Like (almost) everything in life, it started with Elliott Hulse.
2 years ago, it was meditation. Via YouTube, I heard how meditation had transformed his life. It made him feel so good, in fact, that he’d stop after a couple of months. Figured he didn’t need it anymore.
Sound familiar? Compare with yours truly in Madrid.
Iain takes up meditation > Iain feels like a boss > Iain thinks he doesn’t need to meditate no more > Iain stops meditating.
Ahh… the naivete of youth. Thinking that because you’re “successful”, the rules of success don’t apply, when actually, they apply even more.
Just ask Napoleon. His battlefield success came from making bold, decisive moves that caught his enemies paralysed. The reason he was able to do this? His armies were small, versatile and quick-moving. Yet on his fateful Russian campaign, he took a massive hulk of an army, and got a taste of his own medicine.
Having had such a positive experience with meditation, and being in a new, Mexican-style Arena, I felt the time was ripe to harvest the habit once more. Only this time, with a twist.
Enter Gratitude Meditation
(Sorry. Pavlovian response.)
Iain, cut the new-age. What’s gratitude meditation?
Gratitude meditation is… well, meditation that leaves you brimming with gratitude. How is this achieved? Lot’s of ways. In my case, a guided meditation by Tony Robbins. Here it is if you want to try it: (about 1:30 in)
In all, it takes about 5 minutes.
And the point of this is…..?
The ultimate goal is to connect the “incredible power of the mind with the infinite power of the heart”, and solve internal conflicts.
For the scientists:
Your heart and mind give off electrical signals called the ECG and the EEG. If you measure them, most people’s are completely out of sync, like two horses trying to pull a chariot in different directions. But after just two minutes of breathing into your heart, they become not just closer, but identical. Your heart is producing hormones that affect your mind. You literally change your physiology.
For the… jedis:
It’s impossible to feel anger/fear and gratitude at the same time. Gratitude is the antidote. By filling yourself up with gratitude, you remove fear.
So my hope: the meditation itself increases concentration and presence, plus the gratitude and heart-mind syncing frees me up to enjoy life more, take greater risks and cut through complex problems.
Not bad with just two 5 minute sessions a day, eh? I added this gratitude meditation on top of 5 minutes of normal meditation, so that made 20 minutes total meditation per day. Morning routine: tabatan, meditate, cold shower, journal, caawwwfee.
Without further ado…. the results! (Enter boffin in lab coat with envelope.)
Insane Clarity of Mind
(subtitle: Emotional eating be gone)
Ever since university, I’ve been an emotional eater. When I get stressed, I eat. When I’m under pressure, I eat. It’s always pretty healthy. But a half kilo of peanut butter is a half kilo of peanut butter.
This month, my main source of stress has been coding. I friggin’ hate coding. (Maybe this is a fixed mindset, so let me reframe that. I would LOVE to spend two months learning to code.)
Also, I hate not knowing stuff. I hate it when people tell me what works, but not how or why it works. So with my lack of coding skills, DreamBigStartSmall often drives me round the bend. And building the 30 Day Challenge.. let’s just say it tickled my frustration bone.
One night sums it up perfectly. After two days of wrestling with a rogue plug-in, and making no headway, I was incredibly frustrated. Completely losing the plot. Late that night, I’d had enough. I restrained myself from despatching the monitor with a swift round-house, and went home.
Extreme frustration, time sensitive deadlines… It’s the perfect emotional eating recipe. Stress and peanut butter are inversely proportional.
But instead of going full on Pooh bear-style when I get home… nothing happened. Absolutely nothing. And I felt weird. I thought to myself… Hmm… I usually eat, but meh, I’m not feeling it tonight. I proceeded to pour myself a humble glass of water instead.
It was insane! Complete lack of internal battle… I expected a fight, but they never showed up. Incredible!
For the month overall, I feel like I should’ve been way more stressed out, given the circumstances. (New country, no income, money dwindling, speaking in foreign language.) But no, chillin’ all the way. Win.
Happiness, Kid-like joy, Lower Inhibition
I’ve been moderately to noticeable happier on a daily basis. This could be due to the fact that I skyped loads of incredible friends. Or maybe it’s the reverse – I skyped them because I was happy. Hmmm.
Anyway, on the whole, the majority of my relationships both on and off skype improved. Win. In general, more joy to go round.
On the flip-side, I was less tolerant of people who I wanted out of my life. So on the one side, more tender, on the other, more ruthless. Is mental clarity the right interpretation?
I also found myself less inhibited. Like casually doing push ups on the street outside the computer cafe, doing a set of walking lunges down the whole street in broad day light, wearing odd(er than usual) clothing on purpose… Dancing in the gym….
Meditation. WARNING: may cause post-deadlift dancing. Ooooohhhh yeaaah.
3. More Focus
Facebook: This month was a complete facebook fast. I only spoke to people to arrange Skype. That’s it. But I never intended it to be that way. It just.. happened. 100% natural. 100% organic. Weird, huh?
And what’s more… I actually enjoyed the liberation. I felt free only checking facebook once a day for Skype.
The focus has showed up in other ways, too. Reading books, able to get in the zone more easily, being more objective about myself through journalling… On the books, my usual scatter-gun reading has become more laser-like. Picking out what I need, finding it easier to stop when it becomes irrelevant.. Win.
In general, I feel I was better and more quickly able to identify areas that I need to focus on. So, more focus meant I was able to identify where I wasn’t focusing on… Savvy? It’s almost been like a mirror with journalling. Everyday, I get a good look at the ol’ mug, and see what I’m liking and what I’m not.
In terms of productivity – I’ve definitely become much more productive as the challenge has progressed. For example, working with greater concentration for longer periods of time.
Meditation is epic. And, if the Dalai Lama says that it takes 50 hours until you really start feelin’ it, then I’m chomping at the bit to see what the next few months looks like. (I’ve done 10 hours total this month.)
However, there’s also been a.. small monster rearing it’s ugly head.
At the start of the challenge, I really focused in on the meditation – why I was doing it, what I was trying to achive etc. But as time went on, and my mental concentration increased, I started to focus less on the meditation itself. Ironic, huh?
The last week in particular, I felt like I was going through the motions and jumping through the hoops rather than being wholly invested in the process. It’s the whole “if I’m successful, the rules no longer apply”. So this is something to keep focusing on as the year progresses. Focusing on trying to avoid not focusing on focusing on nothing. Wait… what?
Basically, the challenge highlighted the need to avoid going through the motions, and staying present.
As Josh Waitzkin says in The Art of Learning:
” It is all too easy to get caught up in the routines of our lives and to lose creativity in the learning process. Even people who are completely devoted to cultivating a certain discipline often fall into a mental rut, a disengaged lifestyle that implies excellence can be obtained by going through the motions. We lose presence.”
Your 30 Day Meditation Challenge
If you want to achieve your life-long dream of becoming a jedi (there better be more than one purple lightsaber) then here’s my suggestions.
Start really, really small. No more than 5 minutes at a time. I’d go for between 1 and 5 minutes once a day.
Practicalities: depending on your level of ass-cushioning, choose comfy rug or hard floor. Then sit, cross legs, close eyes, and breathe. (P.S Set timer before you start.) Whenever you get distracted by a thought, bring your attention back to your breathing. This could be the sensation of your chest rising, or the air on your nostrils, or something else.
The Tony Robbins guided gratitude meditation can be downloaded from the Tim Ferris show here.
Ooompah loompahs… giant blueberry… rivers of chocolate-
Sorry. I’m off to meditate.