Joseph Goldstein is one of my favorite mindfulness teachers. In one of his meditations, he explains that1:
The three most important words in mindfulness meditation are “simply begin again.”
In a typical mindfulness meditation, you give the mind an object to focus on, like the breath. Then, what usually happens, is that your mind starts wandering.
Most often, you won’t notice that this is happening. You can be lost in thought for minutes before you wake up and realize what’s been going on.
And when that happens, it’s not helpful to criticize yourself for not being mindful. In fact, if you start judging your performance, you’re thinking again, which means you’re not being mindful.
So, whenever you catch yourself lost in thought, you want to return to the object you’re focusing on and Simply Begin Again.
I’ve found this advice very useful, not just in my meditation practice but in any goal-directed behavior.
Whenever you find that you’ve strayed away from your objective, dwelling on it will usually just make it worse.
Imagine, for instance, that you decide to complete an important work assignment. But then, two hours later, you find yourself wasting time on social media.
In situations like these, self-criticism won’t help. If anything, it will make you feel bad, which makes it even harder to bounce back.
There is a time and place to reflect on what went wrong, such as a weekly planning ritual. But in the moment, you want to return to the task at hand as quickly as possible.
Instead, simply begin again. You’ll get back on track much faster that way.