Brain, will you please shut up??
Have you ever tried to meditate but your mind was so chatty that you couldn’t focus?
You’ve probably seen some of the hundreds of studies that prove the physical and emotional benefits of meditating, which include reducing stress, easing depression, improving sleep, lowering blood pressure, reducing physical pain, extending attention span, and increasing positive thinking.
If you would love to experience these benefits but have a hard time focusing because your mind is on overdrive, you are not alone. In our busy world, your mind can feel like a runaway train that you are chasing, trying to make it calm the heck down.
Whether this happens every time you try to meditate or only when your life is hectic or stressful, there are ways to get your mind to work with you so you can start experiencing the benefits of meditation.
Here are some easy tips that can help you quiet your mind:
1. Thoughts are okay. Really.
When you meditate, you may not get to a space where your mind is totally silent and you feel one with the universe.
Yes, over time this may happen, and if it does it is an incredible experience. Yet if you believe that this is the state you should attain when you meditate, you will feel that you aren’t doing it right and may become frustrated or disappointed.
Instead, pay attention to focusing your mind and being present in your body.
2. Become partners with your mind
Your mind believes that its job is to think all the time. So when you introduce the idea of focusing and calming your thoughts, your mind can get in a huff. Meditating can become a battle between your desire to focus your thoughts, and your mind’s desire to keep thinking whatever it wants, whenever it wants to.
Have a conversation with your mind. Remind it why you want to meditate, and the value meditation can add to your life. Let it know that meditating will actually help your mind, because your thoughts will become clearer and more productive.
Then say to your mind, “Hey, I let you think all day long. I really want the beneficial results of meditating, so can you please let me focus on my meditation for _____ minutes (the length of the meditation)? Once I’m done, you can go back to thinking as usual. Deal?”
3. Write down the chatter
When you meditate, do you think about things you need to do or other concerns? If so, there’s an easy fix for this:
Before you start meditating, jot down any to-dos or other thoughts that are strongly top of mind.
Promise your mind that you will review this list after you complete the meditation. Remember, you are forming a partnership with your mind.
Once you finish meditating, keep your promise to your mind and review what you wrote down before you began. If there are things on the list you want to do, write them down somewhere that will prompt you to do them.
If you keep using this technique before you meditate, your mind will start trusting that you are paying attention to what it says, and it will become quieter during your meditations.
SPECIAL TIP: If your mind keeps popping with things to do, you can even have a pad of paper and pen (not an electronic device) next to you while you meditate. When you think about something you need to do, quickly write it down and immediately return to the meditation. (Please note that this is an occasional solution when your mind is overflowing with to-dos. You want to train yourself to have an uninterrupted meditation practice.)
4. Be gentle with yourself
When I first tried to meditate, whenever I realized my thoughts had drifted away (which happened a lot!), I’d get frustrated and angry with myself. I shared this with a friend who had meditated for years, and she sweetly said, without any judgment, “Interesting. Whenever I realize that my thoughts have drifted, I just gently bring my attention back to my meditative focus.”
Gently? That was a mind-altering idea for me. And it changed my whole experience with meditation.
It is normal for your mind to think random thoughts—it’s been doing so for your entire life. Just like you wouldn’t beat a puppy for jumping on the sofa, you don’t want to beat your mind.
Instead, gently invite your mind to discover another way of being.
5. Helpful Apps
There are a lot of great apps that can make meditating easier. Here are a few that I’ve used, or our clients have recommended.
Insight Timer – Has over 14,000 guided meditations. It also features a create-your-own-meditation timer, where you can determine the length of your meditation and sounds you want to hear. I love the periodic chimes which remind me to gently return my thoughts to my meditation.
Headspace – An easy introduction to mindfulness meditation.
Calm – Offers guided meditations, sleep stories, and mindful movement videos. A client told me, “I’m very happy with the quality of the meditations and the variety of topics.”
10% Happier – Describing itself as “Meditation for fidgety skeptics,” this neuroscience-based app can even inspire cynics to meditate. It offers different techniques and courses, and it can send you a daily reminder to meditate.
6. A simple meditation to help you focus
When your mind is restless, it helps to have something specific to focus on. This is one of my favorite meditations for when my mind is extra-busy:
As you inhale, say in your mind “I am”
As you exhale, say in your mind “here”
As you focus on these words, imagine you are pulling your mind and energy into your body exactly where you are at this moment
When your mind wants to wander into the past or future (neither of which are “here”), gently guide it into the present.
For me, this meditation is calming and grounding. Sometimes it feels quiet and still, and other times it is a celebration: I AM HERE!
If this phrase doesn’t connect with you, find another word or phrase that empowers you before you begin your meditation.
Here are some wonderful ones:
Relax. Ease. Love. One. Grateful. Open. Joy.
I open my heart. I receive abundance. I choose to slow down. I embrace myself. I belong. Let go…let everything go.