If you want to learn how to meditate, here you'll find powerful tips for building a regular meditation habit and avoiding the common beginner traps.
Meditation has a high drop-out rate. I know many people who have tried meditation and who meditate now and then, but very few who maintain a consistent, long-term practice. This isn't because meditation isn't powerful, but because new meditators give up way too early. I suspect it’s because they fail to follow one of these core principles.
Let’s look at how to make meditation a habit that sticks.
Learn How to Meditate: Expect It to Be Difficult
Learning how to meditate is a brave and life-changing undertaking. Stick with it long enough, and you’ll discover things about yourself you can’t imagine right now. At the same time, meditation is a challenging practice that opens new and unexpected avenues. Be willing to expand as a person and leave behind old ways of being.
Meditation is not about sitting and relaxing, but about developing attention skills, and you’ll run into some obstacles as you attempt to do so. First, when you start out, you have to learn how to sit with no stimulation. For many, this is a daunting prospect and deters them from trying meditation. We tend to avoid sitting with nothing to occupy our attention.
Another thing you’ll realise is just how crazy your mind is. Though we all have thoughts, we’re usually unaware of them, continually lost in a mental swirl. With meditation, you come face to face with this mind and are asked to develop a new way of relating to it. It’s shocking to discover just how much activity there is. Pay close attention, and you’ll find everything from memories to plans, songs, dialogues, self-criticism, and more.
Finally, the techniques won’t make much sense. You’ll spend a lot of time thinking about the techniques rather than doing them. You might wonder why you’re practicing a body scan, why you’re trying to maintain your attention on the breath, or why you’re trying to fully experience your thoughts while detaching from them. This confusion is par for the course.
Learn How to Meditate: Find an Experienced Teacher
To overcome the inevitable obstacles and develop a strong foundation in meditation, I recommend you seek out an experienced teacher. There are hundreds of meditation-related articles and videos online. But I’ve found that many are written by novices or outsiders who’ve barely dipped their toe in the water. I’ve also found meditation apps to be misleading. They often present meditation to be a sleeping aid or a way to cool off, something proper teachers would never do.
Look for a teacher who is a meditation specialist and has been practicing for many years. That way you’ll learn from the best and avoid the meditation-related myths and misconceived ideas that linger on the internet and social media. Look to learn lasting skills (like equanimity and concentration), rather than reach fleeting states, like relaxation or a quiet mind.
Learn How to Meditate: Clarify Your Motivations
I recently read some of John Kabat-Zinn’s work and one of his pieces of advice stuck with me. He says: “I used to think that meditation practice was so powerful in itself and so healing that so long as you devoted yourself to it on a regular basis, you would eventually see growth and change. But time has taught me that some kind of personal vision is also necessary.”
We all have a motivation when we begin meditation. Perhaps it’s to have more poise and presence, or to process our emotions better, or to act more skillfully. Even if this vision seems weak, keep it present and remind yourself of it during times of low motivation. Also reflect on your progress and identify your gains. Discuss it with your teacher so they can suggest specific techniques.
No matter what learning journey we undertake, we need tenacity. We spend a long time practicing even when there are no visible results. And much of this practice isn’t fun. That’s the harsh reality of building competence, and it applies to meditation too.
So you need to be strong and persistent, especially when you’re feeling unmotivated and not enjoying your practice. The key is to persist, hold on to your vision, and keep practicing regularly, knowing you get out what you put in, and that your efforts will eventually be rewarded.
If you really want to learn how to meditate, it’s crucial you set the proper expectations, find an experienced teacher, clarify your motivations, and be tenacious on the path. This will help you stay with meditation long enough to experience its power, create a strong connection to it, and find the motivation to maintain a regular practice for years and decades.