“I can’t meditate because my mind just wanders.” “Mindfulness doesn’t work for me! I can’t stop thinking about stuff and I get distracted!”

As a former counselor and current coachauthor, and speaker on mindfulness, I’ve heard so many reasons why people give up on mindfulness and meditation.

Fortunately, the most common thing people believe is keeping them from mindful practice is the very thing they need to pursue it: the distraction of a wandering mind.

Minds Produce Thoughts – And They Will Wander!

Thoughts help us ponder the smallest particles and hypothesize about the furthest reaches of the universe. But they can also create anxiety and stress and drag us back to the past or into the future.

Your mind is a thought factory. It’s meant to produce thoughts! And it will wander. This wandering can be a distraction from the focus many people try to achieve through mindfulness and mediation.

And no one is alone when their mind wanders. Researchers found that 47 percent of the time, adult minds aren’t focused on the task at hand.

A mind is meant to think. But when it wanders all over the place, it can make us feel like we’ve lost our center … like we can’t be still, even for a moment.

And that, right there, is the opportunity.

Distraction Is the Key to Mindfulness and Meditation Practice

If we could all just sit and blank our minds to calm down, there would be no need for mindfulness or meditation practice. We’d all just do it naturally, like breathing.

In reality, being in the moment takes practice. Taming the mind can help us live a more calm and peaceful life, but that starts with accepting the nature of the mind and embracing its tendency to wander.

Consider this example of mindfulness meditation:

  • One sits and puts their attention on their natural breath. In … out … in … out.
  • After a few moments, the mind’s attention wanders from breath. It starts thinking about work, or dinner, or the itch at the end of the nose. The mind does what it does – it thinks.
  • The meditator – mindful – notices the wandering mind, and gently redirects it back to breath.
  • Moments later, the mind wanders again.
  • The meditator – mindful – notices the wandering mind, and gently redirects it back to breath.

This plays out for the length of the session. Day after day. But notice something: the meditator doesn’t sit down to relax in a vacuum clear of all thought and distraction. Instead, they notice the distracted mind and gently train it to return to breath.

The distraction is the practice.

5 Ways to Work with Distraction in Mindfulness and Meditation Practice

Next time you sit down to meditate or concentrate quietly for a bit, don’t fear the wandering mind! Here are 5 ways you can work with it.

1. Enjoy the challenge. It can be frustrating to have a wandering mind when you’re trying to meditate. One moment you’re focusing on breath, and the next, you’re somewhere else. But remember, it’s practice that brings relief and release. It’s the discipline of resetting your mind that matters. Embrace that. Enjoy that challenge and the growth that comes with small successes.

2. Watch it wander. When it comes to your quiet time – your mindful time – don’t think you need a rule about focus. Sure, the goal is probably to tame your mind-wandering. But on occasion, give yourself permission to simply watch and see where your mind takes you. You may just learn something new about yourself!

3. Name where you wander. When you commit to a point of focus for your practice, such as breath, and you notice your mind wandering, don’t just reset your focus. Instead, name the emotion associated with the wandering. If you drift to thoughts of tomorrow’s stressful work meeting, whisper or think, “anxiety.” Then reset your focus. Take control of your automatic pilot by naming where it takes you.

4. Move on. As a coach and counselor, I advise clients not to push themselves too far too often – that’s a recipe for burnout. Yes, it’s good to encourage ourselves to sit and work through the mind-wandering, but if it gets to be too much, move on to something else in your day. Go complete the project you’re thinking about or check the iron you keep thinking you left on. Your mind and thoughts will be waiting for you to try again later.

5. Get a group. When minds wander in isolation, it’s easy to feel frustrated – like we’re the only ones this is happening to. Seek out others in your community or online who are practicing mindfulness and meditation and see what their experiences are all about. You may find strength, and comfort, in numbers!

Minds wander. It’s what they do. And every mindfulness or meditation person you see in a book or online (including the “gurus”!) face that challenge. The real difference between someone who has mindfulness and meditation practice in their life and someone who doesn’t is the ability to accept – and work with – distraction.

For more mindfulness tips, grab your FREE mindfulness quickstart guide. Also, you can book a free 15-minute session to see if mindfulness coaching is right for you! Let’s connect on Instagram!