5 Ways Meditation Will Change Your Life
Updated: Oct 6, 2022
Meditation for leaders and senior professionals has been shown to provide enormous benefits for both personal health and business. It is my mission to help improve the well-being, happiness and success of CEOs and high-performers. As a well-being coach, Everything I share comes from my own experience and scientific best practices to ensure you’re getting the best tips for growth I can find. I wanted to share with you the 5 ways meditation changed my life and how it can change yours too! Please enjoy and let me know what you think. Also, feel free to listen to any of my guided meditations here.
It Improves Your Overall Happiness and Reduces Stress & Anger
For the first two and half decades of my life depression and anxiety was a really big problem. I’m going to discuss that in detail in other posts (and how I recovered) but one thing that had a huge beneficial impact on managing and recovering from that was meditation and mindfulness. I remember at times I would feel sad for days. My anxiety was crippling and prevented me from socializing, getting work done or properly planning. The first time I learned about mindfulness and meditation was on the internet while searching for natural ways to manage mental health. I had been on antidepressants for 3.5 years at the time and I wanted to wean myself off of them.
Luckily, I had the sense to start building other systems so I could best manage my mental state. This is when I discovered several resources about mindfulness and a course called the MBSR program which I took with a local ordained Nun and certified instructor of the MBSR. What I learned through that 8 week program was the basics of mindfulness and meditation and the profound effects it can have on us. This practice became my saving grace; in particular after I got very physically ill.
Meditation and Mindfulness in Short
We learn through meditation to be in the present moment. The key idea with mindfulness and meditation is to be fully engaged or present. You can find a link here to some of my guided meditations.
Mindfulness Vs. Meditation
There is sometimes some confusion between these two. I will try and make it simple. Whether you are focusing on your breath (nose, stomach) or focusing on a task (mindfulness), If we are fully present, we are happier. This looks different for different practices (Vipassana, Zen, Breathing, etc.) but the idea is, as Ram Doss would say “Be Here, Now." There was a huge study done but Matt Killingsworth which examined the happiest states that we could be in. He studied over 15 000 people, from all over the world, of all different ages and in total collected 650 000 data points.
It turns out, we think about the past or future 47% of the time. Interestingly, he found that no matter what we are thinking about (whether it makes us happy, aroused, sad, angry, excited) we are STILL the happiest when we are fully present.
“Nothing can harm you as much as your own thoughts unguarded."
It Increases Your Focus and Productivity
I have always been plagued with a hyperactive mind. This is great in a lot of ways, not so great in others. It’s easy for me to move my attention from one thought to the next. The past, the future or whatever. This is why I was plagued with such high anxiety. So remember, the idea with meditation/mindfulness is to pull your attention away from thinking and back to a focus point. The exercise itself decreases your mind’s tendency to wander and the brain's 'muscles' to ensure your mind can stay on track.
There is a great book called Indestructible by Nir Eyal and he mentions some of the key reasons we get distracted. Often it’s boredom, or rumination. Thoughts about the past or future which take us away from what we are doing. In general it’s a state of mental and physical discomfort which builds an ‘urge’ to move, or do something to relieve the discomfort.
Remember, our mind’s job is to move us away from pain so we are easily distracted. In that sense, mindfulness allows us to be more comfortable during these states and immerse ourselves more deeply into what we are doing. If we feel there is no place else to be rather than here and now, then it’s easy to pay attention! As Deepak Chopra said, “Life gives you plenty of time to do whatever you want to do if you stay in the present moment."
You Develop Self-awareness and Regulation
Alright, so I think it’s fair that everyone listening has gone through the experience of spiraling. We start with one thought, which leads to another and another until the next thing we know we’re in the fetal position or having an argument with ourselves. It can be like the fuse on a powder keg or the first domino down in a series. And we tend to catastrophize things so we will often imagine the worst case scenario in our minds. People are incredibly good at this because of a structure in our brains called the amygdala. There is a quote by Michel de Montaigne which perfectly sums this idea up. He said:
My life has been a series of unfortunate events most of which never happened
Again, during meditation we learn to VIEW our thoughts objectively. As an example, imagine standing over a bridge and watching fish go by. When we are standing there, looking down we don’t jump in and chase any one fish (unless we are fishing) But of course that’s exactly what we do with our thoughts. We chase them, give them power and pursue them. But, through meditation, we learn just to observe them and watch them go. This is the real powerful part because when we can learn to become the observers then we become the cause or our state of being from the inside out.
We learn to not let our thoughts lead our experience and emotions. This is incredibly insightful because you can glimpse into your thought patterns and the unconscious mind and see what is really happening. Once we have the power to observe this, we have the power to see why we do what we do and what might need attention. Being aware of our thought patterns offers us the opportunity to change our reactions to them.
For example, our thoughts often trigger an emotional reaction. When we learn to observe our thoughts we can see clearly which ones are the triggers that create the emotional impulses that we normally respond to. Observing this cycle gives us an opportunity to create a choice on how we respond. Then we can then CHOOSE to behave in a different way and hence build self-regulation.
This, my friends, is true power! Seeing through our thoughts, gives us an opportunity to really examine them, not react to them and learn from them, as opposed to being their slave. Of course, our thoughts create our experience, so imagine, with no thinking, how pure our experience of ourselves and the world could be?
Breathe in, breathe out!
You Improve Your Empathy
Once you understand your own emotions better, it’s much easier to see those states in other people. One of my favorite coaching mentors always says we cannot take people any deeper than we have gone ourselves. So, the deeper we go into our own hearts, the deeper we can see into others. As an example, I used to get quite angry over little things. It would, at times, be very energy consuming. After learning to understand myself through meditation, I realized that the core of the anger was really just insecurity, fear and lack of confidence.
My normal impulse was to react somewhat aggressively but it was only because I had so much built up hidden emotions and feelings inside myself. Meditation helped me resolve a lot of this and see my anger for what it really was. Once I could see past my impulse to the reasons why I was getting angry, it became far easier to manage it. These days, I very rarely get really angry and if I do, it is short lived as opposed to the hours and days I’d spend angry several years ago. So, with that acquired wisdom, it’s far easier to see past other people’s anger. We can learn to observe it objectively and with compassion as they may well be going through the same thing I once did or that you may be. In short, as we develop a deeper understanding of our emotional patterns, we can see it in others and have far greater empathy.
Your View of Life Starts to Change (Ego and Nature)
I am sure you have all heard the term ‘ego’ or ‘the self’. A person's sense of self-esteem or self-importance. This is our subjective identity and set of beliefs we have about ourselves and the world around us. In Buddhism the
self is the source of all our suffering. Thich Nhat Hanh would say: “People suffer because they are caught in their views. As soon as we release those views, we are free and we don’t suffer anymore.” So, when we are upset it’s because someone has hurt us, or we didn’t get what we wanted or things aren’t going our way. Just think me, me, me or I, I, I! Meditation, once you’ve been doing it long enough, starts to “break-down” the idea of the 'self'.
As mentioned earlier, we can learn to observe our thoughts objectively. During long bouts of meditation and especially during retreats, we can have these experiences where, in a sense we ‘disappear.' I don’t mean we are invisible but the boundaries between ourselves and the world around us become blurry and vanish. The wind blowing, the trees, other people, other beings, aren’t really separate from you. It’s all just ‘stuff happening’. This has happened multiple times to me, the first time being at a10 day Vipassana retreat. Of course, when we return to our ‘normal’ lives we can’t stay with this experience forever. Even though, at first, rookies like myself, will try to stay in this place and hold onto it, but we soon realize that it’s impossible.
What is true is that the experience can never really leave you. It's like Plato's allegory of the cave or the Matrix. Once we see the truth, we can never 'unsee' it. We will still feel our full range of human emotions but once we have seen a glimpse into the full nature of things, we have a permanent change in perception. A great example that has helped my life is the understanding of time and my place in it. Humans have a temporal bias, which compels us to focus on things that are near. Tomorrow, next week, yesterday, etc. We tend to lose the idea of the ‘big picture’ and what REALLY matters in the grand scheme of things. With these experiences, the degree of our suffering is lessened because we can learn to see our lives across time and space. We can more easily use temporal distancing (which is looking at ourselves from a third party across time) to give more context to the situations we find stressful. In short, we learn to take ourselves less seriously. If we are just space & time, who are we really?
Breathe in, know you're breathing in. Breathe out, know your breathing out.