The practice of mindfulness is growing popular every year and many people are being pulled towards it by its amazing benefits of regulation of emotions, improved focus and attention, enhanced memory and cognitive function, reduced stress and anxiety, and many more. However, fewer people are able to cultivate the habit of practicing mindfulness and making it a lifestyle due to the many challenges that come with doing the practice.
Here, we are going to look at the different challenges involved in practicing mindfulness, either through mindfulness meditation or other mindfulness techniques such as mindful eating, body scan meditation, note-taking, and resting awareness, to name a few, and see how we can overcome all of these challenges to ensure that we keep practicing regularly and in the long term.
Mindfulness Challenges And How to Deal With Them
Challenge #1. Feeling Sleepy – Most often, when practicing mindfulness meditation, we tend to feel sleepy and maybe even drift off for a while without noticing it and wake up to find ourselves drooling through our sessions. This may be a little embarrassing but it is a common occurrence for many mindfulness practitioners. Sleep comes due to many reasons. Some of the reasons include not having enough sleep, being exhausted and the body wanting to rest and re-energize.
Solution: Here, we need to figure out individually why we are desiring to sleep when doing our practice. If it is because we are not getting enough sleep, we should aim to first take some rest and sleep for a while and then wake up and do our practice. If it is because we are exhausted by the activities we have been involved in during the day, we should also consider taking some time to relax or get into activities that help us relax and refresh before doing mindfulness.
In essence, considering that mindfulness brings about wakeful relaxation and some steps involved in doing the practice can induce deep states of relaxation that might easily make us fall asleep, we should aim to first sleep if we need to, and then do our practices smoothly without worrying that we might fall asleep halfway through the practice.
Challenge #2. Feeling like you don’t have time to practice – With our very busy schedules, it is very easy to see the practice of mindfulness as luxury and something that should be done after we have accomplished all other things we have planned for the day. And since we are barely even able to handle all demanding tasks of the day, we might come to notice that we have not done any kind of mindfulness practice in days, weeks, or months.
Solution: When it comes to formal mindfulness practices like mindfulness meditation, it is all about planning for it and being realistic with our time. We should sit down and ask ourselves honestly how much time we are willing to spend on mindfulness. If it is only 1 minute, it is okay, if it is 10 minutes, it’s still fine. Any amount of time we can put aside for the practice without affecting other tasks in our schedules is what we should work with and stick to. From there, we should seek to be disciplined about spending that time doing mindfulness, regardless of the situation. We should stop everything else and get into our sessions and once we are done, we should go back to what we were doing.
For informal mindfulness, that is, with practices such as mindful walking, mindful eating, mindful working, and other mindful activities, we can do these without having to create time for them. We just need to be mindful of the things we do on a daily basis. If it is showering, we make the intention of being mindful of the whole activity of showering. The same case applies to any other activities we do mindfully. By being more absorbed into every detail of the activities we are doing and being aware of ourselves as we do them, we get to practice mindfulness without feeling stretched by it in terms of time.
Challenge #3. Feeling like mindfulness is complicated and difficult to do – When doing mindfulness frequently, we get to have different experiences every time. Yesterday’s experience with it is not going to be today’s, and today’s experience will not be tomorrow’s. That being the case, we may find that today we feel uplifted by the practice and the experience is amazing but then have a different experience that might make us feel low and like we didn’t do our best because we didn’t get the same good results. This feeling might even persist for a few days consistently and might make us want to give up on the practice entirely.
Solution: It is important to know that mindfulness brings about different results as we keep doing it, and every time, it won’t be roses and chocolate. There are times we are going to feel overwhelmed by it, other times when we are going to feel lost and restless and other times when we are going to feel unmotivated to do it, and this is normal. What we should do is be aware of that fact and also be aware that we still need to do the practice regardless of what we are feeling. Being aware of the feeling as we keep practicing also helps. Every time we practice mindfulness we improve in some way even though we may not notice it and by keeping the fire burning and practicing it even more despite the negative feelings and experiences, we keep building ourselves and before long we get to start experiencing the benefits the practice comes with.
Challenge #4. Feeling restless – Sometimes it may be hard to sit still in silence. Our minds have been designed to multitask and process many thoughts in a short space of time and this can make it hard for us to remain aware of ourselves during our mindfulness practice. We might also have physical distractions such as constant itching, stiffness, and body tension that might make us want to do different things in different moments of our sessions. The restlessness affects how deeply immersed we are in our sessions and thus affects the overall quality of our experiences.
Solution: We should aim to be aware of the discomfort and restlessness we experience as we are doing our practice. We should have curiosity about the restlessness and ask ourselves different questions such as where we are feeling the tension or discomfort, why we are feeling restless, how does the restlessness express itself, and many other questions that will help us understand it better. This awareness helps us to stay with the restlessness in the present moment and accept it, which reduces its effects on us and which also helps us address it well. If the restlessness is caused by sitting for a long period, we can also try other mindful movement practices such as yoga.
Challenge #5. Feeling like mindfulness is not working for you – There are times we may practice for a good while and feel like we are not making any progress. We are not experiencing the benefits mindfulness is “claimed” to bring and we don’t feel much of a difference in either practicing or not practicing it. We begin to doubt the effectiveness of the practice and what people are saying about it. And this makes us want to drop our pursuit of mindfulness entirely.
Solution: We should understand that almost everyone who practices mindfulness has at some point felt this way in the past or will experience the same in the near future. The thing is, mindfulness takes time to bring out the benefits for some and a shorter time for others. We are all different, but one thing is for sure and that thing is that it does work, if you give it time and remain consistent. To handle the doubt that crops up, we should aim to be aware of it and recognize it as a thought or string of thoughts that are not true. There might be fear or anxiety backed by the doubt but they are both baseless and untrue. Being aware of the doubtful thoughts as they come up and letting them come and go, and being patient is enough to help you let go of them.
Challenge #6. Feeling too stressed to practice mindfulness – When we are going through difficulties, we often feel like it is hard to practice mindfulness and we see mindfulness as a practice that should be done when we are feeling okay and life is taking a good course for us. When we are stressed we don’t feel the desire to do anything really and we find ourselves completely occupied by the things that are stressing us, mindfulness becomes more or less besides the point, something to be done once we have solved the stress-inducing problems.
Solution: While mindfulness is viewed as a practice for those whose lives are going well, it is especially useful for people who are stressed. The practice helps to reduce anxiety and stress, and if we can gather enough strength and sit down for our practice and intend to do it as best we can, we can notice improvements afterward. Mindfulness helps to reduce the endless thoughts that keep racing our minds, the fear, the anticipation of bad things, and the bad feeling that comes with stress. It can also help give the mental clarity we need to solve our problems properly.
Challenge #7. Being constantly distracted and mind wandering – Mind-wandering is one of the natural occurrences in meditation and mindfulness. The mind processes different thoughts and carries out many functions in our lives. And when we are practicing mindfulness, we find it hard to remain aware. We notice that we are aware for a few seconds and then we drift off to other things. Maybe we might remember something someone said to us a few days or hours ago, or remember how someone made us feel good or bad or how we are going to handle the tasks we have after our practice, amongst many other things. And we get tempted to pursue these thoughts and flashbacks and start thinking deeply about them. Then we remember we were practicing mindfulness and we feel bad about losing focus.
Solution: It is good to remember that even well-experienced meditators who have been doing mindfulness for years still have their minds wandering. The secret in handling this problem is how they deal with it. When their minds go to other things and they take note of it, they simply and gently redirect their focus and attention to the practice and keep going with their sessions. That is what we should all do, and as we keep redirecting our attention to the practice, we come to note that the mind-wandering reduces with time. Although it doesn’t go away entirely, the instances that it happens become fewer and fewer.
Challenge #8. Being too focused on the results – Some of us, being excited by what mindfulness can offer in terms of the benefits, tend to find ourselves asking questions like, “When will I begin experiencing mental clarity?”, “When will I feel more focused and attentive?”, “When will I get to feel calm and peaceful like the Buddha?” and many others. And since the results are the main focus and we feel like nothing is happening since we have still not gotten to experience them, we feel disappointed and we begin entertaining thoughts of giving up.
Solution: In mindfulness and meditation, there is one concept that is embraced. The goal is not the destination, the journey is. We don’t aim to practice mindfulness for its benefits, rather we do it for the sake of doing it. We aim to remain in the present moment with all its experiences, not to do it quickly so we can get somewhere or something in return. By focusing on the journey, the progress we are making, and how we get better with every session, we become aligned with the essence of the practice, and it is in that ideology and approach that we begin to enjoy doing our practice and also notice that mindfulness is evolving us into better people. In the process, we also get to enjoy the benefits.
Challenge #9. Experiencing big overwhelming emotions – We go through many experiences in life that affect our emotions differently. Some may be more pronounced than others. When we are in the heat of emotions and our feelings are over the roof, it becomes hard to concentrate on our practice since we feel our emotions have gotten the best of us.
Solution: There are different techniques that can help bring us back to emotional balance and help us keep going with our practice. Some of these techniques include working with self-compassion, using breathing as an anchor, the counter emotion technique, and many more. You can read about all of them here.
Challenge #10. Having unusual experiences – Some strange experiences come to people who often practice mindfulness meditation or other forms of meditation. Some people see white light, other people experience pain, others feel like they are floating while other people feel some kind of heaviness in their bodies, just to name a few. These new and surreal experiences might get in the way of the practice and make us not go all the way to the end of our sessions and over time it affects our progress, perception, and anticipation of our future sessions.
Solution: To avoid making these experiences become hindrances to our practice, we should aim to be aware of them and become aware of ourselves being aware of them. Awareness gives us control and allows us to remain balanced despite the effect these experiences may have on us. However, if we feel so overwhelmed by them, we can feel free to take a break and then come back to our practice once we feel more stable and at peace. If they persist and they shake you every time, you can consider seeing a mindfulness expert to help you through your particular experiences.
Challenge #11. Having trouble staying consistent – We may find that, due to different reasons including some that we have mentioned as challenges, it becomes hard to practice mindfulness regularly and as we committed ourselves to in the beginning. We may begin the week with a lot of enthusiasm and do our practices 2 days consecutively but fail to do them from the third day up to the fifth or the sixth, and before long we notice that we have done mindfulness for 2 to 5 times instead of every day or 10 to 20 times based on our schedules.
Solution: Most people who struggle with being consistent often have two problems, either they haven’t made mindfulness part of their lives by adding it to their daily routine or they lack the energy and motivation to do it when the time comes for it. In the case of not making it part of our lives, we should make an effort of looking through our routines and seeing where we can add the practice and how much time we can honestly dedicate to the practice and then decide and be firm about practicing it as we have decided. In the second case of losing enthusiasm, we should consider watching mindfulness videos or reading books, or listening to podcasts on mindfulness that can help remind us why we began doing it and also get the motivation to keep going with it.
Ideally, almost everyone struggles with one of the challenges when it comes to mindfulness, and accepting that fact and being ready to change that is the first step to solving the problem. The next step is to figure out how we can apply the solutions we have offered above to our challenges and have a proper approach to them based on how we know ourselves as well as the nature and intensity of the problem.
Plus, being patient with ourselves as we implement the solutions is needed. We won’t be able to solve the challenges completely in our next sessions after reading the solutions. Some challenges require time to change our perspectives and approaches to mindfulness and we should accept that and therefore give ourselves time to get there entirely.
Which mindfulness challenge are you experiencing at the moment? How have you been solving it in the past and how do you intend to change that now that you have read the solutions? Please let us know in the comments section below. 🙂