Over the last few weeks, I've dealt with personal struggles, and I knew my usual way of dealing with my struggle would be to analyze myself. I would get stuck in a pattern of telling myself "I could have done better". Even though what had happened was outside of my control, but I always want to do more or be more. I always hold myself responsible. While in that closed loop of thinking it is easy to fall into a sense of unworthiness and mentally beat myself up in believing things I would never say to anyone else.
This mindset I wanted to avoid entirely. I wanted to take this opportunity to grow into a new direction from an entirely new perspective: Mediation.
I know meditation can be a touchy subject and can be hard to grasp. I was one of those people. I've listened to many podcasts on the different mindfulness practices used by the world’s top performers. Not all of them call it meditation. Even with the body of evidence growing, I still had an aversion to meditation. I had tried it a few times before, but it felt odd and counter-intuitive. The habit didn't stick. As the type of person who is always moving on to the next box to check off. The idea of just stopping, even for a minute, was a huge hurdle I had to get past.
To add some context, a close friend of mine, Mike actively sharing his experiences with meditation with me. He started is the exploration into meditation a few months ago and would talk openly about he felt about it. He is the type of person judge himself from how he feels. Where I am more apt to think myself out of problems he follows his feelings. We'd have these long and deep discussions on meditation. Whenever we would get too deep, I would stop him and say “you're getting to woo-woo on me.” I'm still an engineer at heart, meaning that I see the world in mostly the physical realm and it’s hard for me to conceptualize these topics without a bit more grounding. Basically, he lost me and at times he would get frustrated at what I was disagreeing with. The issue came from not having the same framework. I had no way to articulate the benefits or feelings that are attributed to these kinds of practices. In some ways, these are like the accounted reports of people who have used psychedelics (see Michael Pollan's How to Change Your Mind). The same resistance appears when trying to show someone the benefits of working out. You can talk about how good you feel until you’re blue in the face, but the other person has to feel the difference for themselves to become a believer.
So instead of going on a tirade of how much better I feel, since beginning meditative exercises, I want this to be a practical example for someone like myself who might not be giving meditation a chance or closing the door prematurely. The first step is if the word meditation scares because how layered meanings and deep roots it has makes it seem far away. I think of monks in a monastery or sitting on mountaintop cross-legged. The perception of that makes it some more difficult to give yourself to the okay to try. Changing meditation to headspace has been helpful. (Full disclosure I am using the Headspace app) While it is the name of the app, I believe it's a great word to demystify all the added meanings around the practice.
The step would be to set yourself up for an easy win. Meaning you set yourself up so just by the act of doing meditation you allow yourself to win. It doesn’t matter for how long or when the fact you do it is what matters. The app has a foundation which lays out the groundwork to get people familiar with it. In the intro course, you can select from a duration of 3, 5, or 10 minutes. As a beginner, having options is huge and making a commitment to just three minutes a day can see positive benefits. For me, I had completed the foundation and jumped into a 30-day pack with a duration of 10, 15, or 20 minutes. Committing to an extended period has helped. The shorter duration doesn't allow me to calm down enough to really be in the moment completely.
Going into this I've been exposed to many different meditation teachers from podcasts. Tim Ferriss' tip of daily consistency. The minimum effective dose of 7-10 days of consistent practice is when you feel the state switch. This held true for me, and it may feel difficult at first because your thoughts are all over the place and you’re not relaxed. But that's all part of the process if we are continually interacting with our thoughts all day, every day, how you can expect just to be able to let that go?
One of the best descriptions of meditation I've heard is you imagine a river or stream, and you investigate it. The leaves floating down the stream are your thoughts and normal operation you pick up each leaf and give it a second or two before moving on to the next one. While getting headspace you still see all those thoughts and just watch them move by you don't interact with one on one, and when you do drift back, you just gently place it again and continue watching. This is very powerful.
Now with over 30 days of meditation under my belt, it has been a very different shift in my views. There's a benefit to this that can be hard to describe. For me, the benefits have subtle but impactful. The feeling is one of calm and mental lightness where the ability to focus on what really matters to you is much easier. It’s like getting a massage but for your brain, getting all the knots out your thoughts so you can think more clearly. It ’s a mental exercise like that of working out for the body.
Here's my recommendation: Commit to the introductory course on the Headspace app, it’s only 10 minutes for 10 days. This will let you see the benefits for yourself!
Find out more about Headspace here.
If you want to dive even deeper into these ideas, I recorded a podcast with Michael Greenberg. Our conversation circled around many of things I mentioned here, but is much more articulate. Listen below and check out the podcast. Episode Link.