You’d think I was crazy.
But these are just a few of the proven benefits of an ancient practice that is experiencing a major resurgence.
Meditation is no longer reserved for monks and yogis, with everyone from Oprah to Arianna Huffington is raving about the benefits. Even I, a guy who not that many years ago considered microwaved tortillas with cheese and pepperoni dinner, now count myself among the throngs of modern-day meditators.
Meditation has officially gone mainstream, and although mindfulness meditation has become particularly buzzworthy, this simple practice appears to live up to the hype.
There’s just one problem. Many people give meditation a try and find the experience uneventful at best and terrifying, frustrating or anxiety-producing at worst.
I was no different … allow me to explain:
My Struggle with Meditation
In the summer of 2008, I was traveling in South America and had climbed to the top of a peak in the Podocarpus natural reserve in southern Ecuador. As I took in the view I felt moved to sit down to meditate … you know, just like those inspiring pictures we always see.
I picked out a comfy-looking rock, took a seat, and began breathing deeply. A feeling of bliss and oneness instantly flooded my being … at least that’s what I hoped would happen.
Instead, the thoughts kept coming.
I redoubled my focus but that just made things worse. No peace, silence, or transcendental experience — just growing exasperation at my complete inability to calm my own monkey mind.
I became more and more frustrated until I gave up, completely ruining the nice moment I had been enjoying before I tried to meditate.
Simply put, it was a failure.
But over the years I somehow kept at it, and my initial failures gave me insight into what was holding me back when I finally had the breakthrough — insights that can save you much of the struggle.
The Simple Approach to Meditation
After struggling for years, I’ve flipped my failures into three simple hacks to get you started, skip the struggle, and unlock the many benefits that meditation has to offer:
1. Redefine success.
Looking back, I found that I had a major problem that almost guaranteed that I would fail right out of the gate: I thought I knew what meditation was, how to do it, and what meditation was going to get me.
I equated success with mental calm and a feeling of peace when I got up from my cushion. But as it turns out, I was setting myself up to fail.
Here’s the key that I was missing:
Meditation is not about trying to quiet the mind or having a transcendental experience; it is about being present with whatever is happening to you, moment to moment.
You could spend 20 minutes thinking about your to-do list, and as long as you noticed that you were thinking about your to-do list at some point, your meditation was a resounding success.
All the other shiny benefits are side effects.
When you begin to meditate, you quickly learn that you have no control whatsoever over whether or not thoughts pop into your head. You cannot learn to quiet your mind. The mind becomes quiet when you stop trying to control it and just observe it.
The not-so-sexy truth is that meditation might not be fun or even pleasant for quite some time.
Instead you might experience sadness, anger, or frustration. And that’s okay. The real benefit comes from getting in touch with your internal experience.
As we watch our thoughts and feelings, we start to let them happen with less judgment, we get to know ourselves on a deeper level, and as we become comfortable with looking at the totality of who we are, our compassion and acceptance grows.
As this self-discovery deepens we realize that we are more than our problems. They come and go.
We are more than our thoughts. They come and go.
We are more than our feelings. They also come and go.
When you are just beginning, you might feel like you are making no progress. You’ll probably wonder if you are doing it wrong or question your technique. Don’t let this worry you. Things will become more refined as you go.
2. Keep it simple.
Do you need to burn incense, wear a robe, or receive a mantra to get the benefit of meditation?
Nope. While there are many different meditation techniques, the basics are universal and boil down to just three simple steps.
- Sit comfortably: You don’t need a special cushion or to sit crossed legged. In fact, the most important thing is to sit in a comfortable, upright position so you aren’t distracted by any pain or discomfort in your body. If you sit on the floor, sit on a cushion that provides enough height for your legs to be slightly lower than your hips. This will allow you keep your back straight. You can also sit on the front edge of a chair with your feet resting on the ground, or you can sit cross legged on the couch with your back against the backrest.
- Observe what goes on: As we mentioned previously, meditation is not about feeling peaceful or experiencing a special moment. It’s about being present and simply noticing what thoughts are going through your mind, and what sensations are going through your body.
- Accept the experience without judging it: You might experience sadness, anger, frustration when you meditate; you will almost certainly experience a near constant stream of inane thoughts. Try and accept the experience without judging it. If you have a negative thought or intense emotion, watch it drift by like a cloud in the sky. Notice and say, “Hmm, that was quite a negative thought. I wonder where it came from?” and then let it go.
Pro Tip: Use a technique to focus the mind
The many meditation traditions typically have just one major difference — they use a different technique to focus the mind.
- Transcendental meditators use a mantra.
- Buddhists in the Vipassana tradition use a body scanning technique.
- Hari Krishnas chant different names of the divine.
Use whatever works the best for you. If you are just getting started, the simplest method is to just focus on the breath.
Try and keep your attention on the sensation of your breath moving across the strip of skin that separates your nostrils on the underside of your nose as you inhale and exhale. When your mind wanders, bring your focus back to this sensation.
3. Start smart.
You might think you need to meditate an hour a day or head off on a 10-day silent meditation retreat to get the benefit, but you’ll have a much better chance of success if you engineer an initial win for yourself.
I recommend starting with a seven-day commitment to meditate just once per day for a total of three minutes. That’s right, just three minutes.
Find a comfortable and quiet place to meditate, set a timer for three minutes, and sit quietly until the timer goes off.
If you’d like to continue to sit quietly after the timer goes off you may do so, but when your three minutes are up you have fulfilled your obligation and may continue on with your day guilt-free.
Take Action Now
Meditation is now the most important tool I have in my wellness toolkit, and I use it on a daily basis to relieve stress, get centered and just spend a few quiet moments enjoying a heightened experience of life.
If you find yourself constantly stressed and anxious, have trouble sleeping at night, or just know that you need to reclaim some peace of mind, then this is a natural, effective and free solution that can change the game.
Who knows, you might even find that you bring a little more fun, laughter and joy to your life. But only if you get started.
Here’s what to do right now:
- Pick a time and a place that you will meditate. Find a quiet place where you can sit comfortably for a few minutes each day and commit to a time. First thing after you wake up works best for some. Try to anchor it to a previous activity. For example, I will sit down to meditate right after I brush my teeth in the morning or right after I get out of bed.
- Choose a start date. Choose a date to start your seven-day meditation experiment. It should be within a week from reading this. There will never be a perfect time to start!
- Block out the time on your calendar. Once you pick your start date, note the date in your calendar and block off time for your daily meditation. This helps cement your commitment and increase accountability.
If you’d like a little extra support and accountability, I’ve put together a free guide to meditation and a chance to join me on a guided meditation challenge. You can sign up here.
The Magic Pill
I’d like to leave you with this excerpt from Jonathan Haidt’s book the Happiness Hypothesis:
Suppose you read about a pill that you could take once a day to reduce anxiety and increase your contentment. Would you take it? Suppose further that the pill has a great variety of side effects, all of them good: increased self-esteem, empathy, and trust; it even improves memory. Suppose, finally, that the pill is all natural and costs nothing. Now would you take it? The pill exists. It’s called meditation.
So what are you waiting for?