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The first time I sat down to meditate, I thought I wouldn’t last 30 seconds. I dimmed the lights, put on my favorite Enya tunes, sat down, closed my eyes and focused on my breathing. Within five seconds, a thought popped into my head. Then another.
“I can’t forget to do this and that.”
“Did I message Joe?”
“How about that game last night.”
“I wonder how grass grows?”
Startled, I tried to push that unbidden thought out of my mind. I focused on my breathing. An Ed Sheeran lyric popped into my head. I tried to push it out of my head, and then my phone buzzed with a text notification. I had forgotten to switch it over to “Do Not Disturb.” And then before I could refocus on my breathing, I started thinking about work.
My goal was five minutes. I barely made it to three before turning off Enya and storming off in despair. I thought I had failed at meditating. It just wasn’t for me. I had better things to do.
But I showed up the next day and made it to five minutes. Then I did it the next day. And the next day. By the third week, I kicked it up to seven minutes. It was torture all over again. By the fourth week, I could barely make it through nine minutes.
It’s then that I began to notice something strange: My work days were becoming more productive. I was able to sustain deep, difficult, important work for longer stretches without getting distracted every five minutes. When I made that connection, meditation became easy. I finally had a reason. Evidence. Hope.
Now I meditate 20 minutes first thing every morning. And I don’t consider the time spent sitting on my butt doing nothing to be a waste of time. In fact, I wouldn’t miss it. Those few minutes doing nothing make everything happen. My streak recently surpassed 1,000 days, and the impact has been profound.
You may wonder why it’s a good use of time to sit around doing nothing for three to 30 minutes. After all, if you have 16 waking hours in a day, burning 30 minutes on meditation means you are down to 15 and a half. Plus, you still have to eat, shower, walk the dog, etc. Plus, isn’t meditation a privilege? Do you really have the time to devote to it, especially if you are still building your business?
The reason meditation is worth the time and effort is it acts as a force multiplier on your productivity. You may have 20 or 30 fewer minutes spent plugged in at the office, but the seven or so hours you do spend plugged in are several times more productive.
Once I became a consistent practitioner of meditation, I got as much work done in four hours as I had previously been doing in a full day because my ability to focus was exponentially higher.
If you hate meditating, you’re fortunate
Of course, as I described above, becoming a consistent practitioner of meditation was like pulling teeth. What I didn’t realize at the time was that this was actually a good thing.
I have known aspiring entrepreneurs for whom inner peace and quietude comes easily. When I introduce them to meditation, they take to it like a duck to water. As they adopt longer and longer meditation periods in the morning, I notice them getting a little more productive. It’s definitely worth the effort, but it’s not the force multiplier it was for me.
I’m not an exception either. I have dragged student after student kicking and screaming into a meditation routine that feels like torture at first. Not all of them stick with it, but for the ones who do — 30 days or longer to the point where it becomes a consistent habit — the impact on their productivity is dramatic, much like it was for me.
Put simply, the harder meditation is for you, the more you have to gain by adopting the practice.
If meditation is difficult for you, your mind is likely easily distracted. The noise in your head, to say nothing about the noise in your surroundings, can easily pull you out of “the zone” where you do your best work — the hard work that will move the needle in your business and personal life.
If you get that distracting noise even halfway under control, you will be amazed at how far that extra focus carries you in business, in your passions and in your relationships. I have seen it time and again. I can almost guarantee it, because it happened to me.
How to meditate the right way
If you want the force-multiplier of meditation to power your workday, here’s how you do it. No frills, no apps, no Enya needed. All you need is a quiet room and a place to sit. Here’s how to meditate in five easy steps.
1. Set a timer for your meditation period. Start with three minutes. If you can’t make it, try two minutes next time. If that’s too long, try one minute. Work your way up!
2. Find a comfortable place to sit. You can lie down if you want, but don’t lean up against anything. Try to relax into your own balance.
3. Close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Just the slow in and out of your breath, in through your nose and out through your mouth.
4. When thoughts arise, don’t judge them. Don’t judge yourself for having them. Human minds are thinking machines.
5. When your attention flutters after a thought, gently retrieve your attention — again, without shame or judgment — and return it to your breathing. You will do this countless times. Imagine your attention like a butterfly that you capture gently with a net and return to your breathing every time it flutters away. Continue this process until your timer indicates that your meditation period is over. Even if a thought distracted you every five seconds, just keep retrieving it with that butterfly net and bring it back to your breathing.
What effect does this have? Over time, with practice, you will carry that butterfly net into your workday. You will develop a habit of retrieving your attention when it deserts you during your productive time. You will find yourself able to work for longer and longer periods of time, with more and more focus. You will get further down your to-do list in one day than you are used to getting in one week. Your five-year plan will start to look more like a one-year plan, your five-year plan like your wildest dreams.
Not bad for just sitting down and breathing.