Distracted During Meditation? Here’s How to Concentrate

You were never taught how to concentrate and that’s okay.

One of the most common reasons people don’t like meditation or fail to turn it into a habit is this:

“I can’t calm my mind.”

Or a version of this — “I can’t concentrate,” “I can’t empty my mind,” and “I’m too involved with my thoughts.”

This makes them believe they’re somehow ‘bad’ at meditation.

Yet, no one can be bad at meditation. Because even if you’re able to concentrate (on your breath for example) for ten seconds out of 20 minutes, you’ve won.

That said, we all can use improved concentration during our meditation to make it more effective and dive into deeper states of consciousness.

When I started meditating a year ago, I thought, one year into it, I’ll be this super-focused hyper-aware person. Yet, after more than 300 days of practice, I’m nowhere close to that.

And this is not only my experience. Even seasoned meditators have days and weeks of dryness — when they’re able to focus only as good as a newbie.

The more I practice and embrace a mindful life, the more I’ve understood certain key aspects that determine our levels of concentration in meditation and otherwise.

I came across these aspects by introspecting daily on my experience. Over the past few months, they’ve taken me far on the journey of improving my concentration not just in meditation but in daily tasks as well.

Before we dive into the techniques and concepts, you need to have the right view to understanding concentration in the context of meditation.

And the key point you need to know is this — the strength of your concentration depends not only on what you do in meditation but what you do with the rest of your life.

Let’s address both these separately.

What Do You Do When You’re Not Meditating?

There are many people who meditate for ten minutes, morning and evening, yet live a life of busyness, overwhelm, and distraction.

I was one of those people. I meditated religiously every morning. Yet, when I went to the gym after my meditation session, I would blast my ears with mind-numbing music — hard metal, pop, etc.

This is one way of ruining the concentration gains you got from meditation in the first place.

Let’s take another example. Suppose you meditate every morning, yet you rush through your day hopelessly. You have nothing planned, you put on the same shirt you wore yesterday and run to the office like a madman.

If I look at you when you come to the office, I wouldn’t believe you meditated this morning. You’re not letting the after-effects percolate into your life.

And so, concentration is not something you do once a day for a few minutes like flossing your teeth every night.

It’s more like playing the guitar — you need to practice to get good at it.

Training your concentration first starts with taking a harsh look at your attention diet. What is your attention like during the day?

Again, for most people, they’re multitasking (which really is hyper task-switching) and living in a constant state of restlessness. Their attention in other words is scattered all over the place. Then they wonder why they cannot focus it at one point during their meditation practice.

Think about going on a diet, eating greens every morning, yet munching on junk food throughout the day. This is not how it works with diets right?

Similarly, you need to practice concentration throughout the day. Now that you understand the importance of concentration training, here are some basic practices that you must work on:

Time blocking

Everyone has a concentration limit. Some can concentrate for an hour, others only for ten minutes. When people reach their limit, they get restless, mentally tired, and look for distraction. This is the point you need to push against. Just like real growth in the gym comes from the last few reps, concentration growth happens when you push beyond your comfort zone.

Now, I know this can be difficult which is why I have a few tools at hand for you:

1. Cold Turkey Writer (for writing): This is what I’m writing this article in. The reason I recommend it so much is it turns your computer into a typewriter. You cannot switch to any other application until you reach your word or time limit you set for yourself.

I have a day job which leaves me only two hours to write and manage my business in the morning. With the help of CT Writer, I’m able to avoid slacking off in the little time I have every morning.

Time blocking means single-tasking and for me, that means application blocking. There’s really no other way you can single-task for the distractions our abundant.

2. Cold Turkey Micromanager: This is for people who aren’t interested in writing. Micromanager is simple — you decide which apps you need to use for a given time period and it will either close or minimize everything else. You cannot open anything except for the apps you’ve chosen.

For instance, even though I write my drafts in CT Writer, I edit them in a Word doc using Micromanager. This helps me work on flow, formatting, and spelling mistakes without getting distracted.


Pomodoros are nothing short of magic. And they’re simple. You set a timer for ~25 minutes (more or less depending upon your capacity) and focus on only one thing. Then you take a 5-minute break. Do this three more times and you get a 15-minute break. If you can knock off 8 pomodoros in a day, trust me, you’ll be more productive than you ever imagined.

Avoid Constant Sensory Input

Avoid having inputs like TV, music, children playing in the yard, etc. I personally prefer pin-drop silence using ear-plugs. If you don’t, you can go for noise-blocking headphones and play some pink noise as a backdrop.

Block All Distractions

Remove distracting apps from your phone, block time-sucking websites on your computer, disable notifications, and focus on one thing at a time.

Stay Calm

“Restlessness and impatience change nothing except our peace and joy. Peace does not dwell in outward things, but in the heart prepared to wait trustfully and quietly on Him who has all things safely in His hands.” — Elisabeth Elliot

Even though you meditate in the morning, that feeling of stillness can be fleeting. Four hours after your practice, no one can say you meditated at all.

So, to extend this stillness, let mindfulness enter your life. Take 5-minute breaks every hour or so to just sit and look out the window, close your eyes, and be present.

You can also anchor this before every meeting and encourage others to do the same. Imagine if everyone took five minutes before the meeting to be more present, how much better the world would be?

Restlessness has no place with concentration. Remember this forever — the key to concentrate is to relax first.

How To Improve Your Concentration While Meditating

Once you start taking your attention diet seriously, you can finally think about various ways to improve your concentration while meditating.

For starters, you need a meditation technique. Most meditation techniques require you to bring your attention to one focal point — it can be your breath, a part of your body, or a mantra.

I use a mantra when I’m too distracted. The act of chanting a word and focusing on the sound is great to capture the monkey mind. It’s easier to focus on a sound than the breath which is too subtle for you to feel if you’re restless.

If or once I’m in a more relaxed state of mind, I shift my attention to the breath. Plus, I always prefer focusing on the breath than a mantra or a body part.

The breath is a unique point of focus. Most people don’t understand this. But the more you focus on the breath, the shallower it becomes.

When you start focusing on the breath at first, it will be deep and frequent. As your concentration deepens, it will start to fade away — your breaths will be shallow and less frequent. It will become more subtle and thus harder to concentrate on. This takes you deeper and deeper.

The goal of focusing on the breath is to achieve breathlessness. This is unlike any other object of focus — say a sound (the act of focusing a sound doesn’t make the sound diminish).

I experience small glimpses of breathlessness when I practice concentrating on the breath and they’re completely achievable with a moderate amount of concentration.

Here’s the exact technique you can use. It’s called Hong-Sau:

  • Make yourself comfortable, sitting upright, with a straight spine. With your eyes closed, look at the point midway between the eyebrows on your forehead — this is the esoteric center of concentration.

  • Inhale slowly, counting to 8. Hold the breath for the same 8 counts while concentrating your attention at the point between the eyebrows. Now exhale slowly to the same count of 8. Repeat three to six times.

  • After inhaling and exhaling completely, as the next breath comes in, mentally say Hong** *(rhymes with song). Then, as you exhale, mentally say **Sau (rhymes with “saw”). *Hong-Sau means “I am He” or “I am Spirit.

  • Make no attempt to control your breathing, just let its flow be completely natural. Try to feel that your breath itself is silently making the sounds of Hong and Sau. Initially try to feel the breath at the point where it enters the nostrils.

  • Be as attentive as possible. If you have difficulty feeling the breath, you can concentrate, for a while, on the breathing process itself, feeling your diaphragm and chest expanding and contracting.

  • Gradually as you become calmer, try to feel the breath higher and higher in the nose. Be sure that your gaze is kept steady at the point between the eyebrows throughout your practice. Don’t allow your eyes to follow the movement of the breath. If you find that your mind has wandered, simply bring it back to an awareness of the breath and the mantra.

How To Bring Your Attention Back If It Drifts Away

Often focusing on the breath can be difficult. The monkey mind may not cooperate and this is perfectly normal.

Half the battle in concentration is to realize that your mind has drifted away. That’s the whole point of awareness. Often we don’t realize this since we get too involved in our own thoughts.

To help the mind focus, you can use any one of your fingers. When you breathe in with “hong”, you curl the finger and when you breathe out with “sau” you release the finger.

This adds a physical cue in tandem with the flow of your breath. When the finger stops moving, you’ll realize that your mind has shifted away from the breath and you can bring it back.

Learn What the Monks Are Doing

One of the former monks I’m intrigued by is Dandapani. He spent ten years in the monastery and breaks a lot of stereotypes about how a monk lives.

Every monk who joins the monastery was given a Macbook Pro. Yes, monks don’t meditate all day — they do chores, handle finances, and do web design and development. They’re not cave-people.

Yet, they all are masters of concentration — or at least better than most of us. What do they do differently? Here’s a day in the life of a Dandpani back when he was a monk:

  • 5:30: Arrive at the temple

  • 6–7 am: Meditation

  • 7–7:30 am: Exercise

  • 8–12:30 pm: Monastery work including web development, managing finances, dealing with land issues, etc

  • 12:30–1 pm: Cleaning the monastery

  • 1–1:30 pm: Lunch

  • 1:30–3 pm: Nap

  • 3–6 pm: Return to work

  • 6–7 pm: Break

  • 7–9 pm: (optional) Watch TV

  • 9 pm: Sleep

Most people think monks meditate all the time. But his schedule clearly shows otherwise.

If you sum up the two blocks of time in which he works, it almost adds up to a full-time job (4.5 + 3 = 7.5 hours). That’s almost 40–50 hours a week.

Here’s what they do differently — they work on one thing at a time.

When they’re working, they’re working. When they’re eating, they’re eating. And when they’re watching TV, they’re watching TV.

So throw away all the excuses that you’ve been giving yourself. There’s no reason why you can’t achieve a monk-like focus.

The Takeaway

Concentration is the key to any endeavor in life.

People with strong concentration achieve their goals with godspeed. And here’s something interesting — these people get more ‘lucky’ — or so it seems to someone looking from the outside in.

But the real reason is every problem in life presents a solution in front of a person who has trained his concentration.

This really is an esoteric truth — when you focus your energies on the right thing long enough, you can burn the obstacles in your path.

Developing deep concentration takes time and it needs to be a pervasive effort.

Yet, the light at the end of the tunnel is brighter than you can imagine — because once you learn to concentrate, the limits are endless.

This one skill can take you far if you work seriously on it.

The only question is, will you?

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Written on October 28, 2020