I often hear that meditation doesn’t work for someone. While I personally think that everyone could benefit from meditating, I also believe that if someone just isn’t into it, they won’t see the benefits and shouldn’t be forced.
However, when I ask these people what didn’t work for them, I often find that the reason it didn’t work is actually a pretty simple fix. So if you’re one of those people who thinks meditation doesn’t work for you, read on to see if any of these resonate with you — and learn how to fix it.
1. Your mind races.
I often hear “I can’t stop thinking.” You’re not meant to stop thinking. Meditation is not about stopping your thoughts. It’s about learning to observe them without judgment or attachment.
But most of us go through our days with our thoughts running on a loop and we don’t really pay a lot of attention to them. So when we sit down to meditate, and our focus is concentrated inside our minds, it can seem like our mind is suddenly racing. It can seem like we’re suddenly thinking about way more than we usually do.
This is normal. Learning to sit and be comfortable with your mind can take time. Learning how your mind operates — what you think about, whether you’re positive or negative, etc.- can be interesting but also a little intimidating.
Don’t let it stop you from meditating. Know that this is normal and simply keep coming back to the breath, your mantra, or whatever else you’re focusing on for the meditation.
2. Your mind wanders.
This seems like the same thing as your mind racing, but it’s a little different. With your mind wandering, you may not even notice until the timer signifying the end of your meditation goes off and you realize you just spent the last 10 minutes daydreaming.
Or you might end up thinking about that problem with the project at work or ruminating on what to get your spouse for their birthday.
It’s also normal for your mind to wander. Sometimes, that can even be the best kind of meditation though it may not seem like it. One purpose of meditation is to give your mind a break — and a daydream is like a mental vacation.
If you do notice that your mind has wandered before the end of your meditation, simply bring your focus back.
3. There’s no consistency.
The benefits of meditation are becoming more well known, and they’re quite varied. What isn’t always recognized is that these benefits are cumulative. A single meditation session will provide some benefits, but if you never repeat the experience, they’ll wear off and you’ll go back to feeling like you always have.
Keeping a consistent meditation practice is key to feeling the benefits. An ideal practice would be daily at the same time in the same place. If your life and schedule don’t permit that, find other ways to be consistent. This might mean you meditate every day but at different times. It might mean you can only meditate every other day or once a week. You might associate your meditation with another activity that happens consistently and simply give yourself a 5–15 minute buffer before or after the activity to meditate.
4. You keep falling asleep.
Falling asleep is both a good and bad thing. It can be bad because you feel like you’re never finishing your meditation. But it can be good because it’s a sign that you are fully relaxing during your meditation — and that’s the goal.
Falling asleep — unless you are doing a meditation to help with sleep at bedtime — can be frustrating. The best way to stop it is to change up your meditation.
If you’re meditating immediately upon waking or right before bed, try meditating in the middle of the day instead. If you meditate in total silence, try playing some soft music or nature sounds. If you already use sounds but still fall asleep, try using an app like Insight Timer and setting a few bells at intervals throughout your practice — even if you start to drift off, the bells should bring you back to wakefulness.
5. You have body aches and pains.
Part of meditating is also learning to sit with things that make you uncomfortable — an itch, for example, or an annoying buzzing sound that you can’t identify where it’s coming from. But if you’ve got chronic or severe aches and pains, they can distract you from your practice or make it painful.
The first thing to do if body aches and pains are interfering with your meditation practice is see your doctor. Get diagnosed and treated, if necessary.
The next step is to see what you can do to make your practice more comfortable, despite the aches and pains. This may mean not sitting in a traditional meditation posture. You might instead lie on your bed, sit in a recliner, or place a pillow behind your lower back.
A final step would be to look for meditations designed to help ease aches and pains. The mind is a powerful thing and sometimes meditation can significantly decrease pain.
6. You get bored.
As a society, we’ve gotten very used to having plenty of things to grab our attention. People around us, books to read, TV shows to watch on dozens of streaming services, social media to scroll are all clamoring for our attention at all hours of the day and night. They distract us from our lives, our problems and our thoughts.
So when we sit down to meditate, sometimes it can seem downright boring. You’re sitting there, eyes closed, with only your thoughts to keep you company. You’re alone with yourself. And sometimes you’re boring.
The good news is the longer you stick with your practice, the less bored you’ll be. As you get to know more about how your mind works and the way you think, you’ll begin to be fascinated by what’s going on in there.
You can also alleviate boredom by asking yourself why you’re bored. Explore the boredom and see where that takes you.
7. You get great ideas or think of important things.
This is a great problem to have! No, really, it is. Meditation is about slowing down, getting to know what’s in your mind and how you think. So if you’re getting great ideas and remembering important things, that’s a pretty good indication that you are succeeding at slowing things down.
I know it can be frustrating to get these great ideas or remember something important during a meditation. You start to worry that you’ll forget by the time you’re done. So you stop meditating to go take care of it or at least write it down. But then it’s just too hard to get back into your meditation, so you figure you’ll just try again later.
If you’re struggling with meditation, you should really only be meditating for a few minutes — 5–20 minutes. So when a great idea or important thought comes up, tell yourself that you’ll remember when your meditation is over. Then let it go. I know it’s hard, but I promise it’s the right way to go.
First, it will help you get all the benefits out of your meditation. One of those benefits is an improved memory which means that not only will you be better able to remember those great ideas and important things when they come up in meditation, but they’ll come to you outside of meditation too.
8. You don’t find time.
So I’m going to be a little hard on you here. If you say “I can’t find time to meditate,” you need to stop lying to yourself and me. Just say what it really is: you don’t make time.
People find time for what’s important to them.
How much time do you spend scrolling social media? How many hours do you spend watching Netflix? How often do you stay late at work when you don’t really need to?
It’s time to be honest with yourself. Look at your calendar, look at how you spend your time, and really be brutal about it. I bet if you really look, you can find the time. And if you still say you can’t? Maybe it’s time to admit that meditation isn’t really your thing — and that’s okay.
9. Your expectations are too high.
Do you think you should not have any thoughts at all while meditating? Expect to breathe just right? Sit just so with your legs in the perfect position and your hands perfectly placed? Yeah, that’s why it’s not working for you.
If you expect it to be perfect, and particularly if your idea of perfection is over the top, you’ll be too focused on getting it perfect to get any benefit.
There are several sitting postures you can try for meditation. But if they don’t work for you, sit in a recliner. Lie on a bed or the floor. If you’re stressed and need to meditate in a pinch, you can sit in the bathroom stall, your car, or hiding under your desk in your cubicle. Your hands can lie palms up or palms down on your thighs. Your eyes can be closed, or you can be looking with a soft gaze at the floor, your desk, a candle, or whatever else is around. If breathing to a count of four or six is too much, then just take deep breaths and let them out as it feels good to you.
Basically, the rules of meditation aren’t meant to be sticks with which you beat yourself if you don’t or can’t follow them. Think of them more as guidelines and adapt them as needed.
10. You expect immediate results.
Did you think you’d sit down, meditate for one minute (or five) and boom, everything would be different? I’m sorry to disappoint you, but it doesn’t work like that.
Can you feel benefits in a single session? Absolutely! But referring back to reason #3, they won’t last. And in some cases, like improving sleep or lowering blood pressure, a single session won’t make a significant difference — you may not even really notice it. This can lead you to think “this isn’t working,” when in fact, you just need to give it more time.
Just like working out or changing the way you eat, meditation takes time to notice a major change. I usually recommend giving it at least a full month (if you meditate daily for at least 5–10 minutes) before you decide it’s not working. And if you skip a day here and there during that month, it’s okay as long as you meditated more days than you didn’t.
And if you still don’t see a difference after a month? You might consider hiring a meditation teacher or finding some local groups or classes before you give up on meditation completely.
Meditation can be a powerful tool
If you’re able to harness the power, meditation can change your life. The impact on the brain, body, and emotions is real. You just have to be realistic and consistent with realistic expectations.
Don’t give up on your practice. If meditating is important to you, keep tweaking your practice until it does work for you. It’ll happen if you stick with it.