“That’s just the way my mind works.”
Have you ever said that?
I used to say it a lot. I had this idea that my thoughts controlled everything. Like they were the CEO of the rest of me. That was before I understood what mindfulness was.
Mindfulness is being aware of what your mind is doing. It’s realizing that you constantly have thoughts rolling through your brain but also recognizing that your mind is not the CEO – it just has a job to do.
The tricky part of mindfulness is that your mind loves its job. It likes to think about stuff. It starts to think about more and more stuff and it doesn’t stop. It keeps you up at night. It makes you feel anxious. It convinces you that you always need to be doing more.
AND this is the point where you might feel frustrated and say “That’s just the way my mind works.” It’s going so fast it doesn’t seem possible to slow it down.
Fortunately, that’s not entirely true. It’s the way your mind works now but it doesn’t have to be THE ONLY way it works. There are alternative paths. And meditation is the key to finding them.
Dan Harris’s book, Meditation for the Fidgety Skeptic, is a perfect starting point to help on this journey of managing your mind. If Dan’s name sounds familiar, it should. He’s a staple of the ABC news programs Good Morning America and Nightline. He’s in an industry where minds need to work at lightning speed to keep up with constantly changing events.
Given the demands of a fast-paced career in television news, it might surprise you that Dan was able to combine his favorite passions: sharing information with the world and meditation. They seem like polar opposites – consuming knowledge at an accelerated rate and then slowing down to focus only on the present moment. But Dan understands the power and importance of being able to balance the two. He decided to write Mediations for the Fidgety Skeptic to share what he learned in hopes of helping others.
In the book, he takes a road trip with meditation expert, Jeff Warren, to understand why so many people resist meditation and how to help them get past those roadblocks. He shares this journey with easy-to-read, practical steps for those who struggle to stick with meditation.
His book is organized around all the excuses for not creating a meditation practice. Two chapters, titled “I can’t do this” and “I don’t have time for this,” directly speak to the reasons you might be avoiding meditation and break them down to help you transform your way of thinking.
In the passage below, Dan speaks to why our brain’s “normal” state of multi-tasking might be holding us back:
“Concentration is being in the zone, it’s unifying attention into a single stream of activity. It quiets things down inside, which for many of us comes as a huge relief. It’s only when we get a break from our endless mental churn of opinions, obsessions, and exuberances that we realize how completely exhausting our so-called normal state is.”
Maybe you’re feeling tired by your mind racing all the time. It might be nice to have your attention on one single activity instead of the endless pinball machine your mind currently lives inside, right? As Dan explains in his book, it is possible to do this.
Dan recommends beginners start with a simple, yet effective way to meditate using your breath.
Start by simply sitting still and breathing. Your mind will not like this. It will start jumping all over the place. The point is not for your mind to be blank. The point is to catch it when it wanders and bring it back to your breath.
He suggests keeping it short the first time. Maybe a minute. Tomorrow, try 2 minutes. Add a minute each day and work up to 10 minutes. Remember, this is a mindfulness practice.
The nice thing about breathing meditations is that you can do them anywhere -at home, the office, during a lunch break or in your backyard.
If your mind is going crazy trying to meditate, here are some of Dan’s tips:
- Count your breaths to 10. Be very focused on each breath. Count to 10 and then start over.
- Get curious about how breathing feels. Notice all the things happening in your body when you breathe such as the air going in and out of your nose or how your chest feels when it expands.
- Create an image that matches your breathing – like waves gently coming to shore as you breathe in and then the water retreating as you breathe out.
- Try an audio-guided meditation. It can be helpful to have someone guide you through the steps. Stay focused on matching your breath to theirs.
Beyond Just Breathing
Dan gives many other suggestions for ways to meditate beyond breathing.
Remember, the goal of breathing is to focus your mind on one thing. Here are some other activities to center your focus:
- Walking – as you walk listen. Name each sound you hear. Perhaps it’s traffic. Or voices. Or music. Or dogs barking. As you walk, focus all your attention on naming what you hear.
- Showering – what does taking a shower feel like? Focus your attention on what the water feels like on your body. Is it hot, cold, or just right? Is it a gentle rain shower or a deep tissue massage?
- Brushing your teeth – admittedly a seemingly odd way to meditate. But can you focus all your attention on this one simple task? From the time you pick up your toothbrush, get the toothpaste, find a rhythm in brushing your teeth – can you pay attention to all of that without letting your mind wander?
They call it a mindfulness practice because you need to work at it to see the benefits. It is like any activity –golfing, cooking, painting, writing – you need to do it regularly to get good at it.
Dan addresses other issues in his book too, such as feeling weird about meditating or feeling like you’re being self-indulgent. You might worry you’ll lose your edge if you slow down or don’t think you can commit to committing to mindfulness in the long run.
He shares stories about others who were skeptical about meditation but overcame their hesitation and flourished as a result of the many benefits. He does a great job of helping you connect to what you find challenging about meditation so you can overcome it . . . because everyone struggles with it at first.
And if you are experienced at meditating, the chapters towards the end of the book are for you. They go into more advanced forms of practice and give you tips to deepen your meditation practice.
What might happen when bringing your mind into a single stream of focus and attention? Ready to give it a try?
If you’re still looking for encouragement and tips, check out my E-course, Elevating Your View. It’s a great starting point introducing you to how mindfulness can transform the way you work and live.
Learn more here.