Back in January, we kicked off a plan to help you program your mind for success in 2017.
Whatever you want to accomplish this year, your journey begins with simple mindset practices that help you clearly see what is important to you and what it takes to get it.
In Part 1, we covered finding your why—the deep-down reason you want to accomplish what you’ve chosen to set as your goal.
In this installment, we’ll look at one of the most effective strategies for the process of reaching it: meditation.
Cory Allen, a 15-year student of meditation and creator of Release Into Now, a six-week guided meditation program, offers the following advice for turning off the noise in your head and tuning into the mentality that lets you get what you want.
First Off, Why Should I Meditate?
Influences and trauma from our pasts make it difficult for us to hear news, have conversations, or set goals while keeping an open mind. Most people don’t respond; they react. “Meditation helps you experience life with more internal space,” says Allen. “By that I mean being able to have a calm, present awareness that allows you to respond to life instead of simply reacting based off of your inherited behaviors and reflexes.”
Obviously, this aspect of meditation helps you to control your temper when you feel angry and bring you peace—a massive comfort by itself—but think of its implications for pursuing your goals. It will help you make better decisions, and, says Allen, you’ll enjoy the process of achievement more (which is important, as the process of reaching any goal is more satisfying than the actual realization).
“Meditation helps you wake up to see that your life and journey is unknown,” says Allen. Instead of assuming the worst or second-guessing yourself when you take a risk, based on problems or failures you had in the past, you’ll be able to look at your current tasks and challenges with a balanced perspective and optimism. That, in turn, increases your likelihood of being successful. Regular meditation improves your ability to concentrate, your attention span, and can bring you relief from feelings of anxiety and depression. Your sleep quality can also go up.
A 2015 UCLA study found that the brains of long-term meditators were better preserved as they aged than people who didn’t practice meditation. Meanwhile, research from Yale discovered that meditation decreased mind-wandering, which is associated with worry and unhappiness. Furthermore, it was learned that when a meditator’s mind does wander, he or she has better control of refocusing it.
How To Meditate
If you’re brand new to meditation and don’t know where to begin, Allen offers the following steps. Focus on one at a time, progressing at your own pace.
1. Sit comfortably in a chair or on your couch. Turn off your phone and avoid any distracting noises such as music with a beat or TV—completely unplug and remove yourself from any potential disturbances. Close your eyes for five minutes and observe your breathing. Don’t try to breathe a certain way, just watch your belly and chest rise and fall inside your mind. Yes, your mind will wander, but don’t feel guilty about it. “Get that out of your head,” says Allen. “Our minds always wander. When you catch it, bring it back to your breath. Over time, you’ll find you’re able to concentrate longer and longer—that’s awareness. It’s just like a muscle. Train it and it will get stronger.” You may want to spend a week or so just focusing on breathing and quiet for five minutes. When you feel you can do this with some efficiency, you can begin practicing visualizations.
2. After taking five minutes to observe your breathing, begin to imagine looking at yourself from outside your body. See yourself sitting there and the room around you in your mind’s eye. Don’t judge anything, don’t comment to yourself, and try not to let what you’re seeing lead you down another path of thought. Just observe it all exactly as it is and accept it. Try to spend another five minutes like this.
3. When steps one and two feel natural, you can begin to tap into emotional states. “Visualize your body as a shell with a hollow center,” says Allen. “Try to bring up any kind of emotional or negative feelings you’re dealing with—stress, anger, worry, fear—and then visualize that feeling as a sharp, black crystal growing inside your body.” This will represent any major anxiety you’re troubled by, be it concern over a relationship, conflict with your parents, financial problems, or anything else. One of these will come to the forefront of your mind, and it’s always the one that has the most impact on your life. Don’t focus on a person, place, or object—focus on the feeling it provokes in you. “The physical or emotional feeling of that stress is becoming a black crystal. You think about the crystal but try to feel how you felt about the issue.” Now draw in a breath and then exhale, visualizing pieces of the crystal breaking free and leaving your body forever. Spend five minutes building the crystal and destroying it.
4. When you have the hang of #3’s visualization, spend another five minutes on this one. Imagine your heart space as a mouth and visualize breathing air into your heart. Now think of that air as something positive in your life, something that feels good—maybe it’s someone you love, a happy memory, or a puppy. “Bring that positive feeling into your heart space and visualize it as a flame coming out of your heart when you’re exhaling,” says Allen. “You want your heart space to catch fire.” Feeling warmth and love, particularly toward yourself, is a must for achieving goals. “You have to have self-love in order to have self-belief. Then you can move toward your goals feeling like you both have value, and that gives you a sense of optimism that your dream will come true.”
You can meditate at whatever time of day works for you. Allen likes to do it first thing in the morning to set his mindset for the day. You can meditate as often as you like, and there’s no minimum or maximum to the sessions you can perform in a week—two or three times is fine. “People have a proclivity for making things into work,” says Allen, “and I don’t want meditation to feel like a task that they have to do. Do it when you’re drawn to it.” Twenty minutes is a good target time, but even five can be beneficial.
Music For Meditation
Music can serve to distract the senses, helping you achieve a deeper state of meditation. But the type of music you choose is critical. “If there’s percussion, it plots moments of time,” says Allen. “Then it’s hard to get out of time with it.” You’ll find yourself thinking about the rhythm and the music rather than your visualizations. Allen, who has a background in audio production, recommends music with binaural beats.
As your mind goes through different levels of focus, alertness, rest, flow states, and sleep, your brainwaves operate on different frequencies. Neurons fire at different speeds. Binaural beats direct one tone into one ear and a different tone into the other. “The difference in the frequency of those two tones is the vibrational speed of the neurons firing in your brain in that particular state of mind,” says Allen. “The sound trains your brain to make up the difference between the two tones and courses it toward the state of mind the music is designed for.” Allen has created his own beats that take you through various states, such as focus and relaxation.
To be clear, a beat in musical terms doesn’t automatically equate to percussion. “Beats in music are when two frequencies that are close in hertz rub up against each other and create a wobble sound, like a black and white key played together on a piano.” Binaural beats serve as ambient noise—often rain sounds.