Bill Gates doesn't have a lot of free time but he makes sure to meditate as often as he can, usually two or three times a week, he writes in a recent blog post. As Gates has learned, meditation has physiological and brain benefits that have been proven by research again and again.
Gates has changed his mind big-time about meditation. Back when he was in his 20s, he writes, "I thought of meditation as a woo-woo thing tied somehow to reincarnation, and I didn't buy into it." But, he continues, "I now see that meditation is simply exercise for the mind, similar to the way we exercise our muscles when we play sports. For me, it has nothing to do with faith or mysticism. It's about taking a few minutes out of my day, learning how to pay attention to the thoughts in my head, and gaining a little bit of distance from them."
Gates writes that he usually meditates for about 10 minutes at a time, sometimes joined by Melinda Gates. "We use comfortable chairs; there's no way I could do the lotus position," he adds. Is 10 minutes at a time really enough meditation to make a difference? Yes, according to Gates, and according to Andy Puddicombe, co-founder and voice of the app Headspace. Puddicombe, who is a former Buddhist monk and a former circus clown ("I kid you not," Gates writes) created Headspace to teach people to meditate in manageable 10-minute sessions.
Before Headspace, Gates writes that he read several books on meditation. While he found the concept intriguing, he couldn't follow the recommended practices -- he didn't have the time and energy required to get started.
Headspace made the barrier to entry low enough for me. It's just 10 minutes a day of listening to Andy's soothing British accent and trying to stay with him. Andy has taken some heat from hard-core meditators for his low-barrier approach, but he got me to take up meditation and stick with it. I'm glad he did.
Gates recently released his summer reading list, and while Puddicombe's book The Headspace Guide to Meditation and Mindfulness wasn't in the top five, it headed his list of "Other books worth reading."
Even five minutes can help.
For what it's worth, Puddicombe isn't the only one to recommend short meditation sessions. Years ago, I took a meditation class and the very knowledgeable instructor told us that it was better to meditate for five minutes every day than to sit for longer periods less regularly. I took that advice to heart, and while I don't meditate every day, I do try to do it most weekdays. (I worked my way up to seven minutes instead of five.) As Gates discovered, spending just a few minutes on meditation is a surprisingly good way to center your mind and help you ignore distractions and focus on what you need to do for the rest of the day. I tend to do silent meditation, using a mantra, rather than listen to guided meditation recordings.
Both techniques are equally valid, though, and can bring just as many benefits. Whether you use a recording to guide you or listen only to your own internal voice, the few minutes you spend on meditation will more than pay for themselves in increased productivity. They'll probably make you happier, too.