Over a coffee with my editor recently, I mentioned I’d been lacking motivation, feeling lethargic, and having trouble focusing. (Probably not the best things to say to your boss, but thankfully, she has too many yoga-induced endorphins to fire me.)
She reminded me of the many benefits of meditation — like improved focus, relaxation, and stress relief — and asked if I’d given regular meditation a try. I admitted that I meditated sometimes, but definitely not consistently.
So she gave me a task: Find a meditation app I liked, and commit to at least 10 minutes a day of meditation for a full month. I chose the Calm app — a meditation app with dozens of guided meditations — and began my 30-day journey. One month later, here are eight things I’ve learned.
1. Don’t Try to Do Too Much Too Soon
I don’t like it when I’m not “the best” at something, which means I have a tendency to go from zero to 60 with every new venture. So when I started this challenge, I wanted to be the perfect meditator. I would cure my malaise and become as focused as a heart surgeon after one day of mindful breathing — totally reasonable, right?
So I started off with 45-minute meditation sessions — and, no surprise, found myself feeling stir-crazy. After a few days, I realized I was pushing myself too hard. I was only assigned to do 10 minutes a day. As the saying goes, I was letting “perfect” be the enemy of “good.”
I learned that with meditation — and life in general — I should ease in and give myself time to get adjusted. (Look at me, gaining some fresh insight right off the bat! Is that some kind of world record?)
2. Pay Attention to the Guided Meditations You Choose
Obviously you should pay attention to the instructor or narrator — but also take note of which guided meditations you’re choosing in the first place.
Calm has a series of guided meditations like “7 Days of Self-Esteem,” “Forgiveness,” or “Breaking Habits” — and I realized that by paying attention to the themes I was gravitating toward, I could start to identify what was contributing to my funk.
I have a tendency to choose distraction over facing problems head-on, but in order to choose a guided meditation that felt relevant, I had to confront what was plaguing me. And allocating 10 minutes a day to hearing insights about that topic, and noticing my thoughts around it, was helpful in untangling some of those webs.
3. You Can Always Find 10 Minutes to Meditate
Just like exercise, it’s pretty incredible how many excuses you can come up with for why you don’t have time to meditate. But setting my goal at 10 minutes made this challenge pretty much excuse-proof. It’s always possible to carve out 10 minutes — whether it’s first thing in the morning, midafternoon while you’re killing time before an appointment, or during your bedtime ritual.
4. It’s Really, Really Hard to Be Kind to Yourself
Meditation made it clear how much negative self-talk I create. I would find myself getting down on myself for not being able to focus on my breath, or getting lost in thought and feeling like I “wasted” the entire session. No wonder I’m always exhausted — I’m constantly being beaten up by my own brain!
Meditation isn’t about being perfect. It’s about trying your best and committing to doing the work day after day. This was a good lesson for me — and one I realized I could apply to all my healthy habits. If I noticed myself being careless about my eating habits, for example, I could just gently remind myself to come back to the present moment and be more mindful at the next meal. Easier said than done, of course, but possible!
5. Consistency Is the Hardest Part
Focusing on your breath isn’t the hard part — sticking with it every day is the kicker. After the first two weeks, I felt more energetic — and that’s when that all-too-familiar, self-sabotaging thought pattern started creeping in: “I’m better! I don’t need do this anymore!”
But I learned that meditation is like a workout for your brain: If you stop putting in the work, your hard-earned muscles will atrophy.
6. My Focus Really Did Improve
Go figure — it turns out scientists actually know what they’re talking about! Even within the first week, I noticed a significant improvement in my ability to focus. Work seemed less stressful, my brain felt less foggy, and writing didn’t evoke that “pulling teeth” feeling I’d been having for months. I got better at noticing when I was getting distracted by my phone or being sucked into a Wikipedia rabbit hole — which I can attribute to the daily practice of noticing your thoughts and coming back to the breath.
7. Meditation Helped Me Sleep Better
I do know using computers and phones before bed can suppress melatonin production and make falling asleep difficult. But as a freelancer with an unpredictable schedule, it’s unrealistic for me to be screen-free for hours before bedtime.
So to relax my mind and body before bed, I tried a sleep-focused guided meditation. It helped me focus on something besides my racing thoughts, which made drifting off much easier.
8. One Month of Meditation Isn’t a Cure-All
So, did one month of meditation raise my income, clear my blackheads, and help me write the Great American Novel? No, but it did help me zero in on some issues I need to give greater attention to. It also boosted my productivity and made me feel a bit more grounded. I was able to sit for longer stretches of time to work than I have in months, and I woke up feeling more rested.
So while meditation didn’t solve all my problems, I absolutely see and feel the benefits of regular practice. One month down — many more to go.