My average meditation session is far from perfect

My average meditation session is far from perfect

“I haven’t meditated all day. Let me take a few minutes and do myself a favor.”

I check the clock and it reads 2:08 pm.

“I’ll meditate until about 2:20,” I tell myself.

I sit down in the office chair in my bedroom. I close my eyes and sit still. I allow my mind to do whatever it pleases.

A few minutes go by. I think about the gifts I have to wrap. I think about a text I got from my friend that I need to reply to. I think about the desserts I was going to bake for my family tomorrow.

Each time my mind curates one of these thoughts, I take a step back. I acknowledge the thought as it happens.

It’s a meta experience. Looking at thoughts from a third person perspective. But that’s the practice.

My mind continues to wander around. Just like a dog on a lease, I let it go where it may, but never straying too far.

Another idea pops into my head. I follow it. I acknowledge it’s existence. I then let it go as best as I can.

I don’t judge the thoughts that pop into my head. I merely observe that they are there, from a third person perspective, then watch them leave. After a few minutes of this the chatter begins to quiet.

The key is to not react.

As I think this, I imagine how good it would be to get up and stretch. I resist the urge. I acknowledge this thought, but I choose not to react to it.

A few more minutes go by. The chatter dies down further. I feel more at peace.

“This is a good place to stop.” I think to myself.

But I never stop when I think I should. I like to go a few more minutes to challenge myself. I like to push on just a little bit further.

I believe these extra minutes are where the true magic happens. Because I’m resisting the urge to end the session. That is the ultimate example of non-reactivity.

A few more minutes go by.

“Okay, I feel pretty good now. What time is it?”

The clock reads 2:19 pm. Not too shabby.

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Why should anyone care what I think?

Why should anyone care what I think?

Anyone can do what I do.

Everybody knows already knows that.

I don’t want to write about that, everyone’s writing about that.

What am I really contributing?

Is this something that people are even going to read?

These questions occupy my mind when I sit down to write. This is the battle I fight.

It’s time to break free from this mentality. It’s time to steer away from this train of thought.

The thing about most people

You have a message you want to share. It seems obvious to you.

“It’s not like anything I write is actually going to contribute to the world.”

But what if?

What if someone doesn’t read the books that you read?

What if someone doesn’t watch the same videos that you watch?

Most people haven’t experienced the same things as you. Most people haven’t learned the same things as you.

Maybe they didn’t have the time. Maybe they’ve never heard of those books or blogs. Or, maybe they read them, but came away with a completely different perspective.

Writing for one

If you don’t share what you learned, your interpretation of it, and its applicability to the real world, you’re doing the world a disservice.

If you’ve learned something and you understand it, you have an opportunity to teach it to somebody else.

Yesterday I was listening to a  podcast featuring Seth Godin, author, entreprenuer, former VP of Direct Marketing at Yahoo, and creator of Squidoo. I was reminded that I need to visualize who I’m writing for when I do this blog.

One fun trick I use is creating an avatar of my reader. I ask myself:

  • What does the reader enjoys doing?
  • What kind of person are they?
  • What are they trying to accomplish in life?
  • What are their hobbies?
  • What are their dreams?
  • What do they fear?

The goal is to get inside this person’s head. I create an avatar – the person that I am communicating to as I write.

Sometimes I take it a step further. I’ll give that avatar a name and a face. I imagine having a conversation with them. What questions are they asking? What should I tell them?

I used this technique while writing this article. The person I’m imagining is a woman named Lauren. She’s in her mid-to-late twenties. She’s an avid reader and enjoys writing. But, she lacks confidence when it comes to sharing her ideas with the world.

Lauren doesn’t feel her ideas are unique. Lauren feels that everything she says has already been said before. And now she’s coming to me seeking advice.

It’s easier to answer to one than to many

This applies to podcasters. This applies to YouTubers. This applies to business owners.

It’s easier to target one person that you know intimately well then it is to target the masses.

Writing for many is a recipe for disaster. When I attempt to write for too many people, I have a tendency to worry that someone somewhere has already read what I’m about to write. And that makes me not want to write.

What is your smallest possible audience?

Seth Godin talks about this as well. He advocates that you find the smallest possible audience, and then please that audience so that they love you.

Often, we get sidetracked when we forget about “smallest possible.” If you make the audience you’re initially serving too big, you will dilute the very thing you set out to make, avoid critical mass, and compromise the magic of what you’re building. You’ll make average stuff for average people instead of something powerful for the few.

Can’t see the forest for the trees

I become self-conscious at times. I don’t want to be a parrot. I don’t want to write something that people already know. This gets me into a mentality that everything that I write has to be 100% original and unique.

I’m too close to myself. Things that seem common and obvious to me may not be as common or obvious to others.

I need to remind myself: my message is unique to someone somewhere. Most people haven’t read the same books as I. Most people haven’t watched the same videos and documentaries as I. Most people haven’t listened to the same podcasts as I.

Try if for yourself

If you have trouble sharing your ideas because you feel like they are not unique, try out the techniques in this article.

Focus on your audience of one.

Think of a person who could use your unique perspective.  

Think of someone who hasn’t learned the same things you have.

Then create something for them.

Have you ever experienced this feeling when you sit down to write? What do you do to deal with it? What other advice would you give others to overcome this feeling?

Make your goals more robust by doing this:

Make your goals more robust by doing this:

I knew the exact path I would go down once I escaped high school. Get my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in accounting, conquer the CPA exam, and get a good job with benefits.

That was my goal from day one. Every day in school this goal was in the back of my mind.

I thought about getting to the end of the road. I had my eyes on the prize, and imagined how my life would be better once I reached the finish line.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing. In an early undergraduate accounting course my school required a minimum grade of a B before moving on to the next course.

I messed up on the first exam. My world almost came crashing down. Everything I was focused on almost disappeared. The future I dreamed of was slipping away. (In retrospect, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world. But in that moment, that was my whole world.)

Goals are great, but can be burdensome

I’ve been a fan of goals since I was young. They kept me accountable. They gave me a something to shoot for. They helped me zero in on what I needed to do.

Goals are important. But they are not the only thing that matters. (In case you were wondering, I had to retake that class, got an A, and lived happily ever after.)

The missing ingredient

In “The Power of Habit”, Charles Duhigg explores the depth of how humans function, including the neurological patterns that govern our habits.

He defines the habit loop and divides it into three elements: cue, routine, and reward.

According to Duhigg, cue and the reward are neurologically intertwined, creating a sense of craving. This is why some folks crave certain actions, like smoking a cigarette or eating that candy bar. What we really seek is the reward from the routine.

What can we do with this knowledge of habits?

Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, wrote “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big,” where he explores the idea of goals and habits with a unique twist.

According to Adams, there are two types of people in the world: those who are goals-oriented and those who are systems-driven.

(For the purposes of this article, I use habits and systems interchangeably.)

Adams believes that goal-oriented people always exist in a state of pre-success or failure; there is no in between.

However, systems driven people look at the familiar in new and different ways. Those with a system in place succeed every time they implement the system.

For example

In honor of NoNoWriMonth, let’s say I have a goal to write a book. My hope is to achieve this goal in the next few months.

Thinking of this goal, I see a gorilla of a task at hand. Writing an entire book? Sheesh, that’s tough to do.

Now imagine this: Say I get 70% of the way through the book, but can’t do it anymore. I’m a failure. All of those hours were merely a waste of time. Unless…

I have a system.

What would your system be?

My system would be writing for a minimum of 10 minutes first thing in the morning. In those 10 minutes, write at least 500 words. It doesn’t matter how good or bad those 500 words are. The system is merely the act of writing within this time frame.

These mini-goals, or systems, are what is going to help me reach that long term goal of writing a novel. By writing for merely 500 words per day, I could easily have a draft with 45,000 words within 3 months. That’s the power of systems.

Systems also make it so you never truly fail

The system is writing for 10 minutes, first thing in the morning. What would I hope to accomplish with this system? Well…

  • I want to improve my writing skills
  • I want to improve my editing skills
  • I want to share my thoughts with the world

With my system in place, I would achieve bullets 1 and 2 every time I write. The 3rd bullet allows me an out even if you never finish writing the book. How so?

Let’s go back to the scenario earlier. Say I’m 70% of the way through the book and decide I can’t finish it. I just wasted a bunch of time.

But, if my goal is to share my thoughts with the world, I can still accomplish that!

I could break up the book into bite-sized pieces and share it with the world through articles my blog.

Systems increase your chances of success

Scott Adams looks at systems as a technique to increase your chances of success. It’s not simply success or failure, as it is in the goal-oriented frame of mind.

Instead, with the right system in place, you can succeed a little bit each and every day. These small wins drive you closer to accomplishing your goal of writing a book.

Adams actually recommends that you set up systems all throughout your life in order to accomplish those things that you want and increase your odds of success.

Another system example

One such system that I’ve implemented into my life is having 10% of my paycheck transferred into my retirement accounts every single month.

Instead of setting some audacious goal (say saving $1 million) and the obsessing over it every single month, I have a system in place that operates automatically. This one simple habit helps puts me on track for success. This system operates every single time I get paid.

Going back to the habit loop, the cue is receiving my paycheck, the routine is having it automatically transferred. What’s the reward? Checking my investment accounts and seeing the balance I’ve managed to accumulate.

This is one instance where having a system in life increases my odds of success. By creating the habit of saving, I don’t blow through my whole paycheck.

Instead, I slowly invest my cash that will help me reach my eventual goal of financial freedom. Do I know when I’ll reach that goal? No, but the system in place takes it from a pipe dream to a realistic probability just like that.

Systems-driven thinking

Systems influence your mindset. The right systems allow me to become mindful and focus on the present moment. Instead of thoughts about some future audacious goal, I focus on that task at hand.

I focus on what it is that I have accomplished already. With systems, the accomplishment is taking action. It’s writing 500 words today. It’s saving 10% of my paycheck every pay period.

The system becomes routine, and there’s no obsession on the end result.

Goals and anxiety

Personally, goals make me worry about the future to the point of anxiety. Goals can be overwhelming, especially if they aren’t expected to be accomplished for years or even decades.

Systems are a form of mindfulness, present state focus on the moment. They allow you think about what you are doing right now. You don’t think about how far away you are from that goal. This frees up your mental faculties so you can do deep work and do the best you can now.

Systems keep you grounded and present. They allow you not to obsess over the progress bar.

Don’t rob your present state awareness with audacious goals about the future. You can still reach them, you just need the right system.

What systems (or habits) have you implemented in your life that have had a big impact? Are there any systems you think we can benefit from by implementing into our lives?

How I use music as meditation to improve clarity and focus

How I use music as meditation to improve clarity and focus

Music is a powerful tool.

Humans are hard-wired to respond to music. Studies show music could help patients heal from Parkinson’s disease or stroke.

Meditation is also a powerful tool.

I’ve discussed the effect meditation has on myself. Meditation helps me focus and maintain present state awareness.

Jumping on a trend

So when Tim Ferriss wrote about how other’s use music as an external mantra, similar to Transcendental Meditation, my ears peaked up.

Tim Ferriss, host of a podcast with the same name, deconstructs leading experts and thought leaders, and provides actionable information for his listeners.

One piece of advice he has hit on with a number of his guests is the use of music as a mantra, if you will, to focus and become aware in the present moment. They do this by listening to one song or one album on repeat, while doing what they are skilled at doing.

This sort of use of music can be for anyone from Amelia Boone, three time winner of the World’s Toughest Mudder contest, to Matt Mullenweg, lead developer of WordPress.org.

Accelerating your flow state

According to Mullenweg, listening to the one song on repeat helps him get into flow states when he’s got a tough problem to tackle.

It helps him get into a state of hyper-focus and concentration. In a flow state, the sense of self is dissolved. You become immersed in your work and nothing around you seems to exist. You become one with what you are doing and nothing can get into your way.

Mullenweg says that music helps accelerate his entrance into these states of hyper-focus.

Joseph Mosby explored this idea as well. After hearing about it from Matt Mullenweg, he figured he would give it a shot for himself.

So, he got to work late one night when his brain was starting to fall asleep. He sat down to tackle some programming challenges that he had been working on.

So he put a playlist with a couple of songs on repeat to help him get into a focused state. He was shocked by the results.

It was effective. He found himself getting into flow faster than normal and cranked out his work without a second thought.

So why does this work?

It appears that repetition is the key. When you repeat something over and over, you tend to enjoy it more. This is what psychologists call the mere exposure effect.

People have a tendency to develop a preference for something just because they find it to be familiar. The repeated stimulus increase perceptual fluency, or the ease with which a stimulus is processed. This positive affect puts you into a good mood.

Not only that, but Elizabeth Margulis has done some research on music and its effects on the brain. Margulis, the author of On Repeat: How Music Plays the Mindstates that “Musical repetition gets us mentally imagining or singing through the bit we expect to come next.”

As a result of this anticipation, “A sense of shared subjectivity with the music can arise. In descriptions of their most intense experiences of music, people often talk about a sense that the boundary between the music and themselves has dissolved.”

That’s right, the boundary between music and yourself dissolves.

More on the dissolution of self

Dissolution of self is one thing that happens when you enter into a flow state. Not only does the boundary between yourself and music dissolve, but the boundary between yourself and your work dissolves when you are in flow.

Being a bit of a skeptic, I tried this out for myself last Friday at work.

“One more day until the weekend,” I thought to myself. Friday’s aren’t usually the most productive day of the week. I’m going through the motions, thinking about the weekend ahead.

I picked Debussy’s Claire De Lune as my first song, hit it up on Spotify and then went to work. I was in the zone. I listened to the song on repeat for about an hour straight.

My focus skyrocketed. I was cranking out work. Time slowed down to a crawl.

I was completing tasks more efficiently than normal. I couldn’t believe how much I got done after an hour!

After a solid hour of work, I took a short break and then got back to it.

This time I picked John Coltrane’s In a Sentimental Mood and proceeded to continue to crush it at work for the day.

I continued this cycle for the most part of work on Friday. By the time it was 2, I was only at work for 6 hours but I felt like I completed twice as much work.

This works great!

I tried this at home yesterday to motivate me to clean my room.

I had been putting off cleaning my closet for a solid month. So, I picked one song, and got to it.

I’ve also tried this while working out today at the gym. I tried it while going for a run. The results are stunning to say the least.

Not only does listening to the same song on repeat help me maintain focus and clarity, but it helps me stay present in the now. On top of that, it helps me crush my work.

More to come

While I haven’t tried this technique during meditation, I can certainly say that I have seen some positive effects in my on life in other areas by doing this.

From work to cleaning to working out to running to researching and writing this essay, these tasks were completed while listening to one song on repeat for an extended period of time.

As a matter of fact, I wrote this entire post in less than an hour, from researching to writing, on a Saturday afternoon, with the help of this technique.

Have you ever tried listening to the same song on repeat to get yourself into the zone? How did it make you feel? Would you be willing to try something like this? If so, let me know with a comment below!

I am lucky

I am lucky

I would be insulted if you called me lucky two years ago.

After all, I worked my ass off to get to where I am today. That’s not luck. I created this reality I live in.

Or so I thought.

I realized something a few months ago. Luck isn’t about winning the lottery. Being called lucky isn’t an insult. It’s the truth. After reflection, I am very lucky.

I was born in the right country to the right parents. Everything I have experienced has brought me to where I am today.

I almost drowned in family friend’s pool when I was 3 years old. But I didn’t. I was saved by my neighbor’s friend. I could be dead. But I’m not.

I have a natural drive to work hard. I’m self-motivated. I always wanted to do that best I could. I can’t describe what gave me this internal drive at a young age.

It wasn’t something that I learned from a book. There was a moment or series of moments that shaped me into becoming that type of person.

Maybe it was my mom, who started teaching me when I was 3 or 4 years old.

Or, maybe a teacher help change the trajectory of my life.

Or maybe it was my three siblings influenced me.

All I know is that if you change one of those inputs, the output or my life would be different today.

 

One Example

Bill Gates is brilliant. He’s ambitious. He took advantage of the opportunities he saw early in his life.

Bill Gates is also lucky.

He attended Lakeside, a private school in Seattle. A private school with a computer. Not just any computer, but a brand new, top of the line computer.

The Lakeside’s Mother’s Club had a rummage sale every year to raise money for the school. And instead of just funding the budget, they always would fund something kind of new and interesting in addition. And without too much understanding, they decided having a computer terminal at the school would be a novel thing. It was a teletype — upper case only, ten characters a second — and you had to share a phone line to call into a big time-sharing computer that was very expensive.

This was one moment in Gate’s life that put him on the path to revolutionizing the world. Luck played a role in getting him there.

What if one detail and his life changed? What is he attended Public School in Seattle instead of private? What if he not have access to a computer in middle school? Would he have still changed the world?

(Credit to Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers for this story.)

When comes down to it luck and hard work two sides of the same coin. Here’s how I see it:

Luck + Hard Work = Success

No Luck + Hard Work = A difficult, but fulfilling life (in my opinion)

Luck + No Hard Work = A recipe for disaster (Case in point: lottery winners)

No Luck + No Hard Work = Not much

Being lucky isn’t a bad thing

Bill Gates got lucky. He worked his ass off for years and change the world and process. He took advantage of the luck bequeathed to him.

He leveraged this and used it as a springboard to create one of the most successful companies in the world.

Sometimes you just have to put yourself in the right place with the right amount of effort. Embrace the serendipity around you. Work hard. Follow your curiosities. Go where others haven’t dared to go. Who knows, luck might just find you.

What is one thing that has happened in your life that you would say was “lucky”? How would your life be different had that not happened?

Change your mental state by walking

Change your mental state by walking

I am a habitual walker. Everyone in my office knows that.

Around 7:30 am I get to work. I focus on the task at hand and get into flow until about 10 am. Then I take a break and step out of the office for a short 10 minute walk.

The time isn’t always the same, but one thing remains consistent: I make sure to get in my walk.

At 12 pm I take a break for lunch. After I finish eating I go for another short walk.

Then after another 2-3 hours I go for one last walk during the work day.

No matter where I am working or what is going on, I always find time to go for a walk.

I don’t care how busy things are or how crazy my bosses are, I make every effort I can to go for a walk and get my 10,000 steps in during the day.

It’s not always easy. Sometimes I have a deadline that I need to hit. Or I’m asked to help assist on another project. And I’ll go longer without taking a break. But I always find time for a walk.

Walking leads to focus

I credit walking with helping me focus better throughout the day. I’m more productive. Not only that, but I feel happier at work.

By the end day, while others are dragging ass and on their 3rd or 4th cup of coffee, I feel refreshed, focused, and as though I could continue working for another few hours if I have to (which I do sometimes).

I credit all of this to going for those short walks throughout the day.

I don’t walk because of the health benefits

I have a hard time sitting still. I like to get up and move. But when you work on the computer all day long, there aren’t many opportunities to this.

Many of my coworkers sit at their desk all day long without ever leaving the office. The only time they get up is to go to the bathroom, pick up something from the printer, or the heat up their lunch in the breakroom.

That’s not me. I need to get up. I need to move.

3 reasons to walk

Walking helps me reevaluate and focus on what matters

When I’m out in nature I focus better. I go out for a walk with thoughts or questions to ponder in my subconscious mind. When I go back to work, the answer I’ve been seeking suddenly comes to me.

Taking breaks throughout the day and changing the environment that helps my brain make connections that I wouldn’t otherwise make.

Have you ever noticed that sometimes you’re thinking about a problem before you go to bed, and then in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning the answer comes to you? That’s what happens when I go out for a walk. Answers seem to appear.

It is meditative

I’ve mentioned this in a prior article, but for me going for a walk can be very calming and meditative.

When I go for a walk I use it as an opportunity to focus and become mindful of the world around me.

When I walk out the door the first thing I notice is the sidewalk and all of the cracks and the plants growing in between some of those cracks.

I look up to the sky and notice if there are clouds. What are they shaped like? Does it look like it will rain today?

I look around at the trees and other features in the landscape around me. There is usually just grass and shrubs. But, every once in a while, there is a beautiful flower or unique looking plant.

Then my mind shifts to the buildings and the cars around me. I think about all of the other people out there. I wonder what they are up to and where they are going.

By the end of my walk, I am mindful and relaxed, just observing the world around me. It’s a great opportunity to reset your brain, recharge, and get ready to put in another few hours of work.

Best of all, walking is natural, easy, and free.

You don’t need a gym membership to go for a walk. You experience half the impact on your bones and joints than if you were to go for a run. And most people are capable of going out for a walk on a regular basis.

In fact, in a study published in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, regular walkers could actually be healthier than runners.

Risks for hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, and heart disease drop significantly in walkers as compared to runners.

This could be due to the fact that chronic running could lead to over training and inadequate recovery time, which could make you susceptible to overtraining, injury and illness.

In summary

Walking has made me more productive, relaxed, and happier.

Give it a shot! Using a fitness tracker or any number of free apps on your phone, try to get in 10,000 steps per day and see how it affects you.

Do you enjoy going for walks throughout the day? What benefits do you notice when you go for a 20 minute walk?

How are your questions?

How are your questions?

Three months ago my boss came to me and told me that I had to work out of town for a month. I would only be about an hour away, so I could commute if I wanted to.

This was a minor annoyance, but no big deal. I could still sleep in my own bed and go on with my normal routine without too much interruption.

That changed two weeks ago. Due to budget cuts, I wouldn’t be working an hour away. Instead, I would have to drive two hours away to Jacksonville and work there for a month. No way was I commuting now.

When I found out I had to spend a month away from home, I was heated. I was the only person from my office who had to travel away from home this year. And this would be my second time doing it.

Last time I also traveled to Jacksonville, and I was miserable. I was upset I had to spend time away from home. And that was only for two weeks. This time it would be for the entire month.

What’s wrong with me?

I had an observation three and a half weeks ago: the smallest things were setting me off.

I was complaining more. I was playing the victim. I believed everything was outside my locus of control.

So you can imagine how I felt when I was told I needed to go away for a month. I was angry. “Why the f*** do I have to keep doing this? It’s not fair.”

A few days after finding out I would be in Jacksonville I was listening to a Tony Robbins recording.

He talked about how we can’t control everything around us. But what we can control is our perception of the world. In order to change your perceptions, you must change the questions you ask yourself.

When you’re upset or angry or annoyed, don’t list the reasons why a situation sucks. Shift the focus. Ask better questions.

Ask yourself: “what’s good about this?”

The light bulb moment

A couple days later, I was taking my mid-morning walk at work still fuming when the light bulb went off. Right then I shifted the focus. I asked myself, “What’s good about this?”

When I got back to my desk I grabbed a piece of paper and wrote in big, bold letters at the top of the paper “What’s good about having to work in Jacksonville for a month?”

And I began to list things out.

  1. I’ll meet new people.
  2. I can go to new restaurants.
  3. I can check out their breweries.
  4. It won’t get dark until late, so I can explore after work.
  5. I’ll be downtown, and everything is within walking distance.
  6. I’ll challenge myself with new tasks at work.
  7. I’ll be able to go home on the weekends.
  8. All of my meals are paid for.
  9. I’ll break my routine.

All of the sudden, I started to feel better. Instead of being annoyed, I started looking forward to it.

In retrospect, I don’t even know why I was annoyed.

The only thing I really had to be angry about was being outside the comfort of my hometown. Other than that, going to Jacksonville looked like more good than bad.

How is it going so far?

Today is my second day in Jacksonville and I’m enjoying it much more this time around.

I’ve been able to explore more. I’ve gone to new places to eat. I’ve tried new beers.

I’m convinced I would not enjoy myself if I continued with the mindset of being annoyed.

But because I searched for reasons why this would be a good trip, it has thus far turned out to be good.

I reframed the situation by asking “what’s good about this?”

I forced myself to come up with answers to a question I didn’t even previously consider.

A reminder

This serves as a reminder for myself: you are only as good as the quality of questions you ask yourself.

You can use this same technique in a number of situations.

For example, if you’re stuck in traffic tomorrow, ask yourself, “what’s good about this?”

Come up with five reasons why being stuck in traffic is actually a good thing. I tried this the other day and there was a huge difference in how I felt by end of my evening commute.

Next time you’re in a situation that makes you angry, annoyed, or upset, ask yourself, “what’s good about this?”

It may be hard to come up with answers initially. You will want to resist answering. Overcome this resistance, answer the question as best as you can, and see how you feel.

Remember, you’re only as good as the quality of questions that you ask yourself.