How I Kept Up With Meditation For An Entire Year
Date: May 25, 2012
Location: Austin, TX
Subject: “How I Kept Up With Meditation For An Entire Year”
Hi Hannah, well it’s been a big year for both of us. I always suspected that after a year of daily meditation, the day-to-day emotional changes would eventually lead to longer-term, concrete life changes. You leaving Facebook and the Bay Area so suddenly for Boulder. Then enrolling in the writing program at Naropa. Where else could this have come from? This is the Hannah I’ve always known.
After writing, “Eight Changes To My Life After Just Four Weeks of Meditation,” many people wanted to know how I motivated myself to stick with it. Some even doubted I would stick with it beyond my initial honeymoon. Well, one year and 28 days later, I haven’t missed a beat. Here’s my follow-up post:
The first couple weeks were all about changing my attitude toward meditation. I asked myself, “Why was it easy to exercise every day, but a struggle to meditate? Theoretically,” I argued, “my mental health is more important to me than my physical health, so I should be even more motivated to do it.” Part of why it’s easier to exercise is because our society encourages it. Especially living in Austin, I see beautiful people jogging and biking every day. So, to compensate for this public component, I told myself that millions of Americans meditate in private. I then visualized all these people meditating right that very second.
I then Googled around for famous people who meditate, and found out that Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison both were into the practice. These thought exercises helped make meditation not seem like something exotic or weird. I started to think of it as something fundamental, essential, and more importantly, normal.
Another trick I developed was all about giving me a sense of progress. Even though you’re not supposed to think about outcome while meditating, I fudge a tiny bit by keeping a calendar of days I meditate. Here’s my calendar from last year:
Printout from Calendarlabs. Each slash is a day I mediated.
Crossing off days on the calendar is incredibly satisfying, and there is a fear of having an empty spot in the calendar due to perfectionism. If you do the calendar method, I actually recommend doing exactly what I did, and use a physically printed calendar, as opposed to an app. With the physical calendar, you can place it by your meditation area, serving as a constant reminder. Also, every mark you make on the calendar isn’t going to be exactly the same, so visually, this makes for a much more interesting thing to look at instead of a never-ending series of identical symbols on a screen.
When you finish a whole year, the calendar can serve as a wonderful artifact. I’ve laminated mine, which serves as a kind of trophy commemorating “The First Year I Meditated.”
If you had told me a year ago that I would finish writing not one, but two books, that I would be giving a talk at Hallmark Cards about self-improvement, that I would have my first serious girlfriend in forever, and that my neuroses would be a thing of the past, I would have told you that you were crazy.
Does that mean I’m done with self-improvement? I wouldn’t bet on it. But with meditation in tow, self-improvement means something completely different to me now.
I meditate for 30 minutes every morning before I start my day. I follow the vipassana practice of monitoring my breath, which I learned from Mindfulness in Plain English, The Power of Now, and Wherever You Go, There You Are. I fix my attention to a spot under my rib cage where I can feel my chest expand and contract. If I get distracted, I return back to monitoring my breath.
In addition to meditation, I also occasionally do cognitive therapy, but only if it’s preceded or followed by 10 minutes of meditation. Meditation is my self-improvement insurance policy.
Other letters from Dear Hannah about meditation:
› How I Kept Up With Meditation For An Entire Year
This is an excerpt from my latest book Dear Hannah: A Geek’s Life in Self-Improvement.
For Philip’s 14th birthday, Hannah gave him Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, which kicked off a life-long obsession with self-improvement. Over 16 years, Philip wrote 82 letters to Hannah describing every book, pop psych article, and method that he used — or abused. Dear Hannah is either a cautionary tale about self-improvement, or it is a filter for the 10% of self-help that may actually change your life.
PHILIP DHINGRA is a President’s Scholar from Stanford University, where he received his B.A. in Mathematical and Computational Sciences. In addition to authoring books on life change, he develops best-selling iOS apps including Nebulous Notes and The Creative Whack Pack (a collaboration with creativity pioneer Roger von Oech). Philip divides his time between Austin, Texas, and San Francisco, California.