I’m a pretty high-strung guy by nature. I have trouble sitting still, I can rarely focus on anything for more than five minutes, I’m always worrying about the future, and oh shit did that girl just look at me?
So naturally, I’ve been advised to try meditation many times over the years. And naturally, I’ve found it very difficult. I’d give it a try for twenty minutes or so, have trouble, try it again a few more times over the next two weeks, and give up. Rinse and repeat two or three times a year. For years.
But all that has changed recently- for the last two months, I’ve meditated almost every day, and I can feel myself starting to become calmer and more grounded. At the same time, meditation has helped me overcome several mental barriers that had been causing me to get in my own way earlier this year. I owe it all to a little bit of advice from my kung-fu teacher. The keys to my newfound success? Starting small and keeping it simple. Read on-
Meditate for just two minutes a day to begin with
In the past, I tried to meditate for twenty minutes at a time, which many experts consider to be the minimum for a solid meditation session. But between the time commitment and how frustrating meditation can be when you first start out, trying to meditate for twenty minutes at a time is a formula for frustration, inconsistency and eventually giving up.
To make something into a habit, doing it consistently is more important than doing a lot of it at a time. That’s why my kung-fu teacher told our class to start with just two minutes a day. If you can do something for two minutes every day for one or two weeks, it becomes a habit and then it gets easier to keep doing.
From there you can start lengthening your meditation sessions, but only make the effort to do that after you’ve achieved consistency. To begin with, don’t force yourself to go longer than two minutes if you don’t want to- you’ll quit altogether if it feels like torture.
The easiest meditation to start with
There are many different styles of meditation, but here’s what my teacher recommends starting with: Sit down in a comfortable chair, with your back straight, and close your eyes. Make sure you’re in a room without anything that would distract you. Start breathing in and out, slowly and deeply. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth, saying “Ommmm” on the exhale- yes, just like those Zen monks in the movies.
While doing this, mentally repeat a mantra consisting of an “I am…” statement. For instance, “I am calm,” or “I am happy.” Mentally repeat this mantra once each on the inhale and the exhale- don’t try to repeat it more often than that, or you’ll feel rushed.
That’s it. No lotus position, no meditation CD’s, no yoga poses. This is the easiest way to start out, and the most effective way to initially turn meditation into a habit. I’ve been doing this for two months, and I’m already feeling the results from it, despite usually stopping at two or three minutes and never going for more than five- while I’m sure twenty minutes a day would be better, it seems you can get results with much, much less. 2017 update: I now offer a habit coaching service in which I help people meditate- and the method laid out here is precisely how I have most people start out for the first week or two.
If you’re feeling stressed, overwhelmed, low on energy, having trouble sleeping, or just want to feel more focused and grounded, I highly recommend getting into the habit of meditation and making it part of your morning routine. Along with a few other lifestyle changes I’ve made to help me sleep better and be more alert during the day, meditation has been one of the major contributing factors to my dramatic increase in well-being over the past year.