

You can't seem to find any inner peace, no matter how hard you try. What's going on?

Before you give up on the practice, take a moment to think about what might be holding you back, starting with your expectations. You might be falling prey to a common misconception – that meditation has to feel a certain way, or it's not working.

Everybody has doubts about whether they are meditating properly, especially at first. We know that we're supposed to be observing our thoughts while remaining detached. But what does that even mean? Doesn't observing your thoughts imply that you're thinking about them?

So we turn to guided meditation, but then we're not sure if that's the same as actual meditation. In short, we have a lot of questions and being told that "your mind is like a river" doesn't really answer them.

Well, first of all, to put your mind at ease, know that the way meditation feels is subjective. That's why your experience doesn't match what other people are describing. It doesn't mean you're doing it wrong. Some people get very emotional during their first sessions, while some just get bored. The best way to learn how to meditate is to simply sit down, close your eyes and take slow, deep breaths.

However, there are a few "mistakes" that might be holding you back. Let's go through some of them.

Obsessing About Meditating the Right Way

Many thoughts can cross our minds while we are in the midst of meditating. The most common is if we're doing it right. It's a habit we picked up as kids. We try to learn something, and our parents or teachers will tell us if we got it right or not so we get a sense that there is a right way to do things. Meditation is not like that, so forget about how it should be and just let it be.

For example, there's a common misconception that you have to sit cross-legged to meditate. Then you do it, and you feel uncomfortable. The discomfort is distracting, and you start to think that you're doing it wrong again. But the truth is you don't have to sit like that. You could get a meditation pillow, sit on a chair, lie in bed, or walk. Find what works for you.

If there's one thing we can say for certain is a mistake and should be avoided while learning how to meditate is self-criticism. People often feel that if their experience with mediation doesn't match something someone said or posted on social media, there's something wrong with them. They're not doing it right, or they're not up to par.

Nobody "sucks" at meditating, so falling into these thought patterns won't do you any good. Focus more on the process rather than how much or how fast you're making progress. It's a journey, and it's best not to force it. Self-criticism and judgment will only lead you astray from your path.

Fighting Your Thoughts

Having thoughts is inevitable. You won't be able to "stop" your thoughts. You can only shift your focus. If your keep trying to fight your thoughts, you'll feel anything but serene. You're trying to use your mind to quiet your mind, leading to an inner conflict that further fuels itself. You're basically getting the opposite of what you wanted.

How do you get out of this bind?

You do nothing. Yes, that's right. You do nothing. That's what observing your thoughts means. If you get a thought, don't get mad at it. Don't try to analyze it. Just let it be. Bring your attention back to your breath or your mantra. Be patient with your mind. That patience will become your superpower.

Trying to Turn Mediation into an Escape

Many people try to use meditation as a tool to escape negative thoughts. Meditation won't do that. You will still have problems in your life, and of course, those problems will cause you to think about them so you can find a solution.

What meditation can do is teach you how to detach from those negative thoughts and put you in a state that allows you to address them with clarity. To put it another way, meditation won't teach you how to suppress negative emotions or thoughts, but it will give you the strength to face them, acknowledge them and go beyond them.

Expecting Too Much Too Soon

Our modern, fast-paced lives have instilled in us a transactional, results-oriented mindset. We're not exactly overflowing with patience. But, as we mentioned before, patience will become your superpower.

Naturally, you want the benefits: calm, inner peace, better health, resilience to stress, and so on. But you are on your path. It's your path because it's unique. It's only yours. Maybe your path will take you somewhere that others need months of practice to reach. But it can just as well be vice versa.

Unrealistic expectations will not only disappoint you, but they will also divert your attention away from what counts most - following your path. That's what the practice of mediation is all about. Once you shift your focus on the process or "the path," you'll get out of this loop where you get distracted by thoughts of not meditating correctly or not getting what you want from meditation.

Moreover, you may be looking for these benefits you're hoping for in the wrong place. You're more likely to feel these benefits in your everyday life and not while you're meditating. Have you been falling asleep more easily? Are you becoming more open in conversations? Less anxious about what people think of you? Do you feel more present?

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