Meditation isn’t for everyone. But it takes time to work. If you’ve tried it and feel like it doesn’t work for you, you may consider trying different meditation techniques, meditating for longer, or doing a meditation course or retreat.
I frequently have to encourage myself to keep my meditation practice going.
With anything that requires a significant investment of time, it’s natural to frequently ask yourself whether it’s worth it.
Let me walk you through my own thought process.
What to do when meditation doesn’t work for you
1. Try different meditation techniques
When you’re hitting a wall with your practice, trying new meditation techniques is a good way to mix things up.
If you’ve been doing insight meditation, consider trying mantra meditation. If you’ve been doing mantra meditation, consider vipassana meditation.
2. Meditate for longer periods of time
Meditation studies generally focus on intervals of 10-20 minutes of meditation. And indeed, these do show impressive benefits over time.
But if you feel like meditation isn’t working for you because you don’t feel good right after you meditate, you probably need to meditate for longer.
That’s because longer meditation sessions allow your thoughts to settle, like sediment falling to the bottom of a glass of water.
Longer meditation sessions get you into a different state of being than short sessions. There’s a relaxation component that’s not as present in a 15-minute session.
Carve out 45 minutes or an hour one day, if you’re curious enough to experiment, and notice how a longer session compares to a shorter session.
3. Do an official 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course
Many of the studies done on meditation use the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program for their participants. This program covers not only meditation, but also yoga, everyday mindfulness training, and techniques like the Raisin Exercise.
If you’d like to give yourself the best chance of replicating study results in your own life, you may consider doing an 8-week meditation “boot camp.”
Then, assess how that affects your progress, and how it affects how you feel about meditation.
You can participate in a free, self-guided 8-week MBSR program here.
4. Reset your expectations
Often, we come into meditation with the expectation that from the first session, we’ll be feeling better: clearer, calmer, less stressed, less anxious.
The first session can help, but in reality, many of the benefits of meditation take months or even years to materialize.
Just as exercise won’t transform your body overnight, meditation won’t transform your mind overnight.
5. Keep meditating
If meditation hasn’t worked for you, and you’ve experimented with different techniques and even gone through a meditation program, the process may still need more time.
It’s different for everyone.
Keep experimenting to find what works for you.
One day, you’ll look back and realize your levels of awareness are greater than they used to be, and that the benefits of meditation are starting to find their way to you.
My experience with meditation over 5 years
I have five years of meditation experience.
But the timeline of my experience has looked a lot like Swiss cheese. There are holes everywhere. Chunks of time during which I stopped meditating. Months during which I entirely forgot that this practice used to be a part of my life.
Still, I always come back. What triggers me to meditate again is what triggered me to try meditation in the first place:
I want to be happier. And I’m convinced greater awareness of my own emotions will help. In moments of anxiety, stress, and overwhelm, I remember that meditation has helped me in the past.
Just like within meditation itself, I believe “failing” as an integral part of succeeding.
It’s often only after repeated attempts and false starts that we can build a sustainable practice. The process of failing and trying again strengthens our conviction over time.
So with this background in place, I’ll share my perspective:
Meditation is worth it. Not because I feel great after every meditation session, but because the effects over years have helped me to be happier:
- I have greater awareness over my emotions than I did five years ago.
- I can usually name what’s making me feel bad, rather than experiencing a general cloud of discontent.
- I do better at containing my moods rather than projecting them onto those around me.
- I can notice tension in my body and release it, rather than carrying it with me all day.
Meditation helps me feel like life isn’t just happening “to me.” I feel more in sync, and more in flow.
Start with a small meditation win to motivate yourself
If you’re struggling to decide whether meditation is worth it for you, start with a small win.
Meditate for five minutes. Or, experiment with longer meditations. Mediate for an hour and notice if you feel greater short-term benefits.
There’s also the option to accept that you don’t feel called to meditate right now, and trust that you’ll come back to it when you’re ready.
But if you go that route, make a note in your calendar to remind yourself in a month or two to explore meditation again.
Remember that to know for yourself if meditation is worth it, you have to keep trying.
For more on the benefits of mindfulness and meditation, check out:
- How to Be More Present (Starting Right Now)
- 39 Mindfulness Facts to Inspire Your Practice
- 7 Relaxation Techniques Based on Mindfulness
My mindfulness practice kicked off in 2016 with a ten-day silent retreat. Since then, I’ve read dozens of books about mindfulness and completed hundreds of hours of meditation. Thinking about what makes humans happy, calm, and peaceful is endlessly fascinating to me.