Your Attention is Your Greatest Asset

Paul Kovalski
Mar 9, 2018 · 7 min read

“Everybody look at you strange, say you changed
Like you work that hard to stay the same”

I’ve grown a lot in the past couple of years.

I’ve intentionally put myself in situations knowing that they would fundamentally change the way I look at life and my place in it.

After experiencing some level of “material success” didn’t bring me the satisfaction I thought it would I began to turn inward.

The irony is that I started the search for all the wrong reasons.

My journey to self exploration was born out of a desire to achieve more.

The Spark

It was 2014- two years after I graduated from Cornell University.

Many of my friends from college were working jobs at big investment banks or consulting firms while I was trying to build my own company.

Since I didn’t have a boss at the time I had free reign to spend my days doing whatever the hell I felt like- and I did. I had no idea on how to start a company and much of my time was spent on reading about how others had done it.

I would watch talks on YouTube from the Stanford Business School or read articles from Tim Ferriss on creating million dollar businesses.

I went down the rabbit hole of business content and became increasingly obsessed with the routine of successful entrepreneurs. Learning about how people like Zuckerberg or Musk were able to accomplish so much was fascinating to me.

What I learned was that many of them shared a common trait- they had a meditative practice.

I wanted to make millions! I wanted to achieve success! Could meditation be the answer?

The Beginning of the Journey

I started reading more and more about meditation and became hooked.

Meditation could teach me to have laser focus so I could build a big business and make a ton of money. Sounds great!

I began practicing meditation on my own albeit inconsistently. After a few months I decided to sign up for a 10 day Vipassana retreat and go really deep. (You can listen to a podcast I did all about those 10 tumultuous days here).

Throughout this experience I was using meditation as a means to achieve external success. I was looking at the world through the lens of an Ivy league graduate searching for success in a Western paradigm.

Vipassana instructors recommend meditating two hours per day after the retreat is over. They say to do one hour in the morning and one in the evening every single day.

While I had a profound experience at the retreat the vast amount of time required to continue the practice was not sustainable for my lifestyle. I tried to do an hour in the morning for a few months and eventually fell off the wagon.

It wasn’t until a few years later that I began a consistent practice and started to learn more about what Meditation is really all about.

Two Years Later in San Francisco

Fast forward a couple years to 2017 and I was living in San Francisco working for a really cool tech company. Even though I wasn’t meditating consistently I always knew it was something I wanted to get back into.

I was making good money and spending it (because that’s what you do in San Francisco). I would take weekly trips down to Pacifica or Santa Cruz for a surf sesh and have $4 coffees at hipster coffee shops. I still don’t know why baristas in SF are so darn cool.

Things were going great but there was still this sense that something was missing. I had read too much about individuals that had meditated consistently and how it had changed their life. Somehow I knew that a consistent practice would open up my world in an immeasurable way.

I don’t remember exactly how or why but I ended up finding about a new practice of meditation called Vedic Meditation. I found a video from an instructor who happened to live in SF and after doing some more digging on his site found that he gave intro talks on a regular basis. The next event was in a couple weeks and I decided to attend.

This would become the practice I was looking for.

The History of Vedic Meditation

Many people I chat with have not heard of Vedic Meditation but most have heard of Transcendental Meditation.

Essentially, two names are the same exact thing and the name difference is inconsequential to the practice itself.

Vedic Meditation is an ancient practice that finds its origins in the Vedas- an ancient body of texts that are the basis of Hinduism.

This practice was popularized in the West by a small Indian man named Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. He coined the term “Transcendental Meditation” and was known as the guru who the Beatles visited in the 60’s.

Transcendental Meditation grew in popularity and is now one of the largest organizations in the world with thousands of teachers. Bob Roth and David Lynch are the face of the company and have been able to get many celebrities on board including Russell Brand, Jerry Seinfeld, and Lena Dunham.

The practice works but many of the meditation instructors found issues with company policies.

One of these instructors was Thom Knoles, a veteran of the practice and a man who learned from Maharishi himself. Thom and a group of TM instructors disbanded from the organization and renamed the practice “Vedic Meditation”- an ode to the texts from which the practice originates.

If you are feeling a bit cynical don’t be- I only learned about the history of the practice after taking the course and starting to meditate consistently. The benefits it has given me have been life changing.

Making Realizations through Consistency

Vedic Meditation is known as the “house holder” meditation because it is meant for people who want to live normal lives and not in recluse from society.

The recommended dose is 20 minutes, twice a day. This was a lot easier for me to commit to than the 2 hours of meditation that Vipassana encourages. After taking the class in October of 2017 there has only been one or two days where I haven’t meditated as of today’s writing (in mid March 2018).

The consistent practice slowly brought on changes in my mind and my perception of the world.

My experience has been backed by numerous scientific studies that you can dig into if you are interested. While I have benefited in a multitude of ways the primary benefit that I want to elaborate on here is how I think about my attention.

Where is Your Attention?

Maharishi has a quote that explains this in a very simple way:

Whatever we put our attention on, will grow stronger in our life.

When I meditate on the surface level I am repeating a simple mantra over and over again.

On a deeper level I am reprogramming my brain to be more conscious of where my attention goes.

This simple practice has spilled into every other area of my life. It has allowed me to look at “myself” objectively and understand how everything from my diet to a conversation I had with my dad leads to changes in my brain and my happiness.

There are some profound realizations that may seem obvious on paper but take practice to be able to consciously observe when they are happening in your own life.

  • Humans who spend a lot of time watching the news are training their brains to respond to stimuli in a reactive way
  • Humans who read a lot of poetry view their life in a romantic way and can more easily find beauty in small things
  • Humans who exercise consistently have more energy and get depressed less frequently
  • Humans who focus all their energy on work find it harder to decompress and spend quality time with their family

Taking time out of every day to contemplate gives you the ability to see when your attention is in a bad place. It allows you to take more responsibility into why you are feeling a certain way and act accordingly.

I’m still a work in progress, but having the freedom to know that I am completely in charge of my life has changed the game.

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