An annoyingly persistent inability to shake stress — and to summon focus — led me to seek new ways to become more mindful and, well, present. Worry and stress live in the past or future, I’ve learned. Whereas doing — including actions that reclaim a steady sense of calm — live in the here and now.
My mind tends to flit around with such speed that, years ago, I had largely written off meditation as incompatible with my brain.
Well, my breakthrough came about six months ago when I found guided meditation tracks. To me, guided meditation is like using a personal trainer, who’s not going to let you just wander around the gym, taking breaks and getting sidetracked from putting effort into a solid work out.
Since I started listening to different guided meditation recordings, it has made an incredible difference — in a lovely, “just let things go” kind of way. Surely there are more than 12 blissful reasons to become more mindful, but these are at the top of my list.
1. My day starts with a dose of optimism
The focus of my guided meditation depends on how I am feeling about the day that lies ahead and the events and challenges it includes. Sometimes, I focus on gratitude; other times, on compassion. Regularly, I find it’s helpful to be reminded (as a wife, mother of two grade-school boys, business owner, sister, daughter, friend, board member, volunteer, and so on) to value and appreciate myself and my contributions.
Regardless of the focus of my guided meditation, it always leaves me feeling more grounded. Turns out, this is the case for many people who meditate. And who doesn’t want to start their day like that?
2. It doesn’t have to take a ton of time
Most days, I’ll take 20-25 minutes in the morning to listen to a guided meditation session. (I wake up a bit earlier to fit it in. And the improvement in my mood — before coffee, even — is so significant, I don’t miss hitting the snooze button two more times.)
Yet, putting mindfulness into practice can take much less time than that. Snarled in traffic, behind a jerk of a driver, I can choose to show compassion or, to get sucked into a gooey pit of anger, offense, annoyance, or frustration. Taking a moment to be mindful and remaining calm versus simmering and stewing the rest of my commute? No contest.
3. Deeper, better sleep
My preferred time to listen to one of my favorite meditation mentors, Michelle Alva, Elisabeth Blaikie, or Jason Stephenson, is in the morning. But I find I am able to sleep better at the end of the day now, as well. Research supports the notion that meditating contributes to more relaxing and sound sleep.
4. When sidetracked, focus returns more easily
I’ll confess that this didn’t happen for me, at first. But now that my meditation habit is going on months and not days, I find it is possible to pull my attention back to the task at hand more regularly and successfully than before.
5. Less stress
This claim requires no fine print — or even, for that matter, a prescription. Mindfulness meditation reduces stress. Evidence supports what might otherwise sound too good to be true.
6. Job satisfaction improves
Employees who were taught techniques for using mindfulness — and then practiced them — experienced significantly less emotional exhaustion and more job satisfaction than participants in the control group, in this research study.
7. A more forgiving side is showing up more often
That example from #2, about showing compassion to the jerk in traffic? No, I have not turned into a patient angel. Let’s just say I choose that route more than I used to. It actually feels liberating. Seriously.
8. Enhanced creativity
When the engine fueling my creative ideas stalls, it can feel overwhelming. It’s as if my productivity slumps into first gear, or stops — whether my project and client deadlines allow for that, or not.
Since I began meditating, I have noticed things humming along more regularly. And research exists that supports this finding.
9. Speedier cognitive function
Another way to say this might be a less-foggy brain. The pathways work better when they’re maintained. And meditating is like maintenance for your mind.
10. Better health in some other, surprising ways
Some of the ways meditation encourages good things for people’s brains and bodies weren’t intuitive (to me, anyway.)
Ineedmotivation.com has a list of 100 benefits from meditation. It includes fewer headaches; relief from asthma; clearer skin; improved fertility; an enhanced immune system — even better hearing!
11. More energy for restarting positive habits
I’ve been pretty fit and active most of my adult life — until about five years ago. There’s no good excuse. But I let myself blame the hectic pace of life with two small children, work, home and everything else that goes along with that. (See #1!)
Since I’ve started meditating, I have been able to restart a fitness routine and see gains in my strength and endurance. I feel more motivated to keep it up, too.
12. Perspective, perspective, perspective
We all know we’re not supposed to “sweat the small stuff.” But keeping a handle on what counts as “the small stuff” is hard — especially when our careers and lives seem to be driven by electronic devices switched on, and connected to WiFi, 24/7. The demands of modern life can get really out of whack with what really matters. Knowing that is one thing. Regaining perspective, or balance, is another. And my guided meditation habit has helped me to do this. Ahhh.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned since starting down this mindfulness path is that it is possible to get the hang of this. Guided meditation is what helped me stick with it. There are many other approaches, though, toward adapting a life that incorporates more mindfulness. What have you found that works for you? And what changes have you noticed?
Featured image courtesy of Mathew Bedworth licensed via Creative Commons.