I used to go to a yoga class that started with a few minutes of meditation designed to help us "find our center."
I never found my (gosh darn) center.
Instead I spent the whole time thinking about how I couldn't seem to think about anything but the fact I couldn't stop thinking about trying not to think. And that made me feel stupid, and feeling stupid made me think meditation was stupid. (It's funny how we dismiss things if we aren't good at them. Or maybe that's just me?)
So yeah, meditation and I weren't a good fit.
But we should have been, if only because of some of the scientifically-proven benefits of meditation:
- Eight weeks of mindful meditation appears to make measurable changes in brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress.
- Approximately thirty minutes of daily meditation may improve symptoms of anxiety and depression.
- Regular meditation can lead to less insomnia, fatigue, and depression.
Improve wellness and reduce stress by changing the brain's chemistry? Sweet.
But I still didn't want to mediate.
Then I talked with Michael Trainer, the founder of Peak Mind, a social action platform that creates educational and inspirational content and experiences to help people reach their highest potential, and the co-creator of Global Citizen, an organization dedicated to helping the world's poor.
This is how our conversation went:
I'll admit that to me meditation sounds too new-age or mystical (or something). And I don't see how meditating will improve my life or my business.
Here's what I always say to analytical types: the benefits are scientifically verified. Mindfulness and mediation increases the neuroplasticity of our brains.
Many of us grew up with the idea that 90% of our brain is dormant and we spend the rest of our lives killing off brain cells. But you can actually change the physical structure as well as the activity in your brain: decrease the size of your amygdala, reduce your fight or flight instinct, increase the size of your hippocampus, which is where critical thinking and memory all flow... and all those things are critical to business success.
Meditation and mindfulness can get you from here to there.
But still--there's a spiritual aspect I'm just not sure about.
Meditation isn't a practice that is grounded in mysticism and you don't have to hold any types of spiritual beliefs. Meditation is basically like taking your brain to the gym. And you can do it in ten minutes a day.
Also keep in mind that many of the world's top performing people incorporate meditation into their morning routines. (Actually having a morning routine--meditation included or not--is a practice that many top performers tend to follow.)
Steve Jobs meditated. Marc Benioff of Salesforce meditates. Jeff Weiner of LinkedIn, Ray Dalio of Bridgewater Associates, Oprah, Arianna Huffington, Howard Stern... all use meditation to improve their performance.
So let's say I decide to try it. Tell me how.
The most important thing to cultivating a meditation practice isn't paying an expensive teacher or going to a class. Those can be helpful, but the main barrier to entry is that people believe they're doing it wrong.
All you have to do is sit down, keep your back straight, and focus on your inward breath and your outward breath.
If your mind wanders, that's not bad. You're not doing it wrong. Everyone's mind wanders.
Just breathe in, breathe in, and watch your breath. While Transcendental Meditation focuses on sound, where you use a mantra to ground your mind, for people just getting into it just focus on your breath.
Again, you're not not doing it wrong if you find yourself thinking; you're only doing it wrong if you don't try to refocus on your breathing.
The key is to commit to doing it for a period of time: 8 weeks, ten minutes a day.
I know I won't be perfect, but I will get frustrated and will probably quit if I don't feel like I get at least little better at meditating. What's an easy way to tell if I'm improving?
One, remember that you're still doing it right if you find yourself thinking. Positive changes are taking place even when you're thinking.
Your goal should just be to create more space between those thoughts. You'll never totally turn your brain off. But if you can occasionally go for longer periods before you realize you need to refocus on your breathing... that means you're improving.
The key is to practice and give yourself time to build that muscle. It's like going to the gym: you won't see improvement until you consistently do the reps.
So How Did It Go?
The first day I mostly thought about trying not to think.
Ditto for the second and third days.
But on the fourth day I realized that seconds had passed and all I had thought about was my breathing. That was very cool.
And then on the fifth day I spent the whole time wondering why I couldn't recapture those moments from day four.
And now? I'm only a couple weeks in, but I can already tell I'm improving. I sometimes go for twenty or thirty seconds before I need to refocus on my breathing.
And Michael was right: after ten minutes I feel a little less tense, a little less stressed... and instead of starting my day like a crazed squirrel, I feel more focused.
Not a ton more focused, but more than a little--and definitely enough to make me keep meditating.
And even if I only improve my gaps between thinking a little more, still: the physical and mental benefits are definitely worth it.