If you already have a solid meditation practice – Rock on! If you want to create a practice but haven’t been able to get started – READ on!
Here are the three things that tripped me up most when trying to create this valuable habit & how I overcame them:
- I was under the misconception that in order to “meditate” I needed to “clear my mind”
I am Type-A, self-diagnosed with more-than-a-touch of OCD, and I am most comfortable in fast paced environments – which makes me impatient.For me, I am fairly certain that “clearing my mind” is not something that is going to happen. Ever.
Setting a goal to ‘clear my mind’ was setting me up for failure.
But I thought that was how the whole meditating thing worked…?
So I failed at it, avoided it, and ultimately chalked it up as something better suited for a different kind of person – probably someone who surfs more and showers less than I do.
What I have now learned is that ‘clearing my mind’ is not the aim of mediation (not for me anyway).
At first I would sit in meditation and it wasn’t much different than sitting, well, not-in-meditation. My thoughts would come rapidly, my mind would wander, and nothing special seemed to be happening. (More on this ‘nothing special’-ness in point #2) As I have become more consistent in my practice I find that meditating doesn’t stop me from having thoughts but instead allows me to notice them.
I visualize this as if my thoughts were attached to clouds by a clothes pin. Each cloud passing through with its own individual clothes-pinned thought in tow. Once the thought comes into focus I have the choice to keep it hovering and explore it in more detail or to give it a gentle push and send it floating on its way. I mentally thank the non-productive thought-cloud for stopping by and ask it to please continue on its journey. No room for you here right now, negative thought. Peace out.
I have learned how to better distinguish my thoughts – both during meditation and in the ‘real world’. Once you can distinguish what something is you dramatically increase the control you have over it.
I am a firm believer that there are only two things that impact the way we experience life: our thoughts and our habits. This habit (meditating) offers me more control over my thoughts and, therefore, my LIFE.
I had to take the important step of changing my expectation to gain that control. Expecting to clear my thoughts would never have gotten me here. Expecting instead to notice my thoughts = game changer.
- I thought something was supposed to “happen”
The first time you exercise you do not instantly transform into perfect health.
The first time you make a positive change in a financial habit you are not instantly wealthy.
Why do we expect that the first time we meditate we’ll feel instantly zen? Or expect something to “happen”?
Sure it’s possible to feel more relaxed right away just like it’s possible to feel stronger after your first session back to the gym, but neither scenarios guarantee the corresponding sensation, and if you do feel something immediately that feeling is just the tip of the iceberg.
The game changing key for me here was to just stick with it. The commitment was critical.
I started with a 40 day commitment and all I required of myself was to just ‘show up’. Just show up and try every day for 40 days. Do not judge. Do not try to be perfect. Do not look for the “something” to “happen”.
My favorite quote on commitment and consistency is from Darren Hardy’s book “The Compound Effect”. In this particular paragraph Darren is expanding on a quote by Jim Rohn. I love this and I repeat it to myself often:
“What’s simple to do is also simple not to do. The magic is not in the complexity of the task; the magic is in the doing of simple things repeatedly and long enough to ignite the miracle of the Compound Effect. So, beware of neglecting the simple things that make the big things in your life possible. The biggest difference between successful people and unsuccessful people is that successful people are willing to do what unsuccessful people are not. Remember that; it will come in handy many times throughout life when faced with a difficult, tedious, or tough choice.”
This framework can (and should) be applied to basically everything in life and it was important for me to take this to my meditation pillow. I had to learn that the magic will “happen” if you keep showing up.
- I was pretty sure I didn’t have “time” to meditate
I have a standard-to-extensive morning ‘getting ready’ routine for a 30 something girl who likes hair and makeup. I have never once in my adult life had an experience of getting ready ‘too quickly’. I’ve never looked at my watch and thought – I’ll just sit on the couch for a few minutes and watch ___ (whatever adults watch – news? Not my cup of tea anyway but, you know.)
My point is it’s not like premeditation me was strategizing how to fill all of her extra time in the morning! I had a window of time in the morning and my morning routine filled that window exactly. Believe it or not there’s actually a term for this: Parkinson’s Law.
Parkinson’s Law states that a task will expand so as to fill the time available for its completion.
Parkinson’s Law is part of the reason that nobody feels like they “have time” for anything, but it’s simply not true.
We have time for what we prioritize. We have time for what’s important to us.
This one is tricky with meditation because for us to bother to ‘make time’ (as if it’s something we manufacture) for it we have to believe it’s important.
Marianne Williamson frequently relates meditation to bathing. We bathe every morning because we find it unacceptable/inappropriate to go into a new day with yesterdays ‘dirt’ on our bodies. Once we realize the power and benefit or meditation we realize it’s equally unacceptable/inappropriate to go into a new day with yesterdays ‘dirt’ on our minds.
You wouldn’t forego showering or brushing your teeth in the morning and justify it by telling yourself you don’t have time. You’d take the task into consideration when planning your morning. You’d wake up at a time that would to allow you to get it all done.
I had (have) time. So do you.
If you’re looking to start a meditation practice (and I wholeheartedly recommend that you do!) try keeping these three points in mind:
- You do not have to ‘clear your mind’
- It’s working even if you don’t “feel” anything the first (or second, or third) time
- Commit to a time frame and stick to it
- Be easy with yourself – just commit to ‘showing up’ and let the rest flow naturally
- You have the time (as long as it’s important to you)
I have had many girlfriends tell me “Oh yeah, meditation, I’ve tried it a few times and it’s never worked.” My answer? “I could say the same thing about dating but it’s not going to stop me from trying again” 😉
PEACE, LOVE & MEDITATIVE MORNINGS
40 Day Challenge: Why and What?
I did my first 40 day challenge in December of 2015 because I wanted to start a meditation practice.
The stories I told myself prior to beginning this (and throughout the first days) were:
- I don’t ‘get’ meditation (how does it even work!?)
- I am too ‘type-A’ to ‘quiet my thoughts’ or ‘clear my mind’
- I will just fall asleep if I try to meditate first thing in the morning
- I won’t be able to sit still in the morning because I’ll be running mental checklists of all the things I need to do (shower, blow dry my hair, straighten my hair, put on makeup, pick out an outfit <–I mean all really important stuff!)
- I just don’t have time to meditate
But somewhere inside of me a little voice kept telling me I had to do it. Had to figure it out.
I had tried meditation during some isolated incidents (yoga classes and whatnot) and I liked how it felt.
I am also a big Tim Ferriss podcast listener (if you’re unfamiliar with Tim he ‘deconstructs’ habits of the most successful people on the planet) and he found something like 85%+ of these major successes had regular meditation practices. So I thought: Fine. 40 days. I can do anything for 40 days. (You know, because I am ‘type-A’ and am great at mental checklists… see points 2 & 4 above. Wink.)
I started with a Kundalini Meditation called “Making the Impossible Possible” and in 40 days I felt like my life had literally transformed. (I have specifics on this particular meditation b/c while I think any meditation is better than none, this one really rocked my world so I highly recommend it.)
After completing the first 40 days I thought I had cracked the code and would be a daily meditator (word?) for life.
Perhaps this happens to some people — not me.
The open-ended nature of “daily practice” was too flexible for me (go figure). I didn’t feel like it was a ‘mission’ or ‘challenge’ anymore so I let myself off the hook… sometimes for days at a time.
I have since decided that two effective methods for me are:
- Having a finite timeline. If I commit to something for 40 days I know that each individual day is critical and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel (even from the starting line.) In other words I can wrap my head around 40 days – I, personally, cannot yet wrap my head around ‘everyday’ and/or ‘forever’.
- Having an accountability group. I started a simple Facebook page called “Tribe 40” where anyone who wants to take on a 40 day challenge can join and share their experience. At this point it usually ends up being a lot of posts by me and one or two other tribe members – but we’ll continue to build. My hope is that people get what they need from it. I (personally) use the public forum as a way to stay accountable. Maybe some people can use it to see others attempting their own challenges before they’re ready to dive into a challenge themselves. I think every step towards self-development ROCKS so the Tribe 40 page is there to encourage those steps.
I am not going to attempt to explain WHY 40 days — throughout history and religion this 40 day time frame shows up a lot. But I am NOT an expert in either of those fields.
Yogi’s prescribe practices for 40/90/120 or 1000 days. This link will explain a little: https://www.3ho.org/kundalini-yoga/sadhana/40901201000-day-sadhanas
Bottom line? For me, it works. And that’s good enough.
When choosing my OWN 40 day challenges, I try to look at areas I am avoiding in my life or things I am making excuses about. (My list of excuses above about why I ‘could never’ be someone who meditates is a perfect example.)
If there’s something I want to try, a habit I want to develop, a little nagging voice telling me I should really do “X” or “Y”, I try to put it into a 40 day challenge for myself. So far the experience has been incredible and life changing.
I am ALWAYS happy to share exactly what my personal ‘challenge’ consists of (I am super into this so I’ll go so far as to make videos, send links, recommended books, resources, whatever I can!) but more often than not I find that the “right” challenge for you (for example) will be different from the “right” challenge for me.
My purpose in inviting people to join me is not to say “do the exact thing I am doing for 40 days” but more “grow with me by doing what YOU know YOU need to do for 40 days – and we can encourage each other along the way”. We are all in this together!
I believe that there are only two things that impact the way we experience life: OUR HABITS and OUR THOUGHTS. And the coolest part is that we control both!!!
A 40 day practice is an amazing way to exert some power over both your HABITS and THOUGHTS and I highly recommend trying it out!
PEACE & LOVE.