That’s right. I meditate. Cue the gong and the stereotypical vision of a monk sitting cross-legged in a cave with hands pressed together humming, “Ommm.” But that’s not what I mean. There are tons of different types of meditation, including the guy-in-cave-cross-legs version. I did not think I would EVER be the kind of person that meditates, but I really didn’t know what it actually was or how it worked. In 2014 when I was stuck in an over-stressed and under-recovered loop for too long, I stopped sleeping. Literally overnight I went from everything in my life being relatively normal and fine to being a sleep-deprived insomniac. Over a month went by where I was dealing with insomnia, and as it wasn’t getting any better (worse, in fact), I knew something had to change. My research on what the hell was going on in my brain and why my body wasn’t able to calm down and fall asleep led me to several different avenues to heal myself. Basically I had chronically high cortisol (the so-called “stress hormone”) and instead of melatonin (the “sleep hormone”) increasing at night and cortisol decreasing, my levels did the opposite. When you are laying in bed for hours and hours and your heart is racing and you feel like you’re running a 5K, it’s scary and weird. A common theme I kept coming across was how meditation helps reduce or eliminate insomnia and lowers high stress levels (and increases happiness and lowers blood pressure and improves immunity and the list goes on). I figured I would give it a try.
I downloaded the Headspace meditation app and on a wild Friday night at 8pm, I sat down in front of the fire place to meditate. I felt weird and a little embarrassed. The Headspace app is a guided meditation where Andy Puddicombe walks you through each meditation. (His British accent and calming voice is enough to lower anyone’s stress levels) I meditated for 10 minutes. And I went to bed. I slept a full 8 hours without waking up once. After a full month of struggling with insomnia and laying awake for about 5 hours each night (and ending up sleeping for maybe an hour or two), I slept all night long. I was a convert. I knew the next morning that there was definitely something good about meditation. So I stuck with it, and over the next few months, my insomnia came and went but generally continued to decrease in severity the more I meditated.
Once I had zero sleep issues, I kept on meditating (using the Headspace app). I started to notice other benefits as well; not only was I sleeping better (and deeper), but I was also generally happier throughout the day. I was much less reactive to work problems and home projects that weren’t going well. I was able to listen to others during conversation and not get sidetracked in my mind. I focused better at work and was able to concentrate on what I was doing for longer periods of time. It’s hard to put a number or a value on improvements in thought and positivity and happiness. ABC’s Dan Harris (host and anchor of Nightline, Good Morning America, etc.), who famously had a panic attack on live tv and struggled for most of his life with anxiety, decided to, in his own words, “F*** it, I’ll try meditation.” He, too, was totally converted. He now has a book (and an app) titled “10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story.” He openly admits that he has no idea how to quantify how much better his life is thanks to meditation – but he ball parks that he is “10% happier” because of it. And I agree.
I know the skeptics will say that meditation is ‘just weird’ or ‘ain’t nobody got time for that.’ And I thought all the same things. But think about how much of our daily grind is moving at an extremely fast pace: keeping up with emails, going to meetings, driving to and from work, hurriedly throwing groceries in a cart and then getting mad that it takes 6 minutes to check out, answering texts, getting in a run, cooking dinner, doing dishes. There are a thousand things pulling us in a thousand different directions, and it’s easier than ever to fly through an entire day without stopping for one minute and being thankful that you’re breathing. Or just letting your brain relax. Most of what we do every day is automatic, reacting without really thinking. When I was in the third grade, I remember walking home from school one day and asking my best friend Neil if he ever felt like school is the same every day and goes by really fast without even realizing it? Yes, that’s the autopilot I’m talking about. Even kids understand it. Meditation helps to literally rewire the synapses in your brain, so that everyday moments are not on autopilot. Instead of waiting in line at the grocery store for 2 seconds and automatically pulling your phone out to check facebook or instagram, you can just be still. Feel your breath. Be thankful that you are standing in a line. There are people who are suffering in hospitals or who don’t have a place to call home or even money to buy groceries. Life is pretty good, and we all deserve to feel that every once in a while, because it won’t last forever.
If you have come across meditation or ‘mindfulness’ before and wonder what it’s about, I urge you to check it out. Download Headspace – there is a free 10 day trial. Try some of the free online meditation exercises. Listen to a podcast about it (my personal favorite right now is Finding Mastery with Michael Gervais). As I meditated most days of the week through 2015 and every single day in 2016, I was also learning about all of the professional athletes, company CEOs, health advocates, and ultra runners that meditate every day and swear it changed the way they live. It is absolutely incredible the power we have in our brain; and the key to unlocking a hell of a lot more of it is mindfulness. I still struggle with stress and frustration and being rushed just like everyone else. Meditation won’t make you perfect and it won’t solve your problems for you, but it definitely helps. It has helped me think more clearly under stress; I am more productive at work and at home; I worry less; the hard times in training and racing are easier because I can shut my mind up; I sleep better; it helped slow the constant chatter and thinking in my mind; I relax more easily; I am more compassionate, focused, and happier; I experience deeper and am more mindful and appreciative of the little moments in life. My days don’t go by on autopilot quite like they used to.
Meditating is challenging yet extremely gratifying. I have made my daily ten minute meditation the most important part of my morning routine and have watched as it changed me, the way I think, and the way my brain operates. It has been absolutely life changing for me and millions of others. Give it a month of effort. I promise it will be worth your time, even if it’s just five minutes a day. Stop the autopilot, and start living better.