Meditation sounds like magic, but many people struggle with it. This is a personal story of failure with the practice.

Scott Rocher
Aug 26 · 6 min read

Why I Tried Meditation

Wellness is having a moment and I’m onboard with its big promises. Download an app, spend a few minutes a day, and transform how you feel. Sounds like magic!

Download an app, spend a few minutes a day, and transform how you feel. Sounds like magic!

I tried meditation after a therapist suggested it to help calm my mind and reduce stress, with the immediate goal of sleeping better at night. She recommended Insight Timer (because it’s free) but I also downloaded Headspace, Calm, and Ten Percent Happier. I was struggling to fall and stay asleep at night and desperate for a fix.

My mind was on overdrive coping with a toxic combination of life factors that I was not navigating well. A stressful job, two kids under three, an aging dog, and a full calendar. I was focusing on how I felt and frankly, I wasn’t sure why I felt the way I did.

Meditation seemed like an answer to my problems. It would calm my mind, allow me to notice the passing traffic on the highway of life, slow down, and find peace — all with the goal of being able to get meaningful rest at night.

What I Tried

Over a month’s time, I cycled through Insight Timer, Headspace, Calm, Peloton, and Ten Percent Happier.

My meditation routine evolved over the course of my practice. At first I tried meditating whenever I felt like it, but I found that didn’t set me up to make it a habit. Next I tried to find a moment each morning where I could reliably meditate. This began during my morning walk with the dog but I found meditating while walking was not effective and sometimes dangerous.

Then I tried meditating as soon as I got to my desk in the morning. This was OK but I work from home and was often distracted by the sounds of passing traffic outside our house or by the dog wanting to be pet.

Finally, I tried meditating in my car — a suggestion from my friend and co-founder at Cactus. And don’t worry, I didn’t meditate while driving!

After dropping off my kids at daycare, I pulled into my garage each morning and before I got out of the car I would open a guided meditation and complete it before doing anything else. My favorite of these was from Ten Percent Happier because it comes from a meditation skeptic’s point of view. And I was skeptical of meditation. The car was the closest thing to an ideal meditation environment I could find — a closed environment, easily made quiet, with comfortable seating.

The car was the closest thing to an ideal meditation environment I could find — a closed environment, easily made quiet, with comfortable seating.

But even that wasn’t working for me. I felt like a failure. How could this popular habit be so difficult for me? And why didn’t I feel different?

Why I Struggled

Meditation didn’t stick for me. Despite setting goals for the practice, a time and place, and access to high quality guided meditations, the practice slipped away and eventually stopped. I have not meditated in weeks.

I think this happened for a few reasons:

The Practice Itself

According to Headspace, meditation does not ask us to turn off our thoughts or feelings. It asks us to simply learn to observe them without judgment.

This sounds wonderful but in reality, I found the actual practice of observing my thoughts to be frustrating, simply because I wanted to dig into them, unpack them, and better understand myself. Like I tackle other problems in my life, I wanted to dig right in. But meditation asked me to simply observe, not analyze. I believe that was a large part of meditation not sticking for me.

Prioritizing Time

Meditation seems to work best if you practice it for longer and longer amounts of time, more frequently. I started with 1-minute meditations, then 5 minutes, then 10 minutes. Can I make 10 minutes in my day available for meditation? Absolutely. But given the constraints for me as a novice, the sad fact is that I found it hard to make time alone, in a quiet, comfortable space, away from my responsibilities.

Return on Investment

Was meditation working for me? After trying it for a few weeks, I was honestly unsure. I was not sleeping better at night. I was not serendipitously appreciating my meditation at moments in the day. I didn’t find myself suddenly with a different level of emotional control.

I wanted to love meditating. I wanted it to change my life. I wanted to be a person who meditates. Listening to experts guide me through meditation, I truly believed in their conviction. But it wasn’t working. So I stopped.

I wanted to love meditating. I wanted it to change my life. I wanted to be a person who meditates.

What I’m Doing Instead

Meditation didn’t work for me but that doesn’t mean I gave up on finding something that helped me sleep at night.

Less Caffeine

I cut out caffeine after 10am after learning that it can take up to 10 hours for the effects of caffeine to subside. That means if I had my normal cup of coffee after lunch, I would still experience the active effects of caffeine until 11pm. To ease out of the habit, I replaced my after-lunch coffee with tea and now, most days, I just drink water.

More Exercise, Earlier

As a dad of two, it’s hard to find time for myself to exercise, but when I do jump on the bike, I try and do it before 4pm. This gives me time to calm down and prepare to go to sleep!

Cactus

Through all this, I realized that focusing on my breath wasn’t going to help me calm down. I’m probably doing meditation wrong but I can’t prioritize the time to learn to do it right.

I still want to practice mindfulness that will help me find happiness and better sleep.

Cactus is part daily gratitude, part mindfulness, and part guided self-reflection — all wrapped up in a delightful design.

Cactus is part daily gratitude, part mindfulness, and part guided self-reflection — all wrapped up in a delightful design.

Every morning when I wake up, I have a thoughtful prompt waiting that helps me focus on what will make me happiest in life. By focusing on positive things (instead of the things that kept my mind spinning for hours, late at night), I’ve been able to slowly re-train myself to think positively.

This practice has had profound effects on me that I can feel. Instead of letting the negative, anxiety-inducing thoughts consume me at night, I’m replacing those with positive, calming thoughts. I’m using Cactus to help remind me that I have a pretty great life and that raising my self-awareness can happen in just a minute a day.

With meditation, I struggled to focus on my breath and let the passing thoughts go by. But with Cactus, I feel I’m getting similar benefits by focusing on a specific element in my life each day. And it’s easier for me, both in practice and to schedule.

(Disclaimer: All this is so important to me that Cactus is a labor of love — I’m part of the team that’s bringing it to life.)

What will work for you?

Your success or failure with meditation may vary from mine.

Did you try meditation and find it didn’t work for you? What did you find worked best to help you? What will you try next? I’d love to hear from you in the responses below…

Scott Rocher

Written by

Founder at Cactus (https://cactus.app) | Past: @stitchfix, @bluebottleroast, @tonxcoffee, and @yahoo. http://scottrocher.com

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