Happier, Healthier, and Smarter in 10 Minutes a Day

By Susan Schilke; October 1, 2014

There seems to be an infinite amount of knowledge and advice about how to improve our health and happiness.  I actively seek out this information– not just to inform and improve my own life, but to share with the leaders in TeamStrength and their teams.  There are recurring themes – we need to exercise, get enough rest and eat right.  We need to find sources of renewal and enjoyment, and spend time with those we love.  We need to experience and express gratitude.  Most of us recognize these insights as valid and put some effort into leading healthier and happier lives through better personal habits.  But most of us don’t take advantage of a timeless, proven habit.  And we should.

In our series on science-backed ways to be happier, number nine is a very simple path to rewiring our brains for happiness – meditation.  And it not only makes you happier, studies have proven it can:

  • Make you smarter – numerous studies demonstrate that meditation actually changes our brain structure, and increases concentration, focus, and academic performance.
  • Reduce your pain – researchers found that only four days of meditation reduces pain by 57%.
  • Control anxiety and relieve depression – meditation relieves chronic worry, and a review of the best studies show it to be more effective than antidepressants – with no side efforts.
  • Lower your blood pressure – the relaxed state releases nitric oxide, opening your blood vessels.
  • Help you lose weight – studies show meditation reduces emotional eating.

So it’s proven to make you happier, healthier, smarter and more effective… why don’t we all do it?

Because it’s hard.  Simple, yes.  Easy?  Not really.

The instructions are basic:  1. Sit comfortably with a straight spine, 2. Focus your attention on one thing – the most recommended is your breath, and 3. Don’t think.  What?!

That is not really the instruction – it is to keep your focus on one thing, and when other thoughts occur (and they will), acknowledge them and let them go – then refocus.  Gently.  With forgiveness.CREDIT Adam JonesModel: Niels Alpert

High achievers have problems with all of this.  Leaders spend so much time actively processing that they can’t imagine stopping the mental hamsters spinning on the wheels in their brains.  When they try to meditate, they’re not good at it.  So they try harder.  Gentle forgiveness is tough for the over-achievers.

The recent New York Times bestseller, 10% Happier, brilliantly describes high-achiever Dan Harris’ journey with meditation.  The subtitle – ‘How I tamed the voice in my head, reduced stress without losing my edge, and found self-help that actually works.’  His struggles with his meditation practice hit home for me.

It’s been a goal of mine to establish an effective meditation practice, and I have been unsuccessful.  This year has been better.  In the spring, I was consistent with daily meditation, and I noticed some changes.  A reduction in anxiety.  Better focus.  A sense of inner peace that stayed with me.  Over the summer I fell off my practice, and guess what?  More anxiety, less peace, less focus.

I’m back to a regular, daily meditation, and just like returning to fitness workouts after a break, it was tough at first.  But the ability to focus (mostly) is returning, as is the calm.

Here are some things I discovered:

  1. I had to work to find the right thing to focus on. For me – the breath didn’t work.  I’ve tried focusing on words, a candle’s flame, bird song and prayer beads. I’ve had the best success with focusing on sound – piano music is particularly effective for me.  Actively focusing on hearing every note in the music helps everything else fall away.
  2. Short sessions work – my target is 10 minutes a day – very doable, and surprisingly effective.
  3. There is a cumulative effect. You get better at it, and it stays with you when you are consistent.  (Just like anything else you practice.)

I struggle to describe the impact.  There is more peace, less sweating the small stuff, more mindfulness, a better ability to be present in the now.  It slows the world down a bit.

Try it.