Getting Started With Meditation For Those Who Find It Challenging

Most people find it difficult to establish a daily meditation practice. We know it would probably benefit us, but how much? Is the “cost-benefit” ratio really in favor of meditation? How much pain of sitting quietly must we endure for the gain of increased calm and focus? Daniel Rodic outlines his quest to meditate for 100 days in a row.

Stress is motivating in short-bursts, but long-term sustained stress leads to burnout, exhaustion, strained relationships and general unhappiness. Daniel realized changing his environment didn’t work because he needed to focus on changing his mindset.

Knowing this was a new habit Daniel was attempting to form, he started with something very easy to do (listening to a 3 minute song) and progressed to his goal of daily meditation (12 minutes every night using a guided meditation recording) over a span of 45 days. This step-by-step progress motivated Dan, as he felt like he was getting better every day as he migrated from music to guided meditation. These are the stages Daniel went through:

Stage 1 (Day 0 to 3): Before using guided meditations, Daniel tarted listening to a favorite song each day. It was an enjoyable experience that he knew he would look forward the meditation exercise every morning.

Stage 2 (Day 4 to 6): Daniel developed a morning habit whereby he listened to an upbeat song, while at night he listened to a slower song. This trained his body to wake up or go to bed when I heard these songs. Daily repetition was key.

Stage 3 (Day 6 to 45): Daniel added a 10-minute guided meditation to the end of my evening meditations; then progressing to a 15-minute, then 20-minute session, while slowly weaning myself off of the evening music.

During this stage, Daniel also tested the effects of meditation on his ability to focus in other areas of life. Up until this point, he was a notoriously bad free throw shooter in basketball. On a good day, Daniel could barely get 2 to 3 baskets in for every 10 attempts. He decided to run the test with free throws, as it was a very short and immediate feedback loop.

Daniel began doing mini 5- to 10-second breathing exercises before every shot, and in a few days, was able to smash his record, getting 11 shots in a row — a personal best. Now he can consistently get between 6 to 9 shots in a row — a 3x to 4x improvement. Meditation was having it’s desired effect.

Stage 4 (Day 45+): By this point, Daniel almost completely eliminated the music. Over time, he tested guided meditation in the morning in place of music and has now settled on only doing evening meditation sessions, which seems to still provide the same alertness in the morning while also making it easier to go to sleep.

Daniel kept track of his progress using an app called Way of Life, which lets you track three daily habits for free.

Meditation has become a keystone habit for him. Mental benefits aside (reduced stress, increased happiness… etc., as judged by my own internal feelings), the practice of doing the same thing every single day gave him the confidence that he could develop in other areas with the same dedication. For example, Daniel used this technique to learn a language, now at an 80-day streak of practicing Russian, using Duolingo.

These are some of Daniel’s key takeaways from the experience:

– Meditation enables you to anticipate when you’ll feel certain emotions, and help you better modify your environment and actions to eliminate the types of emotions you want to avoid. Knowing that reading my inbox often triggers stress if I get an email with unfortunate news, I have tried my best to restrict reading my inbox between 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. to ensure I have a clear head first thing in the morning, and first thing before bed.

– Dan can use a five-second breathing exercise to focus. I tested this hypothesis with my free throw shooting with good results, and then replicated it in long meetings at work. This quick breathing exercise (that no one notices in the room) refocuses his attention and clears his thoughts, very similar to what he experiences in a longer 10–20 minute meditation session. For more specifics on how to transfer the effects of meditation to other parts of your life, read “The Art of Learning” by Joshua Waitzkin, specifically the chapter entitled “Building Your Trigger”

– Consistency and quality are more important than overall volume. Meditating for 10 minutes a day is much more effective than meditating for 60 minutes once a week.

– Meditation isn’t just a cure for stress. It’s a proactive exercise that can improve already great areas of your life. Meditation has become a keystone habit which has driven other positive benefits in Daniel’s life.

Daniel learned that streaks motivate him. The thought of restarting a 100+ day streak bothers him enough that even on bad days (e.g. get home at 2 a.m. and want to sleep) he continues to stick to this habit every single day.

However, now that Daniel is this far into meditation, he senses that he’s getting into the “comfort zone” phase where he feels like He doesn’t need to do it as regularly. All the “experts” caution against this thought process, as similar to other forms of exercise, you will regress if you don’t stick to the regiment. Regardless, Daniel finds it harder to motivate himself to meditate every single night, as the returns have been less noticeable. Thus far, he’s been able to keep the streak but he’s worried he will lose interest in the near future.

Topic: Difficulty with meditation; struggling to establish a Mindfulness practice; tips & tricks