The biggest lie we tell ourselves is that meditating is not a high priority.

First of all, if you don't realize how much science there is behind meditation, you must be living under a rock. And the book I’m currently kvelling over, The Happiness Advantage, says that meditation, just five minutes a day, is one of the most reliable ways to increase our natural tendency toward happiness.

But I don't want to sound too girly when I tell you to meditate. So I'm telling you instead that the Marine Corps is using meditation to help troops cope with the stress of warfare. Imagine fifty guys sitting cross-legged, eyes shut, with a rifle in every lap. The Marines were totally skeptical at first, of course, but in Men's Journal (one of my favorite magazines) there's a great article by Vanessa Gregory about how the Marines became believers. (This article is not online. Annoying. So here’s a link to a Science Daily article about Marines meditating.)

Also, I don't want to sound like an overly spiritualized hippie cliche, so I’m also telling you that I learned to meditate when I was playing professional beach volleyball. Many professional athletes meditate because at that level, everyone has the skills to be the best, but only a few have the mental strength to use those skills in the toughest moments.

And, in case you think this doesn’t apply to you, a marriage therapist once told me (and my boyfriend, when we were deciding to skip out on counseling so we could save money for new computers) that you judge a person, and a couple, and an athlete, not by how good they are when there is no pressure, but on how well they handle themselves when everything is going wrong. So people should learn to mediate when things don’t feel terrible. It’s like networking when you have a job: make a big change from a strong position.

Another thing, though. I don’t want to sound like a hypocrite when I tell you to meditate. Because, I know all this stuff and I’m not doing it.

Well, that’s not true. I have done it before. As I said, I did it for volleyball. I sat, quietly, for twenty minutes a night, visualizing serve receive. I was playing against the Olympic team nearly every tournament (yes, because I was ranked so low on the tour) and I had to really, really focus in order to make good passes from their serves.

When I was meditating, and playing on the beach five hours a day and lifting weights an hour a day, my favorite part of the day was meditating. But when I gave up volleyball, I gave up meditating.

Then I did yoga (which is about breathing, so it counts as meditation). I was doing such hard-core yoga that I was waking up at 5am, doing ninety minutes of yoga, going home to sleep from complete exhaustion, and going into work late. Five days a week. And I loved it. But when I got fired from the job (for being late, among other things) and I had all the time in the world as an unemployed person, I stopped doing yoga.

It’s insane not to meditate because it helps all aspects of your life—intellectual, emotional, physical. And it only takes five minutes. You just need to sit for five minutes, and even if you are terrible at meditating and your mind races and you struggle to sit still, those five minutes are still beneficial.

Beneficial because first of all, you get better and better at calming yourself with each five-minute stint you do. But also, some of the most influential (on me) research I’ve ever featured on this blog is from Roy Baumeister who shows (repeatedly) that self-discipline snowballs; if you add one, small thing that requires self-discipline, and do it day after day, exerting self-discipline in other areas because easier.

In the example I first read from Baumeister, he had students walk with a book on their head each day. They had to have good posture and think about what they were doing to do it—which is basic mindfulness about the book on the head. They did it only for a very short time each day, but without anyone in the study mentioning anything about eating, studying or sleep, the majority of the people walking with books on their head each day inadvertently improved in all three of those areas. Self-discipline begets self-discipline.

Also, I am stuck on Shawn Achor’s report that we have a limited degree of willpower. But we can improve it by adding small, soon-to-be-routine acts of self-discipline. And what could be easier than sitting still for five minutes? I mean, you don’t have to do anything. Just sit there. How can we not be able to do this?

I rack my brain every day for the reason I do not do it. I was thinking, if someone paid me $10 each time I sat for five minutes, I’d do it. I’d tell myself I would have $3650 to spend at the end of the year, and then every day, for a year, I’d look through catalogs figuring out how to spend my money.

So I definitely can do this.

What is stopping me? I’ve been thinking for a week, and I think it’s a fear of change. I think I know that sitting for five minutes a day will change me. First, I’ll like it, and I’ll sit a bit longer. Then I’ll be curious about what tips people give newbie meditators. And then I’ll get a little better.

And then, I worry that maybe I’ll be a nutcase. I mostly think people who meditate are nutcases. They are the ones who are always talking about how in touch with themselves they are. And how being where you are now is so important. It annoys me.

But I’m always talking about that stuff, too. So I think meditation maybe will push me over the top. Like, how can I be cool and meditate?

When I tell the farmer I worry about this, he points out that I am not cool anyway. He used to think I was cool, but then I took him to NYC to hang out with my friends there, and then he saw that I’m the dork of my NYC friends.

So, the truth is that I guess I am all those things I don’t want to be: I’m a little too girly for a blog that has a majority-male readership. And I’m a little too spiritual for a blog that tells people, ostensibly, how to make more money, and I’m a little too hypocritical. Because your biggest problem is that you are not meditating and it’s so easy to do. My biggest problem is that I am telling you to do it instead of doing it myself.

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  1. Laura
    Laura says:

    All this time I have avidly followed your blog and have recommended it so highly to many female friends. And yet none of them follow you. I have no one to discuss your ideas with.

    Until this post, I had no idea your readership is mostly male. The weird thing is for some reason this revelation explains a lot about my current life situation. I think I might start reccommending your blog to some men.

  2. Bernie
    Bernie says:

    LOVED this post. (I am a female from the UK and don’t really know what girliness is. I think you should carry on the way you are.) So, I discovered this post whilst procrastinating, read the comments and got some great links (loved this one: http://youarenotsosmart.com/2010/10/27/procrastination/). I’m glad I am not always “on task”.

    I just wanted to say that my husband (who we think has Asperger’s) sits every night for half an hour in the dark with noise reducing headphones on. He says he has to, to clear his head. If I told him to meditate he’d say no but he does this.

    I’m going to find 3 or 5 minutes in my day a few times over the next few days and just do nothing like Sally says. Not going to worry about clearing my mind or anything, just sitting.

    Thanks all!

    • dee
      dee says:

      Thanks John. I suspected that. Yet another thing on this blog pulled out of a hat, but presented as a fact.
      Sigh.
      I’m curious in what is the business model of Brazen Careerist.

  3. Jaye McKenzie
    Jaye McKenzie says:

    Hi Penelope,
    this is my very first time reading your wonderful blog, and boy am I glad I started with this one! My friend, who is also my website designer, suggested that I look it, and you, up. What’s funny is that he’s an engineer (very scientific) and I’m a psychic medium, reiki/energy healer, life coach, inspirational speaker and writer ( spiritual girl into meditation, etc. NOT so scientific) and we linked up to create my site and blog. An odd combo, the science guy and the energy girl, or so says he.

    I mention this because my science guy friend is also very smart (not just due to the kick ass website he designed), so when he told me about your blog, naturally I had to check it out. Excellent stuff here on meditation; so sharp and witty! I give seminars on meditation, intuition, kindness and respect… this great piece of work of yours will reach so many more people… believers and skeptics alike! Thanks for this.

    I would be greatly interested in writing a guest blog/column for you as a follow-up. I walked away from a successful Real Estate career to follow my passion and passed-down fourth generation gifts. I love inspiring others, as you do, to follow suit.

    Cheers,
    Jaye McKenzie

  4. Jaime
    Jaime says:

    Yes, self-discipline snowballs, but (at the risk of mixing my metaphors) it’s also a two-way street. If I know I shouldn’t eat the cookie, I can pull everything in my life together to make circumstances align so that the cookie is less attractive, but ultimately, I just have to put down the cookie.

    Meditate. Just sit down and do it.

  5. Casual Surfer
    Casual Surfer says:

    Okay, I just went to YouTube, found a guided meditation I liked and recorded it to my phone. I had to crank my laptop speakers & the people in the hotel room next to me may think I am insane … but I got a good enough recording of it that I can use it offline. Oh, I picked a 4 minute meditation because 5 seemed like a long time ;) Now all I have to do is stop the voices that wonder if I’m breathing right.

  6. Dale
    Dale says:

    Penny,
    I’ve found that the best way to learn something is to teach it. Perhaps that’s what you really want and do on a personal level?

  7. Lori
    Lori says:

    When you meditate you are confronted with all the stuff that is in you that you spend all day trying to distract yourself from–at least this has been the case for me. That is why it is easier to tell other people to do it first … maybe that is just the bridge we need to cross before we actually do it ourselves.

    I meditate daily now, but it took some time to get there. And I told everyone else to do it first. Kinda like when I dated an addict and tried to get him clean and that way I didn’t have to deal with getting myself clean … but now I’m clean (& he’s not), so it eventually led to it anyhow.

    The path to something does not start out with actually doing the thing. But some smart people, unlike myself, don’t get on the path to meditation. They let meditation be the beginning of the path.

  8. rebecca @ altared spaces
    rebecca @ altared spaces says:

    Recently I told a friend of mine about a ritual I was planning and then hung my head, “But I’m such a dork.” And she didn’t contradict me, she simply said, “Rebecca, dorks are the best people.”

    So there it is.

  9. Stacy
    Stacy says:

    I am currently enrolled in a 3-month yoga teacher training course that requires 30 minutes of meditation every day. I thought this policy was insane. Before the teacher training, I hadn’t meditated a day in my life. And being a person who has ADD, I assumed I would hate it.

    Wrong.

    The daily meditation has helped me tremendously! It has rewired my brain. Before, I struggled to explain myself in a clear and concise manner. I struggled to pay attention to details. I wasn’t fully present in conversations. I was loud and bouncing off the walls 24/7.

    All of that has changed from the meditation. And it’s affected me in such a profound way that I want to share it with other individuals with ADD who struggle in their jobs or in their relationships and don’t want to rely on meds…but what a hard sell to get someone with ADD to do meditation! :-/

  10. Dan
    Dan says:

    Penelope-
    There is- was, as he passed away last October, Zen teacher who started an order which has a monastery in the Catskills and a temple in downtown Brooklyn. He published a book/CD (the CD comes with the book) about Zen meditation, including the Why of it and, most importantly, the How of it. The CD is great unto itself, as it has two instructions with him talking, each for about ten minutes, with two other tracks of a gong gonging (that’s the best word for that sound) twice, one to open and one to close your session. The first of these is for a ten minute meditation, the second for a full half-hour.
    To sit down and shut up (mentally anyway) for just ten minutes seems laughable, but then you start and itchy and then eventually give in and check the timer and see it has been four and a half minutes. It is hard, and harder to start, but incredibly worth it. It, for me, has helped to break down the self-made confusion and head-noise of useless thoughts and thinking, more connection to now.
    Anyway, the information is great!
    (oh- the title of that book/CD is “Finding the Still Point” by John Daido Loori)

  11. Evye
    Evye says:

    I just signed on though I have been reading your blog and laughing a lot thereby for some time.

    I also pass Internet stuff I find to folks I like. Some of your blogs have been among the articles, blogs I send around.

    In meditation, what worked for me for quite a while, was a book called 8 Minute Meditation by Victor Davich. I am going to restart. I feel inspired by this blog and the comments.

    Another thing that has changed my relationship with my thoughts is listening to CDs by Pema Chodron, an American turned Buddhist nun. Many thoughts that caused me pain seem to hurt less and slip by these days.

    My blessed local library has many, many CDs of hers. I check them out listen and renew. I also have bought a few.

    I even recommended some of the ideas to a friend who has had panic attacks for years. It seems to have helped.

    Here is a link: http://www.amazon.com/dp/1591797942/?tag=ptrunk-20

    I don’t know if the one I have is abridged or not since it lives in my car.

    I really enjoy your blog.

  12. Mia
    Mia says:

    Look into Transcendental Meditation (TM). I was never able to quiet my mind enough to even meditate for 1 minute until I learned TM. It is foolproof. The very first day I was able to meditate for 20 minutes and I can do it any time I want.

  13. alesandra reed
    alesandra reed says:

    There are a few of your posts that I reread every few months. This is one of my favorites. you write eloquently of the very same banter that goes on in my head.
    Thank you!

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