Photo of a sunrise, an excellent time to do guided meditation.

Guided Meditation: What it Is & How to Use It

In Education, Mindfulness & Meditation, Self-Care by Courtney Archer1 Comment

Ever had someone tell you not to dwell on the past? Or that you spend too much time ruminating on things that have gone wrong? The skills you utilize to live in the past can also help you move forward when used for guided meditation instead.

Often when the word “rumination” comes up, it is in a negative context. We ruminate on our past mistakes and failures, on the things we wish were different.

However, rumination does not have to be negative. To ruminate just means to spend a lot of time thinking about something in great depth. What if, instead of spending our time dwelling on painful things we cannot change, we spent some time dwelling on things we want to feel and be?

Good news: it is possible. And guided meditations are a great way to do it! Especially if you have a difficult time redirecting your own thoughts, a guided meditation might be just the thing to jar you out of your rut and move you toward your goals.

Photo of a sunrise, an excellent time to do guided meditation.

What is Guided Meditation?

Guided meditation is a mindfulness practice used to focus your thoughts on and explore a specific topic or purpose. While guided imagery tends to focus more on physical sensations, guided meditation focuses more on the mental and emotional.

Both incorporate a little of each–guided meditations will also pull in physical sensations to ground the overall practice, but the focus is different. While guided imagery is meant to be soothing, guided meditation is meant to move you forward.

To put it succinctly, guided imagery soothes through the senses, and guided meditation soothes through thoughts. Both often start by grounding with the breath and then move into their individual areas of focus.

Why is it Helpful?

Life is not known for being easy, straightforward, or uncomplicated. In fact, it is often the opposite of any of those words or somewhere in between.

When things do not go as expected, we tend to struggle against them. In the struggle, we often lose or give up parts of ourselves to make everything work. If you think about it, you can probably come up with some things that you have lost in the struggle.

Some of these things might be assertiveness, confidence, love for yourself, and hope that things will improve.

You might read that and think, why would anyone give any of those things up? We give up assertiveness in the name of not making waves. Confidence is lost in order to make defeat more palatable. When we cease to love ourselves, it is not as confusing when others do things to hurt us. We stop hoping that things will get better so that we are not disappointed when they do not.

All of these are protective strategies meant to carry us through difficult times, but we carry them far past the initial struggles. Guided meditation helps by taking another look at the way we have processed our lives and world and reframing things.

How Can it Move Me Forward?

A central theme to all aspects of mindfulness is shifting from reacting to responding. Instead of having a knee-jerk, autopilot reaction to everything, the goal is to respond in a way that is true to yourself and your values.

Guided meditation helps with this by taking the time to really focus on something and explore your thoughts and feelings around it. When you have a clear picture of how you feel and want to be, it enables you to respond in ways that move you toward that.

Humans are creatures of habit. We learn how to do something, and then we do it the same way until someone thoroughly convinces us that another way is better. Even then sometimes we keep doing it the same way we always have because we know it works.

The trouble is that sometimes the way we have always done something does not work. A good example of this is conflict resolution.

Believe it or not, conflict resolution is not really a skill that people come by naturally. We see how our parents and respected adults do it, and follow suit. However, good conflict resolution generally takes more skill and finesse than we are able to learn from just the examples around us.

You might finish a guided meditation and feel exactly the same as you did when you started it, and that is fine. The point is to take a closer look at what you feel and how you act, and for your choices to be just that–choices rather than reactions.

Meditate Your Way Toward Acceptance

Whether it is a failed relationship, an illness or disease, personal shortcomings, or a profound loss, we all have something we struggle to accept. As noted above, when there is something that we cannot accept we struggle against it and in the struggle we lose things.

Sometimes the biggest thing we lose is energy and will to continue. Struggle is exhausting. But there is a very stark difference between giving up and acceptance.

Giving up is saying things will never get better and relinquishing control. It is apathy and depression–a loss of meaning and hope.

Acceptance is none of those things. If you accept that there is something wrong, it gives you the power to do something about it. Note that I did not say fix it–there are some things that nothing can fix.

But there are very few things that you can do absolutely nothing about. There is a quote by Carl Rogers that I love that goes, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I change.”

When we rigidly struggle against acceptance, we hold ourselves stagnant and immovable. It is when we accept the unacceptable that we can change. Paradox is exactly the word for the phenomenon.

A Personal Example of Acceptance

A personal example to highlight the paradox of acceptance is my struggle with Type 1 diabetes. I was diagnosed when I was 10 years old, and by the time I turned 14 I was done with it. Done with being different than everyone else I knew, done with worrying about what I was eating and my blood sugar, done with the need to be so constantly vigilant about everything.

I stopped taking my insulin, stopped checking my blood sugar, and told a whole lot of lies to every single person who cared about me so they would not know.

While I would not have called it “giving up” at the time, that is exactly what I was doing. I was giving up on living life with diabetes–not life–life with diabetes. I was not seeking death, I just did not want to live the life I had to live anymore.

Fortunately, someone finally saw through my facade and got me back on track.

However, that is not when I accepted things. It is just when everyone lost trust in me and I was micromanaged for a long time after. My refusal to accept the life I had to live did not help me, it made things worse.

The next decade was a long struggle of hating my body and myself for being defective. You might guess that my blood sugar control was abysmal, and you would be right.

Acceptance was a difficult process, and I wish someone would have encouraged me to get some mental and emotional help along the way. I wish someone would have pushed me toward mindfulness and acceptance, because when I finally found a modicum of acceptance things changed.

I started trying to figure out how to work with my body instead of hating it. Instead of pushing against the life I had to live, I started figuring out how to work with it–how to live it.

There is very little that is as powerful as deciding to live the life we have to live.

Align With Your Values Through Meditation

Very few of us would list jadedness, fear, or conflict among our values. When people name their core values, common themes are love, loyalty, honesty, creativity, strength, etc. And yet our actions do not always reflect those values that are most important to us.

The trouble is that sometimes our values conflict. For example, a value of safety might get in the way of love or honesty. Even if we would like to hold love and honesty higher than safety, we are driven to preservation and safety often takes priority.

And honestly, safety really should take priority over a lot of things. But the longer we live the more the concept and value of safety become distorted. Guided meditation gives the opportunity to reprocess through things that we might see as unsafe.

The fact is that there are a lot of really great values that conflict with each other.

Justice and mercy.

Peacemaking and assertiveness.

Reliability and flexibility.

Guided meditation allows us to look at which values we are in fact choosing, and which ones we would like to choose more often.

Use Meditation to Clearly Define Your Goals

Most of us have a goal that eludes us, just barely out of reach. Sometimes this is because we do not quite know how to achieve it, and sometimes it is because we do not have the right resources to do it. It might be a matter of simple timing and that life just is not lining up like it needs to.

By now most people have heard of SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable/Achievable, Relevant/Realistic, and Timebound). Do your goals fall under all of these categories?

Now, this article is not really about SMART goals, but keeping your goals SMART is the first step to achieving them. The use of guided meditation is a step to use throughout the process. Think about it–if you are focusing your thoughts toward your goal on a regular basis, it is going to become more achievable.

While guided meditation is a facet of mindfulness, it is different than simply being mindful. When you are mindful of your goal, you are aware of its presence and usefulness for your life. But if you take the time to meditate, to really think things through and evaluate how it is going, you will find that you have a much more clear idea of what is required.

Running through the different parts of SMART is a great way to guide your meditation on goals.

How Do I Do a Guided Meditation?

The most conventional way of doing a guided meditation is by listening to one. You can find guided meditations on all kinds of topics in all kinds of places, from mindfulness apps to youtube videos.

Once you have found a meditation that you want to do, next you will want to set aside some time to do it. This may seem like an obvious step, but if you plan to just get to it when you get to it, chances are high that you will never get to it.

So plan a time. If possible, make it the same time every day and tie it to something else you do, like showering or driving to work. Although if you are doing a meditation while driving, I recommend talking yourself through it rather than listening to one. We will get into how to do this a little later in the article.

Getting a time figured out is the most important step. When you are meditating, keep in mind that it is okay for your thoughts to wander as long as you bring them back. Your thoughts are going to wander–this is exceedingly common.

The key is noticing when they wander and returning them to the topic at hand. Not noticing they have wandered and then deciding the new thought is more important than the current thought and just going with it. You will have plenty of time to think about everything else later.

Set your time for your meditation, and then use that time for meditating. Set a boundary with yourself that during the five, ten, thirty minutes–however long you make it–that it is your time for meditating. All your other thoughts have the whole rest of the day to be thought.

Is it Going to Take All Day?

Guided meditations do not have to take a long time to be good. If you only have five minutes to do it (or you only want five minutes to do it), that is absolutely fine!

There is a fair bit of nomenclature that suggests that the longer you can meditate the better. But some of us just do not have an hour to spend on it, and some of us do not want to spend an hour on it. Good for you for having other things that you need and want to do!

If you can be motivated by something that only takes five minutes of your day, why take an hour? Of course, if you have the time and want to meditate for an hour, do it! But many of us just do not have that kind of time and that is okay.

Guided meditations tend to range anywhere from five to thirty minutes. It is more important to do it than how long it takes you. Find some go-to’s that work for you and use them.

Do I Have to Listen to Someone Else to Do Guided Meditation?

You do not have to listen to someone else to do guided meditation. Guided meditations are all about focusing yourself on something and then exploring, finding where you fit in it, and how it applies to you.

As mentioned earlier, it is common for someone else to be the guide in the form of recorded audio or video. However, you are totally allowed to be your own guide. A great way to do this is by talking your way through it.

When you talk your way through something, it can actually make it more solid than just listening to it. Guide yourself through it with these key steps:

  • Set a topic. (Usually something like acceptance or courage.)
    • Make this specific–acceptance of what? Courage for what?
  • Notice your emotional reaction. Why is this important to you? How will it help you live more in line with your top values?
  • Figure out what the barriers are. What is standing in the way of you moving forward with acceptance or courage?
    • Figure out which barriers you are able to do something about.
  • Choose the next right step for you and your life.

Write these steps on a sticky note or 3×5 card to prompt you along your personally guided meditation, or use this worksheet to write it out.

What Makes a Guided Meditation Good?

At this point in the article, it might not come as a surprise that the first key to a good guided meditation is being able to fit it into your schedule. If you do not have time to do it, then it is not a good guided meditation. Period.

But after that qualifier, things get a little less general. A good guided meditation targets an area that will be helpful for you. Below are some recommended guided meditations for acceptance, courage, and kindness.

Why these three topics? Because they are common things that people struggle with. Accepting the life we have to live, the courage to make difficult decisions, and kindness toward ourselves (and others!) for continually making mistakes.

Most of us have heard the classic quote from Alexander Pope, “To err is human.” Do you remember the second half of it? “To forgive is divine.”

We all make mistakes, and it takes acceptance, courage, and kindness to forgive and move forward with any kind of grace. A good guided meditation will bring a measure of grace to your life. It will allow you to be where you are and see how to get where you want to be.

Recommended Guided Meditations

Below are several recommended guided meditations. For the sake of this article, “short” is classified as 5 minutes or less, “medium” is 6-15 minutes, and “long” is 15-30 minutes.



Only three and a half minutes long, this Guided Meditation for Acceptance is super short and easy to practice. It is so easy, in fact, that you just might memorize it! Plus, it has an audio video and a transcript!


A great guided meditation oriented toward chronic illness is Yoga Journal’s Healing Meditation. (You did not think I would talk about my own chronic illness and then leave you hanging, did you?) While the meditation does not give a specific amount of time that it should take, that makes it more adaptable to your personal timeline.

Not only that, but before it gets to the actual mediation there is a nice article about living with chronic illness. If you or a loved one lives with chronic illness, physical or mental, the article alone is bound to resonate with you.

And after reading it you get the lovely Healing Meditation. It begins with some instructions on how to approach it, and then gives you the meditation itself. This one is exceptionally simple, and you can do it for however short or long you like.


At just barely over 15 minutes, the Acceptance of the Present Moment meditation barely fits in the “long” category but is excellent proof that you just do not need to spend more than 15 minutes. It features grounding with your breath and body, and the use of a mantra to guide you toward acceptance.



Who does not have three minutes? The Face Your Fears: Meditation on Courage is a great way to pack some mindfulness into your life with a low drain on your time. It does not waste time on an intro or explanation, it just gets right into the meditation–music to the ears of anyone who needs a quick meditation moment.


This Guided Meditation for Courage is another transcript. Ask a loved one to read it to you, or read it to yourself mindfully, taking your time to experience it as you go. It focuses on success and how to use your past triumphs to guide your present.


Coming in at just over 26 minutes, the Inner Strength and Courage Guided Calming Meditation is worth the time it will take you. It focuses on thoughts, feelings, and relaxation to help cultivate courage within you. As it says, it is a great one to use before or after sleep!



Okay, okay, this Kindness Meditation is actually almost 6 minutes and does not fit into the short category by the rules that I myself established. But they do not really come shorter than this, and this one is too excellent to pass by. If you need a shorter one, try the short acceptance or courage meditations above.


Just shy of eight minutes, Guided meditation – Loving Kindness is great if you have more than a couple of minutes but not much more. It starts right into the meditation and is a beautiful rendition of the popular Loving Kindness meditation. You will love it.


The time required for this Guided Meditation for Kindness is customizable because it is a transcript. You can read through the entire thing mindfully, or highlight your favorite parts and use those as more of a guide.


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