Wandering Thoughts: How To Improve Your Focus While MeditatingWandering Thoughts: How To Improve Your Focus While Meditating

One of the biggest challenges in practicing meditation is staying focused. We can sit down with the best of intentions, and then our mind takes over in a dialog:

“Shoot! I left my clothes in the washer. They’re going to smell like a wet dog if I don’t pull them out soon.” 

“Okay, focus!” 

"Why did that penguin in the documentary I watched last night look like it was judging me?”

“Focus, focus."

If this happens to you, you are not alone. On average, we humans have about 60,000 or more thoughts per day. Most of the time we are overthinking so much we don’t even notice. But when we sit down to meditate and intentionally come into focus, these thoughts become overwhelmingly distracting.

Why Do We Overthink So Much?

Our mind is wired to solve problems and ensure survival, constantly scanning for potential threats or issues that need addressing. While beneficial in critical situations, our thoughts can go into overdrive trying to make sense of an uncertain world. 

If we don't manage it well, our thoughts can quickly become overwhelming and counterproductive. Overthinking can disrupt our nervous system, leading to heightened stress, anxiety, and even depression or illness. This constant mental strain keeps our bodies in a state of fight-or-flight, which can exhaust us physically, mentally, and emotionally over time.

Practicing Meditation for Focus and Clarity

Meditation allows us to find focus and calm, yet we become distracted and frustrated when our minds continue wandering. It might be hard to believe you can overcome the cycle of overthinking and meditate into peace, but with practice there’s hope.

Picture your mind as a glass of water —those racing thoughts and worries are like mud swirling in the water. There’s no clarity, just murky muck. When you sit down and meditate, it's like gently setting that glass down. As the water becomes more still, the muddy thoughts settle to the bottom of the glass and out of the way so that the water becomes clear. 

The goal is that each time we sit down to meditate, we practice setting that glass down to reveal a peacefully clear and focused mind. 

It's not always easy, and that's okay. Even the most experienced meditators deal with invading thoughts. Like anything worth doing, it takes practice, patience, and self-compassion. So, if you sit down to meditate and find your mind wandering off to tomorrow's to-do list or that embarrassing thing you said five years ago, you’re totally normal! 

The key is to bring your awareness back to the present moment, without judging yourself for getting distracted.

Techniques for Better Focus During Meditation

The great news is that there are numerous techniques available to help us come back to the present moment when our mind wants to joyride in the mud like a monster truck. 

Many of these practices stem from ancient traditions that are tried and true for cultivating focus. We are all unique and some of these techniques will work better for you than others.

🧠 Observing Your Thoughts

Accept that distracting thoughts are part of the process. Instead of berating yourself for having them, simply observe them as they arise without judgment. This practice cultivates a sense of detachment and keeps you from getting caught up deeper and deeper in a mental conversation. 

Imagine your mind like a house with a front and back door. As a thought enters the front door, you can open that back door and kindly ask it to leave. There’s no need to invite the thought in to sit down for a conversation over tea!

🧘 Focus on Your Breath

As you tune into the rhythm of deep breaths, focusing on each inhale and exhale, you give your mind a job to do. Our minds don’t like to multi-task, so when you place your attention to the sounds and sensations of your breath (e.g., how it feels in your nostrils, how it inflates your belly) it becomes easier to quiet the mental chatter. 

Additionally, deep breaths instantly relax us, soothing the nervous system and promoting a state of calmness and tranquility. 

🕉️ Affirmations and Mantras

Try repeating an affirmation or mantra silently or aloud during your meditation practice. Whenever your mind wanders or you find yourself ruminating, you can return to the words with a meditative focus.

An affirmation is a positive word or phrase that you choose that affirms the state you wish to be in, such as “I am calm,” or “I am peacefully present.” 

If you connect with yoga or Buddhist traditions, you can choose a Sanskrit phrase or “mantra.” The word “mantra” in Sanskrit comes from “manas,” meaning “mind” and “tra,” meaning “tool.” So a mantra is a tool to steady your mind.

🎨 Visualization

Another job you can give your mind during meditation is visualization. These can be simple, such as a color or light, or more involved such as imagining in vivid detail your favorite place in nature. 

One idea is to imagine yourself sitting by the side of a tranquil stream. Whenever a thought comes up, you can find calm by imagining it becoming a leaf floating by in the water’s current.

🤸 Body Scan

You may also want to try focusing on your body, allowing your mind to scan each body part for tension and asking that area of the body to relax. You also can systematically move from your toes to the top of your head, visiting each body part and asking it to relax. 

This steadied focus helps relax your physical body, which influences your mind to follow suit. For this reason, it also can be helpful to do physical activity (such as stretching or a walk) before you even sit down to meditate. 

💆Guided Meditations

If you are struggling to meditate, Aura can help with guided meditations or mindfulness exercise by experts who can lead you through these various techniques. An audio meditation offers the right magic to help keep your mind focused and relaxed. You can listen to my meditations on Aura and discover thousands of expert tracks tailored to your unique emotions, challenges and needs.

Practice with Dedication

Over time, your mind will become stronger. Let go of your expectations for each meditation session. Trust that you will improve your focus as you continually revisit these techniques. 

Remember, there's no "right" way to meditate, and there will always be some days when your meditation flows to you easier than others. Just do your best to stay present and enjoy the process. With consistent practice, you'll find that moments of focus and calm come to you more easily.

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June 19, 2024
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