About six months ago, a friend of mine—we’ll call him Jack—confessed to me that he couldn’t meditate for longer than one minute. He said he’s tried many times, and always put the timer on to see how long he actually sits still.
But the time is always between 57 seconds and one minute later when he checks, and he is constantly frustrated. I could hear the frustration and shame in his voice as Jack told me his story. He told me he wanted to “really meditate,” and asked for help. He wanted to jump the hurdle but was deeply discouraged with his meditation practice, which he felt wasn’t much of a practice at all.
Does this sound familiar to anyone?
I gave Jack an assignment. I told him to stop setting the timer to see how long he could stand it—and to set an alarm for one minute instead. As soon as he hears the alarm go off, he is to take two deep breaths and then move on with the rest of his day. There are only three rules:
- He isn’t allowed to look at the clock before the timer goes off
- After it goes off, he must take two of the slowest, deepest breaths he can take
- He should try to repeat this 6-8 times each day, on the hour or at the same time each day if possible.
He agreed to give it a try.
Two weeks later, I met Jack for coffee. He arrived excited to “turn in his homework” and tell me how his assignment had been going.
He said that he had no problems with the meditations, never missed one since he put them into his smart phone calendar to remind him, and he never got anxious about checking before the timer went off. He knew that it would go off—and when it did—he knew it was time to breath.
The biggest difference wasn’t that Jack was able to meditate for one full minute without anxiety—although that was a great improvement—it was that he felt he was succeeding with his practice. Since we gave him an assignment that was realistic, he was able to stick with it. And instead of feeling embarrassed that he was doing something wrong, he felt successful.
So he graduated. He worked through the two-, three-, and four-minute zones and is now sitting for 10 minutes at a time, three times every day. Best of all, he feels good about his practice.
If you’re having trouble sticking with your meditations, start small by trying the assignment I gave to Jack:
- Sit comfortably in a place without distraction
- Set an alarm for one minute. During this minute, you are not allowed to look at the clock
- When the alarm goes off, take two of the slowest, deepest breaths you can take
- Repeat this 6-8 times each day, on the hour or at the same time each hour if possible.
- Once this feels comfortable to you, increase the time in one-minute increments