I believe that the path to success is to emulate what successful people have done before you.
As I’ve already shared with you in a previous post, there are two “hacks” which most successful people do:
They keep a journal.
I want to share in this post a bit about my experiences related to meditation and also to deep dive a bit into the research (I like cold hard facts).
My Experience with Meditation: The Beginning
So for a very long time I’ve been aware that meditation is a “good thing to do”. I’ve kinda lost count, but I think I’ve been meditating in one form or another for quite a few years.
Initially I was interested in hypnosis / self-hypnosis and I did that for a while. That was probably almost 11 years ago. This was actually way before I was interested in business and way before I was listening to podcasts, doing intensive self-learning. But I was always aware that if I manage to control and harness my mind, then this would be the key to unlimited achievement.
I’m trying to piece back my memories, but I’d say that I kept up this “self-hypnosis” for about 3 years or so. My memories are vague (post-hypnotic amnesia??) It definitely wasn’t an ingrained practice, kinda sporadic, but I did definitely see benefits from it.
I guess this practice was more rooted in intense visualization and mental rehearsal. It helped crystallise my goals at the time and I have no doubt that this contributed to me ultimately achieving my goals back then.
Then somewhere along the way I dropped this practice (probably after achieving my goals…)
My Meditation Practice Today
Fast forward a few years and I was pursuing my new entrepreneurial goals. Entrepreneurship is a mind fuck, it stretches you to your limits. And that’s the thing that I love about it – your success (or failure) is totally (mostly) up to you. What you achieve is limited only by your creativity and ingenuity. It is SUCH a mental game.
So like many entrepreneurs I’ve been drawn to the “inner game” of entrepreneurship. Searching for ways to hone my mindset so that I can succeed.
I drew back on my old days of “self-hypnosis” / visualization, but I found it hard to make it a habit on my own. At some stage, browsing through the TED archives, I came across Andy Puddicombe’s TED talk about meditation and that is how I discovered Headspace.
I think they have done a tremendous job of gamifying meditation and I owe it wholly to the Headspace app for making meditation a part of my daily practice.
The genius of Headspace is their “Take Ten” program which guides you through 10 minutes of meditation per day for 10 days. That is SUCH an easily achievable goal – its hard for anyone, even the busiest of people, to claim that they don’t have a spare 10 minutes per day.
The Take Ten program is free and you CAN sign up for membership to Headspace to gain access to loads more meditation programs. I’m a subscriber, but honestly after having gone through most of the content I think the Take Ten is really enough. You can just keep repeating those sessions.
Anyway, that’s how I got into meditation and how I made it a habit (I obviously highly recommend that you try Headspace’s Take Ten program).
But What’s So Good About Meditation Anyway??
The thing is though, even after meditating for quite a few years, the benefits were not immediately apparent to me.
I knew a couple of things. Firstly, I felt good afterwards. Or at least not bad. It didn’t seem to hurt.
Secondly, I felt that often I would be more “mindful” and focussed for several hours (anywhere from 1 to 6 hours) after a morning meditation session of 10 minutes. This would help me be more effective and efficient at work.
So these are definitely good points, but I felt that there was more to meditation that just this. In his book “Waking Up“, the philosopher and neuroscientist Sam Harris draws parallels between meditation and extreme altered states induced by substances such as “Magic Mushrooms”, LSD and other hallucinogens (he goes so far as to state that he would feel sorry for his daughter if she didn’t try some of these substances… interesting…)
I made it a point to question this in my journal, to try and get to the bottom of this phenomenon and to understand why meditation is good for me.
It was around that time that I became enlightened over a hamburger.
Well maybe not enlightened… But I definitely had a profound experience which I’ll share with you below. I’ll try to translate the experience I had in words, but these phenomena are experiential. i.e. You need to experience it yourself in order to truly understand it.
Anyway, what I understand about mindfulness meditation is that the morning practice is really training for the day. The goal is to spread this mindfulness into your day to day activities.
So one evening, I went out to eat at my local burger joint (best hamburger in the WORLD btw…)
I went alone. I ordered my favourite burger with chips on the side. Unhealthy, I know, but damned tasty.
And while eating I decided to try an experiment. I would “meditate” over this meal. I normally eating very quickly. I wolf my food down and before you can say abracadabra the contents of my plate have disappeared.
So that night I decided to eat my food SLOWLY. To chew thoroughly. To savour the texture of the food. To focus on the taste. To note the temperature. To feel the food sliding down my gullet and into my stomach.
I even closed my eyes in the restaurant. Weird, I know. But with my eyes closed the flavour was amplified ten-fold.
And also with my eyes closed, I noticed my “fear” of people staring at me. It amplified my sense of ego and made me aware of this sensation of “ego”. I opened my eyes. No one cared.
And during this “food meditation” I noted something interesting. Even though I WAS eating extremely slowly, I always had the next bite ready to go in my hand. As soon as I would swallow the morsel in my mouth, the next piece would be inside and I would be busy masticating again.
Building on this realization I noticed an underlying stress that I hadn’t been previously aware of. I spontaneously named it “food stress”.
An instant later I had another profound realization – a type of realization that you feel in your bones. Something visceral, its not something that can be so easily put into words. But I became aware that this “food stress” was a product not of any real fear, but rather that it was a deeply genetically encoded reaction to food. Something primal. A sensation from the days when we would hunt in packs, when food was scarce and only the fittest survived. You would need to eat your food quickly, to assert your claim to your meal, otherwise you would die. This primordial instinct caused my subconscious reaction to food, which in turn caused me to wolf down my food.
Wow. Now I know you’ll probably think this is pretty weird. But this was a profound experience for me. (Again, keyword is experience – its really something you need to feel yourself, words can’t really do this experience justice). I was stunned. This meditation allowed me to have deep insight into my behaviour. To notice my behaviour, to notice my underlying emotional state causing the behaviour. Even to realize the underlying evolutionary reason for this emotional state.
This was a really “deep” meditation. When I left the burger joint, mindfulness came with me. I was aware of each step, of the wind brushing past me.
When I arrived home, I got a call from my girlfriend. Normally I’m not such a phone person. I don’t love talking on the phone (some would say I don’t love talking at all 🙂 But that’s not true…)
But that evening, instead of being “short” on the phone, which was my usual reaction, I was aware of my bubbling impatience. This awareness allowed me to choose not to react on auto-pilot, but rather to acknowledge this feeling and focus on the conversation at hand. Because of this profound mindfulness that carried over, I was super attuned to our conversation and my girlfriend’s feelings. We went on to have a great and deep conversation on the phone, something we hadn’t shared for a long time. I enjoyed it and so did she.
Amazingly, the mindfulness from my hamburger meditation spilled over to the next day. I don’t remember precise details, but I do recall that I was able to evaluate challenges without an automatic response brought about by emotions. Instead I was able to note my emotions and respond in a more thoughtful way, making better decisions for my company.
So its kind of funny, having such a profound experience over a burger. But it was really profound. And it was a damned good burger.
What I know about the benefits of meditation for myself to date
And I got my answers to my own questions about the benefits of meditation for myself. I know that this is probably just the tip of the iceberg, there is probably a lot more to explore in the realms of the mind, but these are my thoughts as a relatively novice meditator:
1) I feel better after meditating.
2) I’m more focussed, which allows me to be more efficient at what I do.
3) I am more mindful, sometimes even after the meditation. This allows me to derive more pleasure from the world, to be in the present moment. It sounds trite, but it helps me to enjoy the green of the trees, the sounds of the birds chirping and to enjoy those small moments which I usually take for granted. The alternative, being stuck in the flow of our thoughts, dragging us to imagined future or past events, is the cause of suffering.
4) This mindfulness of my inner state and emotions allows me to notice emotions and thereby break my automatic patterns in response to an emotion. This is amazingly beneficial and can help improve relationships, both personal and at work and make for much better decision making. This last point is a huge one!
So, that’s a quick summary of my experience with meditation to date and the benefits that I’ve seen from it.
I challenge you to make meditation a habit for yourself and see what you can gain from it. Try the Take Ten program from Headspace and take it from there. (I sound like a salesman for them, but they just did an awesome job, I don’t get any commission or anything from this just to be clear).
In Part 2 I’ll review the some of the studies on meditation and we’ll find out what science has to say about all this!