I had trouble meditating. My rapid-fire thinking as a child energized me. My mind was full of new ideas and connections. Observing and letting go of thoughts, as mindfulness meditation requires, was frustrating. The skill was unattainable. Boredom also hurt. I let my restless, disruptive monkey mind run free.
Mindfulness and meditation become impossible to ignore. I changed, too. After becoming a father nearly a decade ago and reporting on terrible themes like deaths and sexual abuse scandals, I want calmer interior seas.
You may be wanting to start or restart a meditation practice as the new year approaches. First, know that a winding path is fine. In 2017, I tried seven meditation applications to "calm my mind every day." My commitment eroded after a few months. From then on, I barely dabbled in meditation until the COVID pandemic, when it became crucial for dealing with the constant what-ifs. I caught COVID this summer and meditated to pass the time, cope with symptoms, and manage uncertainties about when I'd get better.
My meditation app, Ten Percent Happier, just showed I'd accomplished a milestone my skeptical self never imagined: 100 weeks of consecutive daily practice, 10 to 30 minutes each day. I felt changed, as in every clichéd meditation narrative.
I learned three lessons from this transition. First, practice every day for as long as you can without straining for perfection. Meditation can be beneficial if practiced regularly. Second, after much resistance and doubt, I can attest that those benefits were real for me and quite pleasant, despite requiring a long time to nurture. As you become calmer and less reactive, avoid utilizing that skill to avoid intense emotions. For some, being more emotionally stable might lead to numbness or detachment.
Here are my lessons:
1. Stop striving for perfection and log hours.
If I could go back and gradually lengthen my guided meditations, I would do so immediately.
In my first 100 weeks, I meditated 5 to 10 minutes daily. I was too busy for lengthier sessions. I'll admit that I sometimes used a short drill to "tick a box."
The advantages of meditation appear after weeks of daily practice, perhaps 10 minutes or more. A 2018 study published in Behavioral Brain Research indicated that 13 minutes of daily practice over four weeks made no change for meditators compared to a control group listening to a podcast. After eight weeks of regular 13-minute meditation, meditators had less negative moods, better concentration, less anxiety, and better working memory.
The length of the guided meditation was set so it could fit into a participant's busy day, according to the study's principal author, Dr. Julia Basso, Ph.D. It had to be long enough to provide benefits, but not too lengthy.