Starting a meditation practice can seem overwhelming causing us to put it off; I get it. And I’ve been there too.
Today I’ll share with you how small actions can alter your view of meditation. Through the One Minute Sit, you can start taking advantage of a revolutionary tool for living intentionally.
In the summer of 2015, I was introduced to the idea of meditation after reading the Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. The book urged me to seek out new habits that I could incorporate into my life. A late night of aimless Googling led me to pick meditation. It was on every “How to get better at stuff” list and I was up for trying anything that could get me out of the rut I was in after my first year of college.
With the help of a meditation app called Headspace, I meditated every day that whole summer! But as the summer waned and classes started back up, I found myself meditating less and less, reasoning that I didn’t have the time to meditate anymore.
A meditation practice isn’t supposed to falter as stress kicks in. In fact, it should probably grow. But like most people, I did not see the benefits of sitting still for upwards of 20 minutes breathing.
But who says it has to be that long?
Before I can answer that we need to take a detour from meditation and discuss habit formation. Habits hold the key to explaining why, if you are a beginner, the standard 20 to 30 mediation may be ‘wasting your time’.
Starting things is hard.
Behavioral scientists have done amazing work in the past ten year’s uncovering why developing patterns of behavior is so hard. But is it hard? Not really. It’s when we want to pick the pattern that the barriers become overwhelming—at least initially.
Have you ever noticed how hard you work to build good habits, but a bad one can simply bulldoze their way into your life? I can push myself endlessly to wake up early to read, but I don’t even second guess a powdered donut. I believe this is due to how we are drawn to good and bad habits differently. With our predisposal to approach pleasure and avoid danger, the odds seemed stacked against a good habit. We have all heard that the best things in life aren’t easy, and if we take a good look at ourselves we can see how hard things can feel daunting.
Our goal is to change our reality.
And mental tools are available for us to start living intentionally and one of the best methods for beating the hedonic treadmill is framing small wins as big gains.
New York City Subway System in the 1980’s was not the greatest place to be. Crime rates had increased drastically and ridership was also at a decline. The New York City Transit Authority had a large problem on its hand and we know what happens when the problem is too big to think about—we put off the change.
Social Scientist James Q. Wilson had the answer.
He reasoned that part of the crime epidemic was due the environment. It was only natural for crimes to be committed in a filthy graffiti-ridden shelter like the subway. The subway was a mess. If the NYC could not handle petty crimes, citizens can then reason how was the city to handle larger crimes. Wilson’s recommendation was to start small and clean up the subway. Following his advice, the New York City Transit began a program to eradicate graffiti from subway trains and arrest loiterers leading to some of the largest declines in crimes rates in NYC.
Changing your life is a large and highly complex problem that requires work. Amusingly such work can become so daunting it leads to no action at all. With large problems, we should take the counterintuitive approach and start thinking small. Like the Transit Authority, by first picking up some small wins by addressing an issue that may seem unrelated, we can ultimately send a message to ourselves that we mean business.
We need to take manageable steps when attempting to accomplish our habit formation goals. Ask yourself, what is the easiest step to take to just get started? The brain and mind need to develop a relationship with the given habit. Over time you’ll notice your improvements lead to even more improvements by virtue of incrementally small differences in your abilities. Known as the Accumulative Advantage, we can intentionally create differences in our behavior through small wins, and overtime, it strengthens our resolves by gradually raising the bar of what we consider adequate.
The small wins add up.
If you decide to frame your small wins as big gains. You can watch as it creates the large change.
If you’re interested in learning more about the mechanisms of our habits, check out my post on the habit loop.
Now that you understand the importance of repetition when creating new habits, you see how 20 minutes of mediation may just be a wall too high to climb for a beginner. By applying what we know about the profound effects of small actions the question becomes ‘why mediation as the small action?‘ You probably already have an interest in mediation and do not need convincing about the benefits that mediation carries. BUT let us review some of the literature for those who still need some convincing.
Check out this video on mediation by the Youtuber What I’ve Learned. His videography work cannot be beaten when it comes to his ability to engagingly tell the story of the pragmatic purposes of meditation.
The One Minute Sit.
I was introduced to the idea of the one minute sit in a podcast on the meaning of life.tv. It was a discussion between my favorite writer Robert Wright and Bestselling author Dan Harris about Dan’s new book Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics.
Check out this clip:
Dan wants the bar real low because “more mindfulness is better than less mindfulness.” The research is in agreeance on this. Work published in The Scientific Journal on Consciousness and Cognition has revealed how “4 days of meditation training can enhance the ability to sustain attention; benefits that have previously been reported with long-term meditators.” I cannot emphasize this enough. In only 4 days time participants in the study had already begun showing changes in the brain that mirrored the neurological function of long-term meditators. By sitting consistently, we can start observing benefits a meditation practice.
If you’re interested in listening to the full interview, check out the whole conversation here.
Start Your One Minute Sit Today.
Initially I always blindly recommending people sit for long periods of time. But after listening to the conversation between Bob and Dan, I considered what I knew about the brain and habits and realized I was giving out bad advice. Advice that would probably lead people to never meditate. And thinking back, everyone who I ever told to meditate for longer periods as a beginner not only does not meditate but has marked off the whole practice as useless.
Let’s forget about the time and max out on consistency.
In the same way, as we learn to walk step by step, we need to treat our meditation practice as one that needs small actionable steps to maximize consistency. Did you stop walking because you fell a few times? First, if you remember when you started walking, that’s awesome. Second, NO! You did it again the next day and probably do it every day. Mindfulness meditation can become as hardwired into each of us so long as we do it every day and start somewhere simple.
If mediators ever thought about mediation in terms of success, I’d say one of the most accomplished mediators is Deepak. Please check out his approach to starting small. I even recommend you do the meditation with him now—it’s only one minute.
What is most important about meditation and central to all practices is bringing our awareness back to the primary object of attention —this tends to be the breath.
As long as we remember this it is possible to transform a one-minute meditation into a 10, 20, even a 45-minute practice. Such a transformation happens organically and we do not need to rush. As we move forward with purpose, purpose will construct our greatest selves.
It only takes a minute to start living intentionally
Curious about how long I meditate? Find out in the Top 5 Habits I do Every Day.
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