Ever have a destructive thought? You know, when your brain suggests something that just drags you down. Stuff like:
I’m not smart enough.
I’m not good enough.
I’m not enough.
I can’t do it.
It’s too hard.
This makes me so freaking upset. Oh my god! This is terrible. This is the end of the world! I can’t do anything else but be upset like a little tiny baby now. So, that’s what I’m going to do. I’ll ignore the entire situtation around me and just decide to be upset and just hangout in Upsetville until I get bored with Upsetville and move on with my life like any productive adult would have done at the get-go.
Of course, you have these thoughts. We all do. It’s part of being human.
You can’t not have these thoughts. I think that’s probably impossible. But, you can decide what to do after you have thoughts.
From what I can tell, you have two options. You can either:
- Let the thought consume you entirely – and dictate your behavior.
- Swat away the unproductive thought, like the little fly that is, and go back to living your awesome life.
That’s a pretty binary set of actions. So, at this point, you may be asking:
But, Jon, how do I go about swatting away negative thoughts like a jiu jitsu black belt swats away a white belt n00b?
If you’ve read the title of this blog post, you know the answer.
If you’ve ever meditated, you know how this works. If you’ve never meditated before, allow me to explain. From this, I hope you’ll come to understand that meditation is sofa king awesome.
When you meditate, you can choose to focus on your breathing. If you do this, your inner monologue will go something like this:
I’m hungry. I wonder what I have for lunch. Shit! I forgot to bring lunch to the office today. Fortunately, I have some microwavable bags of lentils lying around and some granola bars too. I’d rather eat that than pay a small fortune to eat out somewhere for lunch. While granola bars aren’t the best meal in the world, the price is right. F-R-E-E. When I get home, I’ll heat that leftover fried chick – Oops! I’m doing it again.
What happened here? I was focusing on my breathing. But, then I lost focus. But, then I brought the focus back.
The key to meditating is not staying focused on your breathing. That doesn’t matter. Succesful meditation is bringing your focus back to your breathing. It’s practicing bringing your focus back why meditation can change your life.
By repeatedly bringing your attention back to breathing, you get practice in dismissing unproductive thoughts and getting you back on track to whatever you were doing before the unproductive thought showed up. If you meditate regularly, this skillset – dismissing unproductive thoughts and re-focusing – shows up in your life outside of meditation.
Here’s one example of how it could show up.
I just got smashed by some brand new white belt in jiu jitsu. This guy who beat me knows nothing about jiu jitsu and he just destroyed me. I obviously suck and am a terrible person. I should quit jiu jitsu because there is no hope for-
Fuck that stupid thought!
What did I learn in this last roll? How can I better defend myself at the next round? Keep my elbows in! Keep my chin tucked! Let’s do this! I’m ready for the next round!!! Bring it on!!!111
This isn’t positive thinking. This isn’t optimism. This isn’t focusing on the good aspects of life. I know it may look like the given the example above, but it’s not.
It’s about the practice of re-directing what you think about. I know it sounds crazy. But you can improve the skill of controlling your focus. And meditation is one fantastic way to do that.
Here’s one more example to illustrate how your brain behaves when you’re versed in meditation:
Ok, it’s time to read this nerdy journal article by Nobel Laurte Bob Merton on the pricing of stocks.
Wow, this is dense.
This is really difficult.
Man, I can’t follow this. I give up. This is impossible. I’ll never be smart. I’ll never be able to cite Merton’s works in my own paper because I’m a complete moron. There’s no hope for me. I’m a complete fail-
Nope! I’m not going there.
I’m going to grab another cup of coffee and proceed to drown my brain in caffine so I can keep up with Merton. Highlighter, pen, and post-it notes by my side, I will get through this article!
At the risk of being repetitive, here’s an illustration to drive the point home.
How to Get Started with Meditation
There are several free guided meditation apps that I’ve tried. I’d recommend them in this order:
All these apps operate on the freemium model. But, I’ve found that after using a couple trials on a couple apps, I’m able to just set a timer on my phone and focus on my breathing – for free.
I Don’t Have Time to Mediate
Me neither. But I do it anyway.
Try 10 minutes a day – and experience it transform your brain.
Don’t have 10 minutes? Try one minute. Don’t have one minute? Shut the fuck up, because you’re full of shit. (And meditation could probably help you with that full-of-shit problem you’re having.)
In addition to a daily 10-minute morning session, I find short three-to-five minutes meditation sessions during the day works well for me. I use the Pomodoro technique for work – and often fit in short meditations sessions during the breaks.
It’ll Take Me Forever to Reach Zen
I think I started having the benefits of meditation show up in my life (i.e. thought control) within a few weeks of meditating regularly. (It may have shown up sooner – but I honestly can’t remember since I started doing this a while ago.) Said another way, you don’t have to meditate regularly for decades to get the awesome benefit of control your own thoughts. The ability shows up relatively quickly.
. . .
I can only hope that this post landed with you. I strongly encourage you to meditate. It can really help you get out of your own way.