As a therapist, I have a confession to make: I think mindfulness meditation can be boring. I still remember the first few times I listened to recorded, guided mindfulness exercises or tried to focus on my breathing in a quiet space – I couldn’t do it for more than a few minutes before falling asleep or becoming so bored I needed to get up and do something else. I remember thinking to myself, “How can I possibly recommend these practices to my clients without being a hypocrite?!”
The fact of the matter is, you might find some mindfulness exercises boring, just like me. AND THAT’S OKAY! In fact, it’s helpful to acknowledge whatever feelings, positive or negative, come your way. One of the myths about mindfulness practices is that they should be relaxing and enjoyable. For many, mindfulness meditation is incredibly challenging, especially if you aren’t used to meditative practices or simply find it hard to sit still, alone with your thoughts for long stretches of time. Mindfulness practices can bring up intense feelings of anxiety, or discomfort about one’s body, or boredom. Just like any new skill, it takes time, effort, and practice to feel like you are benefiting from it.
It’s important to remember that mindfulness is all about being in the present moment. It is not about doing a structured breathing exercise absolutely perfectly and enjoying every single minute of it. When we feel negative emotions during these practices, they are opportunities for us to try to accept those feelings without judgment, which is easier said than done. That way, when we experience more intense stress, anxiety, sadness, or even boredom in our everyday lives, we have the tools to be able to be willing to experience those feelings in order to accomplish whatever goals we have for ourselves.
At the same time, if something is really unpleasant, we probably won’t want to do it a lot. It’s important to experiment with different types of practices that might be more helpful for you to be willing to experience whatever thoughts come your way and to remain in the present moment. For me, I realized that more active mindfulness practices were more engaging, which meant that I would do them more frequently – like taking a long walk without my headphones on, just focusing on the feel of the ground on my feet and the sun on my face. I also like savoring exercises, such as spending a long amount of time focusing on a specific sensory experience, like eating a piece of hard candy or petting my dog. Finally, I realized I enjoy guided loving kindness meditation exercises, where I can focus on directing compassion towards others as well as to myself. While all of these practices are challenging in their own ways and are not always easy or relaxing, they have allowed me the opportunity to continue to practice mindfulness. They have helped prepare me to practice other types of mindfulness that used to be more difficult and unpleasant. And yes, sometimes I still feel bored, and that’s okay. Rather than be upset at myself for being bored, I have learned to acknowledge whatever feeling comes my way and try my best to allow myself to feel my feelings without judgment.
Jasmine Mote, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist at Cambridge Psychology Group and Research Assistant Professor at Boston University. As part of the Approach Motivation and Participation Lab, she is interested in understanding the social and emotional difficulties of people living with serious mental illness. If you like her writing, you can subscribe to her newsletter Mental Healthy, where she discusses mental health research related to pregnancy and parenting.