My case for meditation, and how mindfulness can improve your life
Driving home several months ago I approached a red light and for no reason whatsoever, I reached for my phone and started swiping through apps like a habitual channel flipper bounces from station to station. I wasn’t looking for anything specific. I was just doing shit to do shit, and as I did, seeds of mindfulness that have been planted in my mind over the last few years began to sprout. Why was it that the very moment I had an opportunity to sit still, I sought a way to escape it?
Mental restlessness is nothing new to me. “He has a long attention span,” said no one ever about me. Generally speaking I’ve accepted the mental chaos because I like the output of creativity and ideas that spring from the randomness. When I realized I had what amounts to a nervous tick when I’m stuck with myself, however, I figured it was time to explore this mindfulness thing a little more.
I did a fair share of reading and exploring on the subject, which amounted to learning a little about Buddhism, stoicism, and meditation from a variety of authorities. The best introductory books I read were The Antidote, by Oliver Burkeman and The Obstacle is the Way, by Ryan Holiday. Some further exploration led me to the audiobook series, The Tao of Seneca by Tim Ferriss and John A. Robinson, and Letters from a Stoic, by Seneca the Younger himself.
The more I learned, the more convinced I became in the value of practicing mindfulness and recognizing that time was more precious than money. A lot of reading led to a little practice. The most complete introduction to the practice was the Practicing Mindfulness course taught by Dr. Mark Muesse, of Harvard University and Rhodes College. I practiced for several months with some progress in day-to-day life. Slowly (v-e-r-y slowly) but surely, I began recognizing when my mind wandered off from conversation or my hand instinctually grabbed a device to escape with. When I realized it happened I was able to bring myself back to the present.
While I was making progress, I found it challenging to make time to practice because the accountability was self enforced. I had no routine, no pattern, no mental training plan. And I’m a training plan kind of guy.
Enter Headspace, an app that makes meditation simple.
I downloaded Headspace after reading a post Tim Ferriss shared with readers. Upon first look, I thought it may be too introductory. I was by no means a meditation expert, but I’d done a fair share of practicing over the past several months. What I found was that Headspace was absolutely the tool I needed to make the practice stick.
My first 10 days with Headspace were insanely productive. The first goal in Headspace is to do 10 minutes a day for 10 days. As Tony Robbins says, “If you don’t have 10 minutes a day, you don’t have a life.” So, I sat down and I did it every day for 10 days. I started a pattern, or as Headspace refers to it, a “run streak,” which is the number of days in a row you’ve meditated. The first 10 days were simple, guided, and helpful to practicers of meditation at probably any level. What I found particularly interesting during the meditation was the time allowed to simply let my brain do whatever it wants with no control, no expectations, and no judgement.
My 10 day run streak turned into 20 and 20 turned into 30, which is the the complete “Foundation” pack for Headspace. After 30 days I was able to open a library of other packs that include meditation concentrating on performance, relationships, and health. As “unmindful” as it may sound, one of the features of Headspace that keeps me accountable is the data. Headspace keeps track of how many times I’ve meditated, for how long, and how many days in a row. I didn’t want to miss a day training my mind for the same reason I don’t want to miss a day training my body: I want to check the box, good workout or not, and keep making progress.
After just 10 minutes a day for 30 days straight, I am recognizing some of the benefits of improving awareness and being more mindful. The time meditating is a relief, to be sure. But the practice of mindfulness has started to demonstrate benefits well beyond the meditation, as it is intended to. Here are four that I have recognized.
Prioritizing the present is a constant reminder of how valuable my time really is.
I have every excuse in the world to be busy, all the time. I have a family, which includes a 7 month old, several businesses I’m engaged in, a fitness regimen, books to read, podcasts to listen to, learning to do, and, well, the semblance of a personal life. Traditionally speaking, no matter where I am, I often feel like I should be somewhere else, even if I’m in the middle of a conversation. Training my mind to be present in what I am doing has had the effect of training my mind to be grateful for whatever is happening at the moment, no matter what it is. That has the effect of appreciating what I am doing and really appreciating the value of time as a limited resource. In and of itself, that is worth training the mind.
Appreciating the present tends to improve the quality of relationships.
When I’m not present with the people I care about most, like my family, teams, and employees, it shows. My mind wanders in conversation and my engagements are more shallow. Choosing to be present means paying more attention to the people that are in front of me. By fully engaging, I improve the quality of time I am spending with people, and by default, the quality of my relationships.
Mindfulness encourages responses, rather than reactions, to challenging situations.
High performance and productivity is often accompanied by high stress. And stress has a tendency to cloud judgment and trigger emotional reactions when a frustrating situation arises rather than responses that are thought out and proportionate to the situation. Being aware of stress and anxiety has improved my ability to take a step back from emotionally charged situations and respond thoughtfully, not emotionally.
Thinking about the here and now dramatically reduces negative thought patterns.
The interesting thing I’ve learned about negative thought patterns, particularly those like worry or regret, is that what is being thought about is, by very definition, not happening now. More often than not, when you think about the present — literally, the exact moment you are in — very rarely is anything actually wrong. Worrying about what may happen in the future or living in a state of regret about the past does only one thing: ruin the present.
As a novice, I’m sure more benefits will be realized as time goes on. And don’t get me wrong. I don’t live in a constant state of zen. Far from it. I am the equivalent of an entirely untrained athlete preparing for an Ironman that has just run around the block for the first time. But I do capture more moments of being completely present, and that’s a new thing form me.
If you’ve been practicing mindfulness, drop me a comment below. I’d love to hear your experience.
And, if you are interested in trying the Headspace experience for 10 days, you can sign up for free here.
If you make it 10 days in a row and want to continue, come back and email me. I have a couple free months I can offer on a first come first serve basis.
Note: I have no financial affiliation with Headspace. I just love it.
Originally published at www.rayjgreen.com on June 5, 2016.