I use podcast transcription software on some episodes such as this one to produce an automated transcript. These transcripts are far from perfect, so this post is a shorter, edited version of what an algorithm thought I said during the podcast 😀.
My great conversation with Steve Hui from iFLYFlat on Episode 2, made me think about what are some of the other myths surrounding meditation and mindfulness and meditation in particular.
I want to give you a confidence boost when you're doing your meditations, either as a beginner or someone who's been doing it for a while, so that you can just focus on doing a bit day by day and getting better and not so worried about questions such as - Am I doing it right or am I doing it wrong?
Because there is no one right way, but I think there are a lot of preconceived ideas people have on mindfulness and meditation in particular.
Mindfulness is not just about meditation
Firstly, understand that mindfulness does not equal meditation alone. There's a lot more to being mindful than meditating. If you get really good at meditation, you will probably lead a more mindful life. However, for some people, just meditating alone won't get you there. And you know what? That's okay, because as an entrepreneur or a creator or an innovator, the whole point of trying to be more mindful is to help you through those ups and downs to help you better manage yourself and then better manage others.
As Headspace.com notes,
"Mindfulness is the quality of being present and fully engaged with whatever we're doing at the moment, free from distraction or judgement and aware of our thoughts and feelings without getting caught up in them. We train in this moment to moment awareness through meditation, allowing us to build the skill of mindfulness so that we can then apply it to everyday life. In teaching the mind to be present, we are teaching ourselves to be living more mindfully in the present, taking a breath and not beholden to reactive thoughts and feelings, which is particularly helpful when faced with challenging circumstances or difficult situations."
So take the pressure off yourself whether you meditate or even if you don't just do the mindful activity that makes sense for you. And if meditation isn't for you, for whatever reason, that's okay. You're not doing it wrong. Remember, our goal here is to do whatever mindful activity helps us better manage ourselves and others.
Don't try and get your meditation 100% "right"
There is no right way, and especially if you're starting out, don't put too much pressure on yourself. Lower your expectations, and please - the most important thing is to actually get started and make it a habit.
Speaking of which, it can be a few minutes each day. Use an app, or as I mentioned in Episode 1 - just be still.
To help build the habit, try and meditate at the same time of the day. Especially if it's in the morning, you're just more likely to do it and get started. And if you aimed for seven days a week and you only get to five days a week in your first week or two, don't worry about that.
You're still not doing it wrong. You're actually doing it right because you are starting to form a habit, and forming habits takes time.
Let your thoughts come to you
It's perfectly normal to sit down, to meditate and just have a lot of thoughts going on through your head. When you start off meditating, this can be very distracting and actually make you think that you're not doing it right. It's not going well, and then you get down on yourself and you start thinking about it too much.
Then you're thinking about thinking and before you know it, your mind's a bit of a jumble, and you haven't achieved any sort of meditation or mindfulness. It can happen to the best of us, and that's because we can't operate our minds like a light switch. You can't just flick it on and off. And especially if you're working in the sort of environments that we're working in, it can be very hard to put a physical and mental distance between what you're going through and then trying to say to yourself, "Okay, now I'm in a different setting, trying to achieve something else."
So what to do? Well, firstly, just do a double-check that you're in the right physical space for your meditation. Are you going to be disturbed? Has something changed since you got there? Maybe it's a bit noisier. Or perhaps the background noises are getting to you more because once you've got still, you might have heard them more.
If you're really finding it difficult to quieten the mind before your meditation, try being still. This is what I do if I encounter this problem, I sit still for around five minutes. But it might be a bit longer for you to just let those thoughts come without judgement and be good to yourself. Don't judge yourself. Don't judge those thoughts. Just note them to yourself.
Tell yourself it's okay to be having these thoughts, that it's all right. After my five minutes or so, I find that the stillness has helped get those thoughts out of my brain. After that I know I'm ready to meditate. Now the idea isn't that at the end five minutes or 10 minutes, that you will be perfectly ready and no other thoughts will be in your head. But you should have by that stage gotten over the worst of the random, mind-cluttering thoughts to kickstart your meditation.
During your meditation, as more thoughts come to you it's important not to be so judgmental; to just notice them and accept them for what they are and to not use those thoughts to go back into the past or fast forward into the future. If you don't note something successfully and you actually start thinking more deeply about it, very quickly you can transition into slipping into the past to try and analyse and solve. So when you can sense yourself starting to do that, that's when you need to really focus back on your breath and let go. Note the thoughts and tell yourself this is not the time for problem-solving, there is plenty of time for that later.
You will get better with practice, and it's perfectly fine to have distracting thoughts in the first few weeks, which are hard to curtail. Take the pressure off and notice your improvement over time. Funnily enough, this might be the first time you have given yourself some time to think in silence, so it's natural that your mind takes the opportunity to fill the void with a flurry of thoughts.
Building a healthy habit
Build a meditation and mindfulness habit in a way that makes sense to you. Don't be pressured into prescriptive methods of having to do it every day. Meditation apps, in particular, are obsessed with this concept of "Streaks". Streaks are a measure of how many consecutive days you have meditated. It can be a useful measure, but it can also be a hindrance if you put too much emphasis on it.
The founder of Headspace, Andy Puddicombe, puts it really well:
"And so we come back to the run streak. If we think it is about the number itself, then we are missing the point. I've heard of people crying when they unintentionally miss a day and the run streak is interrupted. I've also heard of others being furious, even when they intentionally skip a day, and realise they are at zero when they next log on.
If we experience this level of attachment to the run streak, then it might just be time to reframe our approach to it altogether. It may well be that we've unwittingly become competitive in our meditation, whether with oneself or others. Or it might be that we're using it as a way to judge oneself or others. Either way, we are at risk of causing ourselves unnecessary stress."
Reflect on your mediations
Something that really works for me is to keep a journal about my meditation or mindfulness. No, I don't mean noting something down after each meditation session or every day. It's not something that I force myself to do. It's something which just tends to happen when some significant thoughts come to me, and I find it really useful to write them down. But more importantly, to then reflect on them at a later time. As I flick through the entries in that book, I realise they fall into one of a couple of categories.
The first is when I am listening to a meditation, and I hear something that really resonates with me - especially if it's a quote, something which I really want to remember for later. But other times it will be more practical, and I'll actually write down a set of next actions or tasks that I want to do over the next week or month or so to try and apply some of the things that really resonated with me.
The magic really happens when, weeks or months later I'm flicking through the book, and read something which I said I was going to do to help improve a particular area - or think about something differently - and I can see that I followed through and did it.
It not only gives me a sense of achievement but builds the momentum on effective practice. If you don't enjoy writing, start small. You don't have to write an essay to have the same effect - just use your phone's note taking app for example to record your thoughts.
Articles mentioned in the episode and this post
- In stillness, simplicity is the key - mindfulventuring.com
- What is mindfulness? - headspace.com
- Your run streak is not about the number - headspace.com
- 7 myths of meditation - chopra.com