- Meditation and mindfulness is increasingly popular among successful men looking to give themselves an edge, reduce anxiety and think clearly.
- Effects take a few weeks to notice, and is hard to master. The basic forms of meditation involve focusing on the breath, and noticing when your mind wanders off.
- If you're sceptical about meditation, you should rethink and give it a proper go.
- Easiest way to get started is to use a guided meditation app. We like Waking Up with Sam Harris.
Excuse A: "I don't believe in that woo woo stuff."
Fair enough. On face value, meditation seems on-par with horoscopes, tarot card readings and Steve Waugh's red hanky in terms of superstitions.
But we wouldn't be writing this if we didn't feel strongly that Australian men should give it a go. It's life-changing stuff, and all of us at the Pilot office are converts (not in a religious way – and we'll explain that soon).
Also, there is a tonne of study coming out to show practice can help modulate pain, mitigate anxiety and depression, improve cognitive function, and even produce changes in gray matter density in regions of the brain related to learning and memory, emotional regulation, and self awareness.
Excuse B: "I can't meditate."
The three most common words you will hear from any guy who has dabbled in meditation before. Sound familiar?
“I tried to, but I kept thinking about work or what I’m going to have for lunch today, so I gave up.”
Just like anything good, you have to be prepared to give meditation a proper go before you give it up (Aussie cricket selectors, take note).
Or, “I really want to meditate, but I don’t have time to because of [this shitty excuse] or maybe [this other shitty excuse]”.
Actually, that should get its own heading.
Excuse C: "I don't have time to meditate"
If you don’t have time to meditate for 10 minutes a day, you need to be doing 30. - Some guy
How the Zen proverb actually goes is: ‘“If you don't have time to meditate for an hour everyday, you should meditate for two hours.”
But look, for those of us that aren’t trying to be monks, 10 minutes will be enough to get groundbreaking results over time. You may even find you want to do an hour a day.
But let's be honest, you're not that busy. You just need to prioritise this. If you're not willing to then save your time and stop reading now. But, if you can admit that you can spare 10 minutes a day, either in transit, or by getting up earlier, or skipping netflix (intros), then let's dig in.
- Meditation is about clearing your mind WRONG
- Meditation is religious NUP
What's the goal?
The attraction of meditation for many men is the superpower of mental clarity. Better decision making, reduced brain-clutter and that feeling of presence in the moment... like time has slowed down.
It's not about reaching new planes of consciousness (though the pros reckon they can get there), or about clearing the mind from thought completely.
Let's say that again...
The point of mindfulness meditation is NOT to clear the mind, but to be aware that you have thoughts, and are thinking. It's a state of open non-judgemental attention of your thoughts, irrespective or whether the thoughts are pleasant or not.
When you're good at it, you can recognise when you're stressing and choose to see it for what it is – just a thought, that can't ruin your day.
Yeah its not an easy concept but if you aren’t exactly sure what this means that’s fine, all will be revealed in time young padawan.
Meditation can be non-religious
There are many different types of meditation, some which are intrinsically tied to Buddhism, Hindu etc. Vipassana (translation - 'insight'), which derives from the oldest tradition of Buddhism and has been adopted in entirely secular (non-religious) way.
The quality of mind cultivated in vipassana is generally referred to as “mindfulness” (the Pali translation is sati).
In fact, a program called “mindfulness-based stress reduction” (MBSR), pioneered by Jon Kabat-Zinn, was developed to treat people struggling with life’s difficulties and physical and or mental. Absolutely nothing to do with religion.
Let's meditate, right now
C'mon, let's give it a crack, right here. No time like the present.
Ok, so now we know which type of mediation we are looking at, mindfulness meditation. We know the psychological and physiological benefits, and that there is no religious requirement.
Before we begin
Before you begin, set the expectation that you don't have to think or worry about work or have any obligation over the next 10 minutes.
You might remember you forgot to do something. Push it aside and remind yourself that for 10 minutes, you have no obligation. Set the timer, and:
10 minute meditation
- Sit comfortably, with your spine erect, either in chair or cross-legged on a cushion.
- Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and feel the points of contact between your body and the chair or floor. Notice the sensations associated with sitting—feelings of pressure, warmth, tingling, vibration, etc.
- Gradually become aware of the process of breathing. Pay attention to wherever you feel the breath most clearly—either at the nostrils, or in the rising and falling your abdomen.
- Allow your attention to rest in the mere sensation of breathing. (There is no need to control your breath. Just let it come and go naturally.)
- By this point you your mind will be wandering. An amazing success here is noticing your mind has wandered. Honestly, take a second, this is a big ass win, man.
Noticing when your mind wanders
Ok, so you noticed you were distracted. Get used to it. This will keep happening. You just have to accept this.This is the entire name of the game.
Sometimes you will wander more often than other times. Try not to get frustrated. As we said, the goal is not to not think, or not wander, but notice you have done so and be able gently bring your focus back. Let’s start again. YEW!
- Sit. Spine erect.
- Take a few deep breaths. Notice sensations of sitting.
- Pay attention to wherever you feel the breath most clearly.
- Just rest your attention on the breath. Cover it from the beginning of the inhale to the end of the exhale. (You don’t need to force the breath. Just let it come and go.)
- When your mind wanders in thought, or more accurately when you notice your mind has wandered, gently bring it back to noticing the breath. If you become frustrated, just notice your frustration, then come back to the breath again.
- As you focus on the breath, you can start pushing out to other sensations that appear: sounds, feelings in the body, emotions, etc. Just notice them as they appear. Then come back to the breath.
- As soon as you notice you have been lost in thought, put all your attention on the thought. Notice the thought is intangible, and only exists in this place of your consciousness. Return your attention to the breath.
- Continue in this way until you can merely witness all objects of consciousness—sights, sounds, sensations, emotions, and even thoughts themselves—as they arise and pass away.
Remember, it's not about being perfect. The benefit is in the "practice" of noticing you are lost in thought, not from never being lost. A great side benefit is that your mind will quiet from the practice.
Amazing things will start to happen
That might sound boring. But some amazing things will start happening. Your mind will quiet. You will feel more in the moment, otherwise known as "present".
Even better is when you catch yourself when you are in an argument or getting frustrated. You will recognise that you are angry as oppose to just being angry.
It will feel like you are suddenly sitting on the bank next to a raging river as opposed to exhaustively swimming against the flow just to stay above water.
Guided meditations are a really good introduction. They explain what to do in more detail and also help remind you when you are lost in thought. Our advice is to start with a paid app that has a single, introductory course, (they all offer free trials) and then decide on whether you want to keep paying, or use a free app.
- Waking Up with Sam Harris - Sam Harris is a well-known atheist, and has a very no-bullshit approach to teaching meditation.
- Headspace - This is a great intro hosted by Andy Puddicombe, who has an amazing voice and teaches the basics really well. One of the most downloaded meditation apps in the world.
- UCLA Free guided meditations
- Insight Timer - an Aussie success story, being the most-downloaded free meditation app in the world
- 10% happier - Dan Harris
- Mindfulness in Plain English - Bhante Gunaratana
- The Experience of Insight - Joseph Goldstein
- Wherever You Go, There You Are - Jon Kabat-Zinn
And that should be enough for beginning!
If you want to learn about a few other things we will cover journalling (great for de-cluttering your mind and getting to the bottom of issues) and metta (a clinically proven way to enhance your EQ and mood, we will cover them here.
Otherwise known as loving kindness meditation.
Yeah, we know that sounds a bit, well, soft, but the science backs it up. There are a lot of benefits of this type of meditation. Increases empathy, compassion, reduces bias and discrimination and increases social connection. To name a few.
How to do it?
These are the four phrases that you will repeat as you imagine different people.
1. I hope you are well
2. I hope you are happy
3. I hope you are healthy
4. I hope you live with ease
- Think of someone you love. Like your best mate, your mum etc. Imagine them happy and laughing. Truly happy. Not a stress in the world. No sadness, no challenges, just a great life. Let the feeling of their laughter fill you up. Now repeat your phrases above while holding onto that image.
- Try to move towards people you are more neutral about. A few different faces will jump into your mind. That's fine. Keep the good times rolling. Keep repeating the phrases but really make sure you are visualising these people. Happy and stress free.
- People you dislike. Yeah, not as easy. You should ironically be able to imagine them easier but the act of wishing them well might be a bit tougher. This is however when all the magic happens. If it's too much for you to begin with skip this step.
- Yourself. Depending on who you are this can come easily or with more difficulty. Imagine yourself, smiling, laughing and repeat the phrases.
A few minutes of this is all you need (ideally 5). You can even practice it walking down the street when you see strangers. Just repeat the 4 phrases (in your head!).
You will quickly see how wishing people happiness can put you in a great mood of your own. The other benefits will be quick to follow.
Journaling: get stuff out of your head
Journaling has become a popular tool for ‘clearing’ thoughts that are bouncing around in your head.
By turning thoughts into words on a page, you are confronting them, and you are forced to think clearly about them. Lots of people compare it to a one-way therapy session with yourself, and we think that’s pretty damn accurate. Here are 4 ways to practise journaling…
Tool 1 - Morning pages
Set a timer or a number of pages (let’s say, 3 pages in a small diary). Ok, now write. Just write. Write what the voice in your head is saying. Do not write to be smart or even with the idea that this will ever be read again. Don’t worry about punctuation or spelling. Don’t go back to fix mistakes. Just write.
i am writing and it feels ridiculous cause i dont have anything to write about blah blahh strange that im still diong this i wonder how long i will be bored for but i said i will keep going so i will keep going wa wa wa aw aw i like that rhiannon song or was it beyonce? jks how goods footty and beers boshaka
This is great. Get this rubbish out. Very quickly you will discover that the river of scrambled thoughts settles and you will start unpacking some of the deeper level stuff that is sitting in the bedrock.
This practice is referred to as Morning Pages, but in reality can be done whenever. Try this for a month and reflect on how and if it’s improving your mental health.
Tool 2 - Weekly reflection
Block 30-60 minutes every weekend to reflect on the week. Write whatever comes to your mind.
- What good things happened this week?
- What challenges did you face?
- Did you spend your time in a way that aligns with your priorities?
- What are you working on moving forward?
This can be a more formal session of writing. Ask yourself questions to issues you want to put focused attention towards. Perhaps you want to ask yourself the same questions for a period of time to see how things are moving along. Maybe you want to score yourself out of 10 in each area. Use this time to expand on more complicated issues in your life.
Tool 3 - Gratitude journal-ling
So this is a boiled down, and different approach to metta. For some, it is a lot more tangible, yet no less life-changing.
Cultivating ‘gratitude’ helps foster positive emotions and reduce stress. Since it takes about 5 seconds a day, your LVR, or return on effort is enormous. Once a day before bed, write down 3 things that you are grateful for. That’s it. Even if it feels like you are going through the motions in the beginning, just stick with it. For many people this turns into a life-changing habit. What do you have to lose? If you're not sure where to start:
- What am I grateful for right now?
- What did I do well today?
- What about a challenge I am currently facing am I grateful for?
Don't over think it, the answer might be a simple as, "I got up when my alarm went of the first time" or "I went to the gym when I didn't feel like it"
Whatever it is in that moment that pops up, feel thankful and acknowledge it. Recognise all the good in your life no matter how insignificant it might seem. Stick with it.
The science: why gratitude is powerful
Neuroscience have proven that on a day when you feel like you don’t have anything to be grateful for, just asking the question is enough to change the chemistry of your brain.
This simple practice trains you to look for everything that is going well in your life so you can start focusing more on the good, not the things that may be going south. The more you stimulate these neural pathways through practising gratitude, the stronger and more automatic they become.
On a scientific level, this is an example of Hebbs Law, which states “Neurons that fire together wire together”.
✈️ Next steps
Think about why you are doing this. Create a reason: I want to sleep better and be happier. Make a commitment for a month, and do it everyday. Remind yourself why it's important. Use resources to help you. You won't regret it.