A Simple Guide on How to Meditate for NORMAL PEOPLE

Hey National, 

Hope everyone had a great week. Does anyone else notice that the weather has been (enter explicative here) lately? Can't wait for warmer days!

OK, now for some other shenanigans I get into....

Meditation. It's a word that felt so hippy and New Age mumbo jumbo, I avoided it like the plague. Lately I've been having this odd urge to try it. Everyone who isn't a complete jerk understands the benefits of 1-3x a day quieting the mind and slowing down and relaxing. I could include a fancy list of "medical benefits" like "lowers stress, blood pressure, anxiety, etc.", blah blah. You KNOW IT'S GOOD FOR YOU. 

So why haven't I done it--ever? I'm a natural medicine doc-to-be and I still haven't done it?! What hope is there for the other Joe Blows who don't care about health as much as I do? 

Therein lies why I write today. A challenge--a self-improvement challenge and experiment into the realm of developing automatic habits. When someone tells me, "Oh, I can't eat healthy or (enter healthy habit)," I respond with, "Do you brush your teeth?" The answer is always, aside from the strange look they temporarily shoot me as they move farther away as if my hidden message was they have terrible breath, "Yes." Good! That means you can be healthy! 

You see, all habits are simply routines in your life that you have ingrained into your LIFEstyle. In fact, once you have automated them into your daily routine it literally feels awkward when you don't do something. How many people feel weird when they forget to brush their teeth more than once day? Or don't buckle up on the highway? Nevertheless, you get my point. Ingrain a habit, and after 22-66 days, it will be almost indefinitely a part of you for the foreseeable future. 

That's why diets don't work. People don't actually take the time to ingrain the habit of healthy eating. They just crash diet on some crappy low calorie foods and hope the weight stays off when they return to the SAME HABITS THAT PRODUCED THEIR CURRENT BODY MASS. 

Einstein famously said, "Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of INSANITY." Most dieters, are by Einstein's logic, INSANE. Can you be more successful than the 98% of dieters that fail? Yes, check out Dr. John Berardi at Precision Nutrition. They focus on HABITS and they have INCREDIBLE results and, more importantly, LONG TERM SUCCESS. Alas, my rant is over, and this segues into our post on the habit of meditation and our challenge for you to try it! 

How To Automate a Lifestyle Habit

  1. Overcome/address what I call the "Obstacles to Commit." Have a SIMPLE habit/plan that you can confidently say on a scale of 9/10 you can do EVERY DAY. If you're not 9/10 confident? Make it easier.
  2. Research shows it takes 22-66 days to fully automate a habit. Drinking a glass of water took about 22 days and doing 50 pushups took 66 days to fully automate. Complexity of the habit takes more time to become like a "brushing your teeth" habit.
  3. The app "LIFT."

What were my biggest obstacles to actually trying meditation? 

My Obstacle 1: "I didn't know HOW to meditate and I didn't want to do it wrong."

My Solution: I looked up a SIMPLE 5-minute meditation (explained at the end of this post) to make sure it was effective and a novice could do it and still expect benefits. 

My Obstacle 2: "I didn't really care about doing meditation."

My Solution: I realized that I was so stressed out from school, and I like experimenting, so I decided to try it to be exposed to benefits and see if it's worth it. Notice: I put it in terms of how does it benefit my life. We are selfish creatures. When something is in it for you, you are more likely to commit. 

Is the habit simple enough?

My Habit: Do a 5-minute meditation first thing in the morning before my shower.

Confidence Check: 9/10. Pass. 

A Bad Habit: Do 20 minutes of meditation in the middle of the day.

Confidence Check: 6/10. Fail. Why? It still seems simple? Well, I have never meditated before, and 20 minutes even for more advanced "meditators" is challenging. In addition, although the middle of the day may be the "best" time to neutralize the stress of midday school, I simply would not be able to find 20 minutes to do it. Maybe I could give up part of my lunch break? Do you see why it's not a 2/10 but it's not a 9/10. If it's not a 9, you're going to fail. Focus on early wins and Simplify, Simplify, Simplify. 

I'm going to do the challenge for 14 days. Why? Mainly because I want to track the benefits of meditation. My criteria are: Do I feel more at ease through the day? Do I get overwhelmed by schoolwork? If I really feel better and have higher will power/self control throughout the day then I will make the habit a long-term addition to my day (extending the challenge past 22-66 days). It costs me zero dollars and only 5 minutes of my time.

2013-03-19_lift

Download the Lift App from the App store. Plug in the Habit "Meditate." There are currently 18,000+ people on the app all with the goal of meditating so you will be more motivated to "Check that habit off on a daily basis" and see the tally tracking of the app pile up! Positive reinforcement works!

How To Do A Simple 5-Minute Meditation that Works

Breath focus is a simple but powerful meditation technique for training your brain and increasing willpower. It reduces stress and teaches the mind to handle both Inner Distractions (cravings, worries, desires) and Outer Temptations (sounds, sights, smells).

Step 1: Sit Still and Stay Put.

Sit on a chair or side of your bed. Get comfortable. Put your hands palms up on your lap/thighs. Get relaxed. If you feel itchy or uncomfortable try to refocus on staying still. Staying still is the foundation of self-control and a simple act to control impulsiveness in your brain. 

Step 2: Turn your Attention to Your Breath.

Close your eyes. Begin to notice your breath. Breathe in and breathe out. Silently say "Inhale" and "Exhale." Do this for the first couple minutes to help focus your brain on your breathing. About this time your mind will wander (it will) try to refocus every time this happens on your breathing. The act of refocusing on breathing in and out and being aware of the breath will activate your prefrontal cortex and quiet stress and craving centers in your brain. 

Step 3: Notice How it Feels to Breathe, and Notice How the Mind Wanders.

After a few minutes, drop the labels "inhale/exhale." Try focusing on FEEEE-LING the breath. You might notice the feeling of air flowing in and out of your nose and mouth. You might feel your belly pushing out and in, or (less efficiently) your rib cage elevated and depressing. This part of the practice trains self-awareness along with self-control. 

PRO TIP: Only do 5 minutes a day. If you feel uber confident, do a little bit more like 10-15 minutes. Don't wander from the 5 minutes until you've completed 14 days IN A ROW. Then start experimenting and adding your own stuff to it. Once you've got 14 days under your belt you will be better at meditating than 905% of the population. BOOMMMM! 

Have a Great Week,
CC