Menu
Announcement: Wish you could change the past? Learn to let go and create a life you love with the Tiny Buddha course!

Why It’s Okay to “Fail” at Meditation 90% of the Time

Man Meditating

“Giving up is the only sure way to fail.” ~Gena Showalter

So you want to meditate.

You can’t help but notice the benefits touted everywhere: clearer mind, more focus, better sleep, better health and happiness. What’s not to want?

But then you try it out. And dang, it’s not easy.

When you sit down on that cushion or chair, your previously normal human brain has turned into a crazy swirl of thoughts.

Did you have this many thoughts before? Isn’t this meditation thing supposed to be about clearing your mind and getting focused?

The next thought that comes to mind is usually this one: “I’m failing at meditation. I can’t do this.”

Welcome to the club! All experienced meditators know this feeling. We’ve all had this experience. We’ve all thought at some point that we’re failing at meditation.

When you sit still to stop doing and start being, your brain doesn’t cooperate easily. Its job is to think. Our brains will think about the breakfast, plan the day, even have imaginary conversations.

This is the legendary “monkey mind,” and it’s totally normal. However, bump that into our expectations of clarity and bliss, and we believe we are “failing” at meditation.

Want in on a little secret?

Ten plus years into this meditation thing, I still “fail” at it 90% of the time. My mind wanders somewhere between often and constantly during my daily morning practice. Planning, mostly!

So my practice is to notice the thinking. I label it, “thinking,” or “planning.” Then I bring my attention back to my breath.

And I’m not the only one.

Even experienced meditators’ minds wander—a lot

A monk from Blue Cliff Monastery joined my meditation group one evening for practice. We did twenty-five minutes of sitting meditation, ten minutes of walking meditation, and ten more minutes of sitting meditation.

During the discussion time, he shared about his practices. He related that he had about two minutes of clarity during our session—just two minutes!

It was incredibly freeing for me to hear. If the mind wandered for a monk who spent his whole life in an atmosphere that supported his practice, then I could accept that my mind wanders too.

Once I accepted that, my practice became even more fruitful. And I knew I wasn’t failing after all.

You’re still benefiting

After years of reading about mindfulness I finally began to practice at home.

I’d suffered from waves of deep lows for all of my life. They would hit me at a regular basis. Dad told me that this was just how life was. That I had “an artistic temperament.”

My life would be going along, with its ups and downs, when the stressors became too much. I couldn’t handle it all anymore. I’d break down with tears and an inability to do anything much for a few days. My ways of coping weren’t healthy—binge eating was my dirty little secret.

I thought that something was wrong with me. That somehow, I wasn’t strong enough to handle life the way other people seemingly did.

I’d been reading about the benefits of mindfulness to soothe myself for years. Finally, I decided to step into the area and do it. I had built up my strength and resilience with yoga. I could do this.

I began to practice meditation by sitting at home for ten minutes almost every day. In a few weeks, I bumped it up to fifteen minutes.

And I had this thought:

This is not working. I’m just sitting here basically thinking the whole time. This isn’t doing anything for me.

But, several months into it, I looked back at my life. I realized that I had not fallen into the pit of a deep low. At all.

It was an amazing revelation for me. Even though I thought I was doing a crap job at this meditation thing, I was receiving the benefits. It was working!

Amazingly, I haven’t had those regular series of lows in the ten years since.

It’s practice not perfection

Mindfulness is a lovely thing to think and read about, but it’s really all about practice.

Practice doesn’t mean perfection or performance. It’s about making friends with our wandering, imperfect minds.

Try this now:

Set a timer for sixty seconds. Sit tall and put your attention on your in-breath and your out-breath. Feel it at the nose, chest, or belly, whatever is most accessible to you. When your mind wanders, label it “thinking,” and come back to your breath until the timer rings.

You did it!

Practice diligently. Practice with persistence.  Accept that your human mind that wanders. It’s an essential part of the learning.

Keep practicing and keep “failing.” You will still benefit.

Man mediating image via Shutterstock

Profile photo of Hunter Clarke-Fields

About Hunter Clarke-Fields

Hunter Clarke-Fields, MSAE, RYT, mindfulness mama mentor, coaches smart, accomplished, over-stressed moms on how to cultivate mindfulness in their daily lives. Hunter has over twenty years of experience in yoga & mindfulness practices and has taught thousands of people worldwide. Hunter hosts a podcast, Yoga Stories Project, in addition to blogging about the intersection of yoga, mindfulness and parenting at HunterYoga.com.

See a typo, an inaccuracy, or something offensive? Please contact us so we can fix it!
Announcement: Tired of feeling stuck? Learn to let go of the past and create a life you love with the Tiny Buddha course!
  • Thank you for this article! This is what I’ve been looking for – a fresh and different outlook on meditation. I keep reading about the benefits of meditation but the majority of authors seem to forget to mention it’s not that easy.
    Your article was very comforting to me and motivated me to keep trying to meditate (as I too cannot refrain from thinking for more than about 30 seconds, no matter how hard I try!).

  • This is so true! Just this morning I was meditating and I remember thinking I got maybe 30 seconds in total of feeling purely connected – but boy were those seconds golden! And they’ve shifted my day as they always do. I will share this with my coaching clients so that they feel better about “failing.”

  • If you absolutely need some sort of guideline for success in meditation, don’t look at maintaining focus as the goal. Rather, look at the “waking up” and returning to awareness after you wander each time as the goal – and you will find that you have many successes each sitting. Blessings, dear hearts. <3

  • I loved reading your article. I like simple, human and helpful articles and this one surely fits the bill! I think it is VERY important to inform newcomers that this is totally normal. Thank-you, thank-you!

  • Terry

    Thank you for the much-needed reminder!

  • Thank you Hunter for sharing this great article.
    Honestly speaking, I did not find meditation easy to do at first. Just like ​Journaling, ​I tried it many times before settling into a routine.

    On my first few attempts at meditating, I just could not sit or lie still for more than 5 minutes. It seemed that my mind took the silence as as a sign to start shouting, running through negative thoughts and emotions and breaking down what little self-respect I had left.This is what happens to all folks with low self-esteem. Yep! Things were really not going well spiritually and I knew that I needed to find a method to help me cultivate inner peace. Instead of forcing myself to just meditate, I started experimenting with several
    techniques.

    1. Breathing. ​
    I prefer this way. It is the easiest. You simply follow your breath in and out.
    2. Gazing. ​
    I light a non-fragranced candle and turn off the lights in my
    meditation space. Gazing at a still candle flame in the dark helps my mind become very focused.
    3. Visualization. ​
    I found this a more advanced technique. When you follow this technique you close your eyes and picture an object. Try visualize your heart at first and then you can later try picturing your Chakras.

    Even though, I have been meditating regularly for more than a year now, I still
    consider myself a beginner. I love my meditation time.

  • I think that the idea of a completely clear mind is one of the myths of meditation. Somehow people have this idea clarity is what it is all about and are discouraged when they sit down and realize their mind has different plans. I’ve come to the realization in my practice that noticing my mind wandering is part of the purpose of meditation. The more I become aware of it in my daily morning meditation, the easier it becomes to notice my mind wandering while I’m going about my day. It becomes so easy for our mind to wander, if we aren’t aware of it, that we don’t fully appreciate what is right in front of us. As an example, something that upset or aggravated me at work earlier that day is less likely to ruin the time I spend with my kids that evening. Instead, I can be aware that my mind has wandered to something that happened earlier and bring it back to the present.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is – It can feel like you’re failing at meditation when you have to keep reminding yourself to bring your attention back to your breath like telling your kids to quit touching things in the grocery store. To me the awareness you get is a big part of your success in meditation.

  • Krithika Rangarajan

    I haven’t read this article yet, but LOVE the title 😀

  • Hey Joanna 🙂 How has your experience with meditation been since? How did you first discover meditation?

  • Beth Jones

    Thank you so much for this article. I had hit a dry spot in my meditations and half-convinced myself that I would never “get it.” Now I can appreciate the experience rather than rating how well I did. Blessings.