How To Win at Meditation Without Using Willpower

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The simple approach to meditation that works

Ever since my friends know I meditate for a total of 2 hours every day, split into two sessions, some of them have asked me how I’ve done it.

They tell me they can’t meditate. They’re restless, distracted, stressed, or anxious enough to not consider themselves meditators.

Perhaps you’re at the same place. Sitting alone for five minutes makes you uncomfortable. You think meditation is not for you. Then you see all the modern-day CEOs and athletes going to meditation retreats and living a fulfilled life.

All this makes the situation worse. The inability to meditate along with the disappointing comparison has robbed you of any desire to continue.

But you can rig the game in your favor to make it winnable. You just don’t know how to do it.

And I’m here to tell you.

Forget Everything You Think You Know

The biggest problem with aspiring meditators is they expect a clearly-defined outcome.

They expect calmness, increased focus, better relationships, better cognitive capacity, etc upfront.

This sets them up for failure from the moment they start.

So first, let’s get things straight — meditation is not mathematics. One plus one is not always two.

The goal of meditation is not to have a transcendental experience, achieve enlightenment, or become calmer. In fact, there’s no goal at all.

The reason you meditate is to observe the present. To be in the Now.

When you start to meditate, you’ll have a lot of thoughts. And by the way, thoughts never stop — even after decades of meditation. But at some point, you’ll start to notice that you’re having thoughts.

This means that you’ve already started to observe the reality rather than playing inside it. That is what meditation does.

I’m not saying that benefits like calmness don’t come in time. But they’re side effects. They’re like the coins in Super Mario that you keep picking up as you see them throughout the journey.

Every day you have to peel the onion of self-awareness. Every day, you see your emotions first hand — anger, excitement, happiness, frustration — nothing is hidden.

So, if there’s no goal, how can you fail to achieve it?

The Buddhists say, “we sit to sit.” That should be your attitude.

Once you redefine success this way, you no longer set crazy expectations. Instead, you have an attitude of surrender which is a great sign of spiritual growth.

That is how you’ll get the habit to stick.

Understand the Duo That Makes Meditation Difficult

There are only two reasons that make meditation difficult:

  • Restlessness

  • Distractions


“Restlessness and impatience change nothing except our peace and joy.” — Elisabeth Elliot

I once read this about someone’s daily routine,

“I meditate in the morning and then rush to work by 9 am”

That is exactly the problem. We all are so busy running from one thing to the other that we forget we are human beings, not human doings.

Imagine these two scenarios:

  • A day when you got up on time, had your coffee, read a book, meditated, had a good breakfast with your loved ones, and then went off to work.

  • You woke up so late you didn’t even have time to brush your teeth. You put on the shirt you wore the previous day and rushed to work to not miss the first meeting.

In which case will you be able to work better? In which case will your performance be higher?

The former, obviously.

This attitude of chronic restlessness percolates in your meditation too. The moment you close your eyes, the mind goes wild. It has a habit of jumping to a hundred different things. Which is why it’s difficult for it to sit still.


“In an age of distraction, nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention.” — Pico Iyer

Needless to say, we’re hooked to distractions. It’s difficult to break the chain.

Many people are distracted throughout the day and wonder why they cannot meditate. The reason is staring them in the face — they’ve made distraction a habit.

Thus, sitting still and concentrating on the breath, for example, seems impossible. The mind cries out loud and you have to use a lot of willpower to quiet it.

You cannot go far if you don’t change your lifestyle.

When you try to lose weight, you don’t eat a salad in the morning and then eat junk for the rest of the day. You change all your meals to suit your goal.

Similarly, meditating for ten minutes a day does not mean anything if you’re spending your days in a state of distraction.

Do This Before You Start Meditating

Though I believe that meditation is the best thing since sliced bread, I won’t recommend it to everyone. Earlier, I used to tell people to suck it up and do it.

Now I realize that some of us are so distracted, restless, and stressed that sitting for five minutes is also a herculean task.

If you’re confident that you’re ready to meditate, then you can skip this section. I urge you to just get started. But if you’ve failed in the past to stick with it, you may want to consider this.

Here are two ways to make space for meditation in your life so you can be successful at it:

Embrace Boredom.

I’m a fan of boredom. I love those moments of standing in the queue and doing nothing. Just looking around at people’s faces or looking at the sky.

But I wasn’t like this before.

Your mind has been conditioned to reach out for distractions at the slightest hint of boredom. By embracing boredom, we break that association inside our brains. Slowly, the distractions stop controlling your behavior.

As you start to get good at this, you feel a certain amount of stillness. Once you get used to that stillness, you’ll be in a much better position to meditate.

Next time you’re getting bored while watching a movie, don’t take your phone out. If you feel like listening to music when you’re driving, don’t do it.

Consider these moments like a test drive of sorts. To see how your mind reacts when you do nothing. Take small steps to help your mind get through this.

Cultivate Solitude.

“Seclusion is the price of greatness.” — Paramahansa Yogananda

The logic is the same. You’re training yourself to be comfortable with yourself and your thoughts. This is going to happen a lot when you meditate, so you better prepare yourself for it.

Get away from people. Get silent. Go for a walk without your phone and let your thoughts flow.

Or just lie on the bed and stare at the wall for some time. Again, your mind will panic; it will scream like a prisoner convicted for a crime he didn’t commit.

Chill the hell out. Let those feelings pass. Because on the other side is stillness.

Side Note: There are tons of other things you can do to prepare yourself for meditation but I didn’t want to give you a list of ten things. You’re much more likely to implement one of the two tips rather than one of a hundred.

How to Start, Finally

Starting out is simple. And I’m going to make it simpler for you.

  • Sit in a comfortable position: You don’t need to sit in full lotus on a zafu. You can sit on the sofa, a chair, on the floor, or anywhere else. Make sure your spine is straight. If you want back support, ensure that it only supports the lower back, not the whole. I don’t suggest lying down or having full-back support unless you want to fall asleep.

  • Observe your breath: The simplest technique is to focus on the breath. Count your breaths from one to ten and then start at one again. If you don’t like it, try this one.

  • Don’t judge: Now comes the difficult part. Try your best to focus on the breath and not cling to the thoughts that flow through your mind. Neither judge the thoughts, nor judge yourself on your ability to concentrate.

  • Lower the standard: As Tim Ferris says, if you’re distracted for 19.5 minutes in a 20-minute meditation, that’s a success. Concentration is a muscle that needs training and nourishment to develop over time. Start with a week-long commitment to meditate for 3–5 minutes a day. That’s it. You want to make the game so easy that you win it every time.

Final Thoughts

After all this, there’s only one thing left. For you to start.

Forget everything you’ve heard about meditation and try it yourself. Pick a time that you know you’ll not skip. Mornings work the best for me, as soon as I wake up.

Next, find your sweet spot to meditate. It can be a chair or an extensive woolen-mat-and-cushion setup. I couldn’t care less. Pick a place and run with it.

And there you go. You understand the mechanics behind it. You’ve made the game winnable.

You’re all set to meditate for a week. The only question is, will you?

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Written on September 21, 2020