I used to “suck” at meditating. I desperately needed to know how to keep the focus while meditating. My mind would wander the entire time or I’d give up halfway through. Now I meditate for close to an hour a day. Here’s what’s helped me stick to meditation over the last 5 years.
Are any of these you?
“My thoughts won’t stop.”
“This is so damn boring.”
“I can’t tell if it’s working.”
This was me 5 years ago. Around this time, I was a stressed, anxious dude working in a corporate environment, which only made me even more stressed and anxious. I smoked weed almost every day, and I worried all the time about inconsequential things (like what people thought of me or times I failed).
Years later, meditation has helped me let go of anxiety, worry less, be more present/confident (among many many other things). It’s been so valuable that I’ve been trying to learn as much as possible so that I can one day teach this stuff to others.
These are things that have helped me make meditation a regular practice in my life.
We are building a muscle
When you do situps, you don’t do 50 situps and expect your abs to look good. You don’t even do situps for a week and expect them to look good. It’s consistent exercise over long periods of time that will get you results. This is the first step towards knowing how to keep the focus while meditating.
Meditation is the same, but most people give up as easily as they do with exercise, thinking that meditation “doesn’t work” for them or that they “can’t do it.” I was the same.
But if you think of meditation like exercise, if you trust in the method, you know that if you put in the discipline, the time and the energy, you will get results.
The challenge is just sticking to it.
Also like exercise, when you don’t see “results” for weeks at a time, you can easily get discouraged and want to give up.
That brings us to our next step.
Pick something specific to practice + make it useful
There are tons of meditation techniques out there. Candle meditation, body scans, noting thoughts, counting thoughts, focusing on the breath, etc.
When I first started, I had so many techniques, I didn’t know what to do with them — So I forgot them all. One of the best tips on how to keep the focus while meditating.
When I first learned Japanese, I “learned” a ton of phrases. And then when I went to Japan, I ended up forgetting all of them except one. “Excuse me, do you have an English menu?”
The reason why this phrase stuck? I had to use it over and over when I went to restaurants.
To make meditation stick: practice one “thing” over and over + make it useful/usable during your day.
Don’t just meditate and hope to feel “calmer.” Find some way to use it!
For example, here’s a method you can use to train yourself out of anxious thoughts:
The Thought Hunting Method:
Step 1: For practicing at home: Watch ONLY thoughts. Not breath or body, ONLY thoughts.
Step 2: When any big thought pulls your attention, give yourself a point (Like “Score! I caught one. 1!”), and then go back to watching thoughts, NOT the breath.
Step 3: Repeat for 10+ points.
Step 4: During the day, use this method to catch yourself in unproductive thoughts, like anxiety.
The powerful thing about this method is that you start small by practicing catching just 1 thought at home. As you repeat this for more and more points, you get really good at catching wandering thoughts, you get really familiar with the types of thoughts that pull your attention, to the point where you catch unproductive thoughts during the day out of habit.
This causes you to see yourself handle stuff like anxiety and fear better, which makes you want to practice (meditate) even more!
Using it in real life is more valuable than the amount of time you sit.
“The purpose of learning meditation is not so that you can spend your life sitting on your backside with your eyes closed, but to integrate that familiarity of awareness into other areas of your life.”
You gotta use it.
There’s a story about a guy who is deep in meditation when his wife comes up to him to ask him something. He snaps at her, “Don’t bother me! Can’t you see I’m meditating!?”
It’s not the amount of time you sit. It’s the change in behavior that your practice helps with. It helps you find out how to keep the focus while meditating.
It is all about practicing mindfulness of thoughts to help you worry less when you’ve said something dumb. It’s using body scans to help you recognize when you’ve gotten triggered. It’s using compassion practices to help you be a little kinder to that difficult family member.
In the past, I’d “meditate” for 20-30 minutes, wander the entire time, and then pat myself on the back for a job well done when the bell rang.
These days, the joy comes from seeing myself be a little less nervous when talking to strangers. Or seeing myself be more kind and compassionate towards someone I used to judge and resent. Or being present in a situation that used to make me anxious.
The funny thing is that using meditation IRL makes me want to practice at home even more, which makes me want to use it IRL even more. It’s a great feedback loop.