You’re following along to a guided meditation when suddenly your dog bursts into your room and starts climbing all over you. Immediately, you find yourself feeling distracted. You have the physical sensations of your dog climbing on top of you, licking your face, and maybe even knocking you over. Suddenly, you end up obsessive thinking about how you can never get a moment of inner peace in your home, and feel tension arise in your body. During moments like these, a mental noting practice can be helpful for your thinking mind. In this article, we’re going to share what mental noting is, it’s benefits, and a simple method you can practice anytime.
What is Mental Noting?
In moments where you find yourself getting lost in thought or distracted during a meditation practice, mental noting is when you label the thought, so you can go back to focusing on your breathing.
For example, let’s say you’re meditating in a quiet room when suddenly your phone starts ringing. You’re about seven minutes in your ten minute practice. When the phone starts ringing, say “hearing” and go back to meditating despite the ringing occuring. What a mental noting practice during meditation does is call out the activity instead of ruminating on the intrusive thought or worrying about who’s calling. Instead, when you label it, it allows you to re-focus your attention back to your meditation so you can reestablish mindfulness.
Benefits of the Mental Noting Technique
1. It offers no judgment
A mental note during a meditation practice doesn’t allow your thoughts to get their own life. It stops the thought in its tracks and offers no judgment. With a mental noting technique, you label the thought as “thinking,” “feeling,” “hearing,” “pain,” or some other descriptive word that acknowledges that you’ve shifted your attention, without trying to relate to it. If you suddenly feel a cold shiver, you might say “feeling” instead of thinking about whether or not you need to put on a sweater or grab a blanket. It allows you to disconnect from your thoughts, without judgment. Often, when we have a moment of distraction in a meditation practice, we judge ourselves for losing focus. But when you mentally note what happens, it gives you a moment to acknowledge it in your inner voice without losing your place in your practice. Distractions during a meditation session can happen. Mental noting allows you to acknowledge them, without judging yourself or your practice without any emotional reactions.
2. It prevents rumination
Ruminating thoughts can be highly disruptive during a meditation session. A relaxed noting practice can allow you to prevent that from happening. Left to its own devices, your brain will want to think about an endless number of things when it has a moment of silence. After all, a busy mind means that your brain is alive and active. It’s completely normal for a steady stream of thoughts to come to the forefront of your mind during a guided meditation. But the point of your practice isn’t to connect with them, it’s to focus on the present. This may sound harsh, but meditating daily is essential for those of you with ruminating thoughts. If you find yourself feeling emotional about thoughts that randomly surface in your mind, you’ll want to practice meditation more frequently. Mental noting gives just a few possibilities about how you can calm the mind, reduce anxiety, and become more self-aware. But when you become lost in thought, none of those benefits of meditation come into play.
3. It allows you to stay present
Mindfulness is often the main goal of a meditation practice. Persistent worriers are often afraid of the future, whereas many who struggle with sadness are stuck in the past. Living in the present is the best option for being aware and making the best decisions possible right now. There are many functions of meditation, but being present and focusing on your breath is the best way to control your emotions. It’s in a state of heightened awareness where you have the most control of yourself. A noting practice allows you to quickly note what’s happening while allowing you to focus on what really matters: this moment right now. Those who want to live a mindful life will benefit from practicing a mindfulness meditation to stay present.
4. It acknowledges the distraction
It’s second nature to become distracted during a meditation practice. Mental noting helps you give it a moment’s attention, without losing your focus for more than that. It’s kind of like when you have an itch during a quick ten-minute meditation. It distracts your focus completely. And you wonder, “Should I scratch it? This feels so uncomfortable. I should scratch it.” Instead, when you mentally note “itch.” It allows you to notice the distraction, without going down the rabbit hole. You might still scratch your itch, especially if it’s distracting your attention away from breathing, but when you label it, it’s unlikely you’ll experience a strong emotion to it.
5. It allows you to see patterns
Frequently repeated note reveals that something in your mind is being pushed up for you to face. During a meditation practice, recognize patterns that repeat. However, don’t concern yourself with them until your practice is complete. Overly identified mental notes might illuminate what is actually happening. For example, if you keep thinking about a sick family member and start to cry, it’s showing you that you’re overcome with anxiety, fear, and worry. After your practice, you might call the sick family member to check-in on them. You could also find a therapist who will help you with your anxious feelings to help you cope with whatever outcome is likely, especially if the individual is terminally ill. However, these are things to do after you practice. Not during. A frequently recurring experience of distraction needs to be dealt with after your session. You still need to come back to your breathing during your session, no matter how intense the feelings may be. Instead, simply notice and label what you feel and re-focus on your breathing.
Mental Noting Exercise
1. Body Scan Meditation
A body scan meditation is one of the best meditations you can practice mental noting with. During a body scan meditation, you’ll work through the limbs and parts of your body bringing awareness to them. During this practice, you might notice tightness in your stomach if you’ve been worrying about something. You might notice an itch or soreness. You can begin working through all the body parts to find where all these experiences are. However, instead of focusing on them for the entire meditation, you’ll only notice it for a few moments, label it, and move on to the next body part. You can find body scan meditations on the Declutter The Mind app to practice mental noting.
2. Post-Meditation Exercise
It might be helpful to practice a quick post-meditation exercise after a mental noting practice. During your meditation, you may have had thoughts enter your mind that you mentally noted. After your practice, grab a piece of paper and write the thoughts that entered your mind. Then, find evidence for and against the thought. If the thought leans negative or isn’t a fact, consider writing down what the truth really is. Often, we’ll have a negative thought that we believe despite there being tons of evidence proving the contrary is actually true. Not everything we think it true. So taking time to debunk our negative thoughts can allow us to get better at preventing rumination during a meditation practice.
Remaining free from thinking during a meditation practice is essential for our well-being. A mental noting technique can help you become more aware of the number of times you become distracted during a session. Don’t get too caught up in it as it happens. Just note it. After your ten-minute meditation, you can try to look at the thoughts that arose to find patterns that may be disruptive to your life, so you can be more proactive about solving an issue that causes you pain. With more mindfulness meditations or body scan meditations, you’ll realize that you are not your thoughts and will become more comfortable noting them instead of identifying with them.