It was difficult for me to meditate. I used to feel energized by the quick-fire velocity of my thinking when I was younger. My internal world seemed stimulating, teeming with fresh concepts and connections. In contrast, I found it bothersome to just observe my thoughts as they came and went, as required by mindfulness meditation training. The ability seemed so improbable. Additionally, the accompanying boredom wasn't helpful. I was happy to allow my "monkey mind," with its agitated and disruptive ideas, to run amok.
But the clamor surrounding mindfulness and meditation was too great to be disregarded. My own life was altered. I finally started yearning for calmer emotional seas after having a parent about ten years ago, spending years reporting on serious subjects like high-profile suicides and sexual abuse scandals, as well as navigating the social and political upheaval of the Trump era.
You can also be seeking for strategies to start, or restart, a meditation practice as another new year approaches. First of all, be aware that it's acceptable for your path to this to be detourned. I wrote in 2017 about my quest to become "someone who makes time, every day, to quiet my thoughts," during which I tried seven different meditation applications. My practice dwindled after a brief period of intense dedication that lasted a few months. Up until the COVID pandemic, I had only dabbled with meditation; but, dealing with the constant what-ifs required regular practice for 10 to 15 minutes each day. Then, this summer, I contracted COVID and used meditation to pass the time, deal with the symptoms, and manage the uncertainty of when I would return to normal.
My favorite meditation app, Ten Percent Happier, recently revealed that I had reached a milestone that my earlier skeptic self would never have believed possible: 100 weeks of continuous daily practice, usually lasting between 10 and 30 minutes each time. I felt like a different person, just like every cliched meditation conversion story implies.
This metamorphosis taught me three important lessons. First and foremost, it's essential to practice each day for as long as it feels comfortable without aiming for perfection. Regular practice puts you on a fruitful path to enjoying the potential advantages of meditation. Second, despite my initial reluctance and skepticism, I can confirm that these benefits—which may include stress reduction and enhanced emotion regulation—were genuine for me and really satisfying. Finally, it's crucial to refrain from exploiting that talent as a means of getting around strong emotions even as you become more composed and less receptive. Although it's good to be able to manage emotions better, for some people this may unintentionally result in numbness or detachment.
Here is further information on each lesson I took away:
1. Give up trying to be flawless and just log the minutes.
I would immediately do it if I could go back in time and gradually lengthen my guided meditations while giving up the notion that there is a "perfect" way to practice.
I only did five or ten minutes of meditation every day for the majority of my first 100 weeks. My usual justification was that I was too busy for lengthier sessions. While occasionally accurate, I'll admit that on occasion I relied on a quick exercise to cross off a checkbox.
But according to scientific study, the benefits of meditation only become apparent after weeks of regular daily practice, possibly lasting at least 10 minutes. Researchers found that when meditators were compared to a control group who listened to a podcast over the course of four weeks, daily practice for 13 minutes had no effect. The results were published in the journal Behavioral Brain Research in 2018. But after eight weeks of the same practice, the meditators reported less negative mood swings, better focus, less anxiety, and improved working memory. They also kept up their regular 13-minute practice.
According to the study's principal author, Dr. Julia Basso, Ph.D., an assistant professor in Virginia Tech's human nutrition, foods, and exercise department, the guided meditation's duration was precisely set to allow participants to fit it into their busy schedules. It has to be long enough to reap the rewards but not unreasonably so.