03/23/2015 12:53 pm ET | Updated May 23, 2015

Mindfulness Meditation? Am I Doing It Right?

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I teach people how to meditate and the most common statement I hear them utter is: I must not be very good at this. I just can't seem to do it right. My mind keeps wandering!

Actually, hearing them say this always makes me smile. Because, guess what? This is actually a sign that they are doing it exactly right!

Doesn't make sense, you say? Let's look at a few facts.

  • Scientists say people have 50,000+ thoughts each day. This is a sign that our minds wander, and wander often in order to reach that incredible number.
  • Anything we do on a regular basis becomes a habit and, if not a habit, it certainly becomes something we no longer give any thought to doing; we just do it...without thinking. Brushing teeth. Tying shoes. Showering.
  • Wandering minds become a habit for our brains.

When we want to establish a new habit, we have to unlearn, or break, the old habit and then possibly establish a new one. Dropping dirty clothes on the floor becomes putting dirty clothes in the hamper. Leaving dirty dishes in the sink becomes washing dirty dishes right away, or rinsing them and putting them in the dishwasher. Leaving an unmade bed becomes making the bed every morning. Letting our mind wander becomes... noticing the wandering mind and bringing it back to focus and attention.

Do you get the idea? When you are first starting to meditate, you have to train your brain.

  • Your mind is used to being allowed to wander.
  • When you first try to meditate you typically try focusing on your breath, or the sounds you hear.
  • Because your mind is used to wandering, it does.
  • In an effort to break the habit of a wandering mind, each time it wanders you bring it back to attention.
  • Before you know it, your mind has learned not to wander, but to stay on the focus of your breath or the sounds you hear.

Does this remind you of anything? Think about a new puppy. You bring that puppy home and, unless you want to be cleaning up after it a million times a day, you have to train the puppy to let you know when it wants to go outside to do its business. So, over and over and over again you teach the puppy, train the puppy, so the puppy will eventually learn the desired behavior. Just like your puppy, your brain deserves the time necessary to teach it what it needs to learn. And just as you show the puppy love and patience, so must you show it to yourself.

You're learning. It's a new skill. And, just like you and the puppy will have years of happy times together after the puppy has been trained, you and your brain will spend a lifetime of valuable time together focusing, meditating, solving, creating...and so much more.

So to answer that question again: When you're sitting there, trying to focus on your breath or the sounds you are hearing, and when you notice your mind wandering...yes, you are meditating. Or, you are learning how to meditate. You are kindly, without frustration or anger, saying to your puppy-dog brain, "Caught you!"

You are bringing your thoughts back to your breath...again. You are starting to count all over again: one, two, three...You are starting to list the sounds all over again. And before you know it, you will be meditating for five minutes, 10, 15 or more. Your mind won't be wandering as often as it used to, so you won't have to keep bringing it back on focus.

And that's when your stress and anxiety will decrease. Your shoulders will relax. Your jaw and forehead will relax, and tension will be leaving your body. You will gain a new, improved perspective about what's really important in your life, and negative emotions will diminish.

You will look at me...

And I will simply say, "You're welcome."

Dr. Wolbe can be contacted via her website at Follow her on Facebook and LinkedIn.