Do I Need to Meditate?
“I don’t know if I need to meditate. To not think – I don’t know too many people who can do that. And I don’t even know that I want to not freakin’ think.” This quote came from someone I deeply respect. You would know his name if I shared it. But I won’t. And in all fairness, it came from a broader discussion on morning rituals that included some practices very similar to meditation. But I share his quote because it shows, even at the highest levels of performance, a lot of confusion still exists around the practice.
Before I go further, let me make a disclaimer. I’m not a yogi or meditation guru. I don’t make money from it. I don’t facilitate it. I don’t have a financial investment in it. I’m not certain I even enjoy it yet. I simply choose to investigate it, write on it, and practice it because I listen to the science behind it. I can’t argue with data from fMRI and EEG. The hard numbers don’t lie. And they have a fairly clear story to tell.
In 2014, Johns Hopkins published a study showing meditation can deliver the same results as antidepressants to reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and pain. Before that, a Yale University study showed meditation decreases activity in the part of the brain associated with mind-wandering and self-referential processing. Those brain behaviors led to unhappiness and anxiety. In other words, the more people thought about themselves and the more their thoughts shifted randomly, the worse their anxiety. An analysis done by Harvard showed the same thing. The more the mind wanders, the less happiness people experience.
Having experienced physical symptoms of anxiety myself and the symptoms of loss of emotional control (three kids under four can bring those out real quick), I feel the need for more control. But physical circumstances aside, I have many friends without kids in the prime of life who have had anxiety attacks and had to visit the hospital. I hardly go a month without someone I know experiencing profound consequences of anxiety. Do I live in a different world, or do you have a similar story?
I imagine a lot of anxiety goes undiagnosed. My wife and I laugh now about one of her trips to the hospital for an anxiety attack. The diagnosis? “Weakness.” She held on to the doctor’s slip with the proof. That makes for a good joke when your husband has a personal training business.
But all kidding aside, the need to meditate hinges on your current state and your goals. If you push through your day with laser-focus and perform at your highest level, you have already trained your brain to do it. Maybe you don’t have a compelling need to meditate. If you see some opportunity for more emotional control, stronger relationships, greater focus, and higher performance, I would recommend investing a few minutes of your day to meditation. And then look for ways to measure your results.
A Practical Way Without Adding to your Schedule
Matt Tenney wrote a great book called, The Mindfulness Edge, where he shares some practical ways to rewire your brain for leadership and personal excellence. He recommends starting with something you already do, like brushing your teeth. You can practice dedicating your thoughts to the simple action. Control your mind to feel the bristles of the brush, recognize thoughts that pop into your mind, and let them pass to return your attention to the brush in your hand.
To circle back to the opening comment, Tenney says, “The goal isn’t to get rid of thinking. It’s just to see there is thinking without identifying with it and being pulled into it. So you might notice thoughts come and go while you’re brushing your teeth, but if you’re practicing correctly, you’ll notice that a thought came up. You recognize it, and it goes, but you were never distracted from the activity of brushing your teeth. That’s perfect.”
Start with one activity for a week. Set up a reminder with a note next to your toothbrush, if you go that route. Then add another activity the next week. You might surprise yourself and change the way you live.
More on some amazing leaders who did just that in the next post.