When you first start meditation, you want to make sure you do it properly. There’s no voice of judgment that’s gonna evaluate whether you meditated correctly or not, it’s just you.
But what are some of the things you should avoid doing to ensure you get the most out of meditation?
On this occasion, I’ll outline some of the mistakes newbies make that may lead them to quit, and if you avoid this, you could set yourself up for success in the long run with meditation.
There are several ways to meditate, you might even find your own meditation style that works for you that’s different from what you’ve heard before, it might be an intuitive meditation style.
Even then, the key measurement to determine whether one kind of meditation is right for you is how it makes you feel afterward.
If you keep practicing a style of meditation because you’ve heard that it works for many, but for you, it’s somehow making you feel worse, reconsider said meditation practice. There are more meditation styles to choose from than we can possibly count.
Some of the common ones are focusing on your breath or visualizing something. It’s hard to fail at that since it’s all about being in the present moment.
However, let’s go into the things you want to avoid when you are starting, and they can be applied to almost any kind of meditation.
Now, don’t take what I say as gospel as there are some that still do these things and still manage to find success with meditation, these are just some tips that could kickstart your journey in the right direction.
1. Checking How Much Time Is Left
This is a classic one that has happened to most of us. We want to speed through the practice and reap the rewards now.
But we have to first become comfortable with living in the now to be deserving of such rewards. What you get from meditation, which is more of a loss in terms of loss of stress and depression, comes after the fact that these things no longer affect us the same way.
The more present you are with the meditation, and the less you focus on how much time is left will be the difference between actually meditating and just sitting there, doing nothing.
Sure, you can do a form of mindless meditation, and for some, it works to let their minds wander freely. But for the most part, you want to train yourself to keep your focus on the now, on what’s allowing you to experience meditation in the traditional sense.
Checking how much time is left for your session is an urge that you need to overcome, and often means you aren’t meditating. In that regard, meditation is different from exercising.
Meditation is never about how fast you can do it but rather how well you can do it, how deep you can relax your mind and enter that state where you feel detached from many of your physical sensations.
It’s okay to set a timer (although I personally would overall recommend against it), but keep in mind that your perception of time gets distorted when you meditate, which is what partially makes meditation so incredible.
An hour-long meditation can feel like it passed in the blink of an eye, and if you feel it, you’ve achieved what for some takes months or possibly years to achieve, and it’s a strong sign you should continue on that path.
The more you detach your notion of time from the meditation, the easier it is to connect with a higher purpose and enter what some call the true state of meditation.
2. Obsessing Over Thoughts
You’ll get thousands of thoughts when you meditate at first. It’s almost the mind’s fight-or-flight response to meditation because the mind hates the practice.
It’s not hard to see why the mind hates the practice, since it clings to our mindlessness to control our day-to-day and what we often do as a lack of self-discipline is the result of a weak mind.
But with meditation, you teach yourself to delay gratification, and as a result, you start gaining more control over your mind, or at the very least, the temptation for a quick dopamine boost no longer affects you the same way.
At times, the mind will try to get us to stop, silently leaving the meditation, in the sense that it makes us think that we are still meditating when we are actually sitting there, obsessing over our thoughts and attaching a label to these thoughts.
These labels are what give these thoughts power, and ultimately, we start believing these thoughts. But in this case, the less you care, the more you win.
Not all thoughts you get are actually yours, and negative and distracting thoughts will always be there, no matter how good of a meditation practitioner you are.
The difference between a sophisticated practitioner and one that’s starting out is that the experienced practitioner doesn’t let these thoughts bother them.
You want to do the same to liberate yourself from your mind that’s keeping you from experiencing the bliss that the present has to offer.
You’re shifting away the power from your mind’s short-term pleasures and shifting it to your true, long-term will that’s aligned with your end goal.
We’re conditioned to want things now, but we’re not willing to live in the now to get those things, so there’s a bit of a disconnect.
Fortunately, the more present you become the less dependent or obsessed you become, the flip side is that you might see a decline in your ambition because you approach things with more indifference.
Thoughts you get can be either positive or negative, but don’t attach a label to them, and don’t get attached to your thoughts.
3. Falling Asleep
Okay, I know this one is a bit out of our control, but there are things you can do to prevent yourself from falling asleep during meditation.
And that’s to meditate in a sitting position or meditate when you wake up. You want to make sure you have enough rest before you do the meditation practice and you want to make sure you can keep your attention throughout the practice.
Meditation only counts for the part where your attention is immersed in the present. Avoiding falling asleep should be relatively easy for most, but overall being well-rested also makes meditation easier.
As much as the mind has a dislike for meditation, if we make it easy for the mind, it’s less likely to show the same resistance, and if you’re sleep deprived while attempting to do the meditation, your mind might confuse the practice with attempting to sleep, and as a result, you could easily fall asleep.
4. Internal Dialogues
I often find myself having internal dialogues with myself before falling asleep. If this happens to you, try preventing it from happening during the meditation, as internal dialogues can be distracting.
Half of the job is having no external distractions by being in such an environment, but another part is up to us to focus on the present.
The mind will wander nonetheless, but it’s on us to bring our attention back so we can experience the mindful part of meditation. Internal dialogues are perhaps one of the most distracting roadblocks many are facing with meditation, and the mind can do a very good job of tricking us to think it’s a good source of wisdom.
But in reality, we have a lot to learn about ourselves when we start meditation, and rather than approaching things with a mindset of knowing everything, we want to be open to everything, almost as if we are taming the mind.
5. Trying To Make The Meditation Session Perfect
Those starting might obsess over making the meditation present, or obsess over always keeping the attention on the now. But no one is perfect, and we can’t set high standards for ourselves when we start out with meditation.
It’s very common for the mind to go to different places and be less aware, all we have to do is acknowledge that it will slip, and gently bring it back. Not every meditation experience will feel as immersive, even if you are an experienced meditator.
The less you obsess about the experience and just allow it to be while doing your best, the more progress you are to make with meditation.
Because trying to make it perfect almost implies you have a certain expectation from the meditation, and that’s something you want to avoid overall.
I would go as far as to say that a perfect meditation session doesn’t exist, and it’s all about finding a place where you’re more able to keep your attention on the meditation for longer than you’re not. You’ll have times when it will slip.
If you manage to keep your attention there all the time, something else might happen that may affect your experience, such as facing unpleasant thoughts, which are prone to happen anyways, regardless of what intention you have when you meditate.
6. Overdoing It
When I explored whether 5-minute meditations were enough, I mentioned that you might overdo it, which is a good thing. A five-minute meditation can easily lead to a longer meditation. But overdoing it isn’t always optimal, especially if you find significant resistance or it doesn’t feel natural.
Over time, the meditation is supposed to flow, and if you’re trying to keep your attention present for longer than you feel capable of, you might be burning yourself out. And it’s ironic because meditation is supposed to prevent burnout.
It’s totally fine to take gradual steps toward making progress in your meditation session. You don’t want to start seeing meditation in a negative light, after all, so try finding that balance between not doing meditation for less time than you can focus on, but also not overdoing it.
Eventually, you’ll be able to find the sweet spot that’s right for you based on how you feel after said meditation sessions.
7. Obsessing Over a Certain Experience
Each meditation experience will be different, in some, you might experience pure peace and a deep sense of relaxation, whereas, in others, you might face your shadow or dark thoughts you’ve repressed.
It’s easy to get attached to a particular meditation experience, especially if you find it blissful, and you might associate meditation with something pleasant. It’s great if you’re seeing meditation with a favorable perspective but it’s also worth being aware that there is a dark side to the practice as well.
You’ll want to condition yourself to be versatile, and experience both sides of the coin. There can’t be any light if there’s no darkness, and overall, overcoming the dark sides you might be presented with meditation will make you enjoy future experiences more since there will be nothing to run away from.
I recommend receiving almost any meditation experience with open arms, but there are of course exceptions if you happen to find that the meditation goes wrong and negatively impacts your quality of life.
8. Relying On Something External To Meditate
Some meditate in combination with coffee since it’s a great way to stay alert and focused. But some would see it as cheating.
I don’t personally see it as cheating, since it’s a means to an end. If coffee helps you build the habit, combine the two by all means. But you can get almost the same energy derived in coffee from meditation, naturally.
Eventually, you want to get so good at meditation you don’t need anything external to do the practice, be it a guided meditation where someone else controls your experience or a cup of coffee.
Meditation is completely natural and it’s something you’ll want to be able to do without thinking about it, by perpetually operating in a present state.
That way, when you resume your meditation, there will be far less resistance since you’ll already be in a state that favors the practice, to begin with. When you start meditating while being present, most of the hard work is already done.
Meditation teaches us to look within, and you’ll often find a better source of energy from something like meditation, or yoga than any other thing.