First, I have to let you know that the idea for this post completely interrupted my meditation practice this morning. How ironic! I’ve been talking about meditation a lot lately, attempting to explain the power it has on stress, overthinking, and just overall well-being. Pretty much anyone that gets advice from me, whether it be clients, friends, family, or just the person in line at the grocery store, hears how much meditation has helped me ‘change my personality’ and maybe it can work for them too.
I have always been a stress-case — an overthinker, worrier, planner, preparer, a perfectionist. I like to blame my genetics for this excellent (not really) trait. For most of my life, I loved being this way. I thought it made me a hard worker and a productive, overachieving employee. It was the reason I moved up quickly in the management world because, while I was in a constant state of stress, I got stuff done and done well even if that meant working for free, working on weekends, working in the middle of the night, and ONLY thinking about work.
I also thought it made me really ‘healthy.’ Because it gave me the power to be super organized and diligent with whatever diet I thought I needed to be on to be skinny and whatever amount of rigorous exercise schedule I thought would get me the ideal body. This personality trait helped me get up a 5:00 in the morning and train for several half marathons. It got me through two-a-days at the gym and a 1000 calorie per day diet while prepping for a figure competition. It even allowed me to obsess over following a strict Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) diet for nine months to heal my autoimmune disease (which I highly suspect happened because of said personality trait).
It wasn’t until I became unhealthy and all these supposed ‘healthy’ things came crashing down on me, that I realized my go-go-go mentality was making me sick. Desperate to try anything to feel better, I began brainstorming ways to chill out a little bit. I ditched the super restrictive diets and learned how to eat for my HEALTH and HAPPINESS. I became a regular at my local yoga studio, building a strong Yin practice. I created a relaxing pre-bedtime ritual consisting of Epsom salt baths, candles, enjoyable reading, and time away from electronics. I began taking outdoor walks and just enjoying nature, the sun, and movement and not for the calorie burn. It all felt great!
But, I couldn’t stop my mind! I couldn’t train myself to quit dwelling on the past or over-anticipating the future. Even during my new relaxation endeavors, I would still catch myself thinking.
That’s when my life changed. I found meditation.
I’ll admit it. I was one of those people that believed all of the stereotypes surrounding those that meditated — woo-woo hippies and yogis that claimed to be enlightened and stress-free. I wasn’t buying it. BUT, I was also desperate. My adrenal health had reached an all-time low, I was feeling fatigued and out of it all of the time. And I wanted to calm my mind.
I had done some research and learned the many benefits people had attributed to their mindfulness practice. Changes in mood, stress-level, happiness, acceptance, self-awareness, and even aging are all everyday experiences in those that meditate. I wanted all of that too.
So, I downloaded the Headspace app and finally started my free 10-day, 10-minute guided meditation trial. And in those ten days, I realized a few things: 1) I was terrible at meditation and 2) I needed this. So, I continued with this new project, becoming more intrigued by the thought of what this could do for me. It’s now been a year and a half since my first guided meditation. And I just for the first time realized, I think I’ve got this. Here’s how I did it.
How I Mastered Meditation
I opened my mind.
As I said, I was a meditation skeptic from day 1, but I was also desperate. And I knew the only way I would get any benefit out of this was actually to BELIEVE. So, from that very first day, I went into my practice with zero preconceived ideas, skepticism, or judgment. I went into it knowing it was something that could be helpful for me and it didn’t make me a woo-woo hippie just because I took on this new endeavor. (Not that there’s anything wrong with woo-woo hippies. I do live in Boulder, CO after all — the capital of woo-woo hippies.)
If you know me, you know that when I decide to do something, I commit 100%. If I make a goal for myself, it will get done, no question. This might be going back to that personality trait thing which got me into this predicament in the first place. Once I decided this meditation thing was happening, I was IN. I practiced every night (the best time for me) for months, even when I didn’t feel like it or didn’t think it was doing anything. (I had many of both of those moments.) From my research, I had learned that meditation was most effective when it became a part of your day, most days of the week, or in other words, a habit. And I wanted to do it right.
I let go of perfection.
What a game-changer! Back to that personality thing one more time. I strive to do everything I can to the best of my ability. So, I quickly got annoyed with myself and my meditation practice once I realized how bad I was at it. I didn’t feel like I was doing it right because I kept catching myself drifting off into the world of racing thoughts. Then I learned that recognizing drifting thoughts is part of being mindful and I realized I WAS doing it!
Meditation and mindfulness are not about having a completely clear mind all of the time. While some skilled meditators achieve this, many of us have moments of stillness and moments of thought. It’s all about being gentle with your mind regardless and when you notice it drift, remind yourself what you are trying to achieve and bring it back to the present moment.
Once I stopped beating myself up because I wasn’t doing it right, I enjoyed my practice so much more. And, it got even more comfortable to stay in the present because I was no longer worried about doing it correctly.
I tuned in.
I went several months of this daily meditation practice feeling like it wasn’t working and wasn’t doing anything. But, I committed to it, so I stuck with it even though I wasn’t getting results. Then, one day, it crept right up on me. I was sitting in the car (which I do a lot) stuck in an unmoving, random midday traffic jam. Because of the amount of time I spend in the car, I HATE traffic. It drives me nuts…especially when it’s random…and going to make me late.
But, on this particular day in memory, I sat calmly in that traffic jam, rolled down the windows, put on some tunes, and was enjoying the moment. It didn’t hit me until later that day how unlike me that was. And how awesome it felt! As I reflected, I realized how many other life scenarios had happened in those recent months, and I hadn’t reacted! I was doing it! I was responding instead of reacting; one of the critical thought processes of those who meditate.
After that realization, I began tuning into myself a little more. And realizing how much I had changed. It wasn’t like this one moment when all of a sudden I was calm. It was much quieter than that. The new, improved responder in me crept in slowly and shifted my mentality without me even knowing.
Once I realized that shift, I became a true believer. And I didn’t have to strive to commit to my mindfulness; it was just there. It was now part of my life.
Since then, so much has changed for me. I like to say meditation has changed my personality. While that seems almost impossible to do, I can’t find another way to describe it. I have more tolerance for stress and negative life situations. I remain calm much more than I used to. I can recognize when my thoughts get out of control — spending too much time in the past or future — and can bring it back to the present and stay in the moment. That has been monumental!
And it’s not to say that I don’t have my moments. It’s just that I now can recognize them, whereas before meditation, my thoughts ran rampant all of the time and I didn’t even know! I’m proud to say that I feel that I have now mastered my meditation practice.
Now, I want to hear from you. Let me know how your meditation practice is going!