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It Took Me Years to Learn to Meditate; Here’s How I Finally Did It

A man sitting with his eyes closed in a grassy, woodland clearing.
Definitely not me—I’m still a meditation project in progress. maxpetrov/Shutterstock

Meditation is something I’ve been trying to learn to do for years—and I’ve finally cracked it. Here’s my simple approach to meditation (and how to get it to stick).

This article isn’t about how to meditate or what meditation is—we’ve already got a great article on that. This article is for people who want to meditate but, for whatever reason, haven’t been able to stick with it.

My Meditation Failures

I was about 15 years old the first time I tried to meditate. A slightly out-there teacher took the whole class through a 30-minute guided meditation. I fell asleep and wrote the whole thing off.

Around 2011, I started to hear about meditation everywhere. People I respected and followed on social media trumpeted the benefits of it. Some of my friends were big fans. Mindfulness and mindful practices were even part of my psychology degree.

So, I decided to try it. And I failed miserably. I could barely sit still for two minutes.

This was my pattern for the next few years. I’d decide I was going to learn to meditate (again), find some guide, app, tool, method, or whatever, use it for about two days, and then give up in frustration.

Until last year—that’s when I finally cracked it. Here’s how you can, too.

Find the Right Tool for You

Meditation is big business, and there are lots of tools to help you. The most important thing is to find the tool that works for you.

Over the years, the app I used the most was Headspace. It’s really well made, but the guided meditations didn’t click for me. I never made it through the 10-day beginner’s course.

The Calm App website.
The Calm meditation app really worked for me.

Last year, I tried Calm. I got through the 7 Days of Calm beginner’s course, the 21 Days of Calm, and then, suddenly, I had a meditation habit. I was doing the Daily Calm, well, daily.

I’ve no idea why Calm worked so well for me while Headspace didn’t. Both are great apps, and lots of people love Headspace. But again, if you want to learn to meditate, you have to find a tool or method you love. Another app you might want to try is Oak. It has meditations but also teaches breathing techniques to help you relax.

You can also listen to meditation music or go to meditation classes. If you’re really serious, you can get a private tutor or go to a meditation retreat.

There isn’t just one way to learn to meditate. So, if you’ve tried one method before and it didn’t work, try another, and then another, until you find the one that does.

Make It Part of Your Routine

Most people recommend that you meditate in the morning when you’re fresh—especially when you’re a beginner. For some people, it’s just easier to carve out 10 or 15 minutes earlier in the day than it is in the evening when you’re tired or stressed. To take the time to sit and do nothing seems like a low priority task if you have to prep for a big meeting the next day or tackle some other problem.

However, I’ve also found it helpful to meditate at night before I turn off the lights and go to sleep. It’s a great way to relax and let go of the day’s worries. You can also take the 10 minutes on your lunch break if that works best for you.

It’s never a bad time to meditate!

The "My Stats" panel on the Calm app.
Keep at it!

Whichever time works best for you, it’s important to remain consistent and build it into your routine. This helps you make your meditation a daily habit. When I first started, I worked meditation into my morning routine. I’d get up, make some coffee, and while it cooled, do the Daily Calm—each of which is about 10 minutes. When I finished my meditation, my coffee was the perfect temperature.

Some people like to meditate as soon as they get out of bed, while others make it the last thing they do at night. Or, as I mentioned above, you can make it your lunchtime ritual.

Alter Your Expectations

The first few times I tried to meditate, I thought I would quickly enter a Zen-like state. When that didn’t happen, and the noisy chatter of my brain continued, I got frustrated and gave up.

Yes, reaching that Zen state is the goal, but meditation is not about the destination—it’s about the journey. You’re meditating as soon as you sit down and try to mindfully breathe. Some days, you’ll find it easy, and others not so much, but that doesn’t matter. You’re meditating either way.

This shift in my thinking was really important for me. As soon as I started to see meditation as a skill rather than some super-powered state I was trying to reach, my frustrations vanished, and I was able to enjoy it.

If you have unrealistic expectations of what meditation is or how you should feel while you do it, let go of those. If you commit to practicing meditation as a skill for a month, you’ll get a lot further.

Keep Practicing

If you find a tool you love, make it part of your routine, and view meditation as a skill you have to practice, you can quickly “learn” how to meditate.

After that, the trick is to keep practicing.

Harry Guinness Harry Guinness
Harry Guinness is a photography expert and writer with nearly a decade of experience. His work has been published in newspapers like the New York Times and on a variety of other websites, including Lifehacker. Read Full Bio »
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