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Simple and Effective Meditation Techniques to Create Mindfulness

distraction focus meditation mindfulness Sep 02, 2021

“If you fail to control your own mind, you may be sure you will control nothing else.”

“If you must be careless with your possessions, let it be in connection with material things.  Your mind is your spiritual estate!  Protect and use it with care to which Divine Royalty is entitled.”

Napoleon Hill (Think and Grow Rich)

Think about that one individual who you do not see eye-to-eye with on anything, or an incident where somebody wronged you and you just can’t let it go.  Ask yourself how much time did you waste, how much sleep have you lost, how distracted have you been during important conversations, and how frequently do you feel your blood pressure rise when you think of that individual or incident?

These are good examples of cognitive distractions, or emotional engagements, and how they can hijack our ability to control our thoughts.  In today’s age of endless distractions and associated hyper-alert state, we experience hundreds of emotional engagements daily consisting of an exposure to an event or a thought, that results in a physiological response, that leads to physical action. 

Many of these emotional engagements are well timed, useful, and even good for us.  Others are inappropriately timed, destructive, and result in major distractions that hinder our effort. 

If uncontrolled, uninterrupted, or prolonged, these and situations can impact your emotional health, physical wellbeing, overall effectiveness, and create a destructive sense of bitterness that can dominate your thought for long periods of time.  Not all emotional engagements or cognitive distractions are this serious or detrimental, but even less serious ones can be annoying, disruptive, and even destructive.

Meditation is a science based, simple, and proven tool known to have many benefits, to include creating focus.  Meditation can help interrupt and even reverse the sequence that occurs during emotional engagements.  It does so by “slowing down the cognitive processing of our conscious brain.  This in turn slows both heart rate and stomach activity, and reduces the vagus nerve reaction.  The result is an increased ability to control our attention-giving and emotional responses”.

For some, when they hear the word meditation, they envision someone sitting in the lotus position for prolonged periods and think “here we go, this dude is way out there.” 

For others, meditation is a practical method used to improve focus, concentration, mental stamina, and create a sense of relaxation when stressed.  If you are skeptical of the benefits of meditation, activate your “growth mindset” and give me a few minutes to convince you otherwise.

The goal of this article is NOT to make you a great meditator.  Instead, my goal is to convince you of the benefits of meditation and provide you practical techniques to help you become more mindful, improve your ability to focus, increase your mental stamina, and increase your overall health so you can perform at your best.

Let’s take a detailed look at meditation and how it can help you create the focus necessary to become your best-self.

What is Meditation and Why Should You Meditate?

If you look up “meditation” in the dictionary, you’ll likely find that meditation involves three key functions:  mental exercise, plan/project, and reflect.  When meditating, my techniques are dependent upon these three functions. 

Our brain is like a muscle and must be used, exercised, stretched, and rested to ensure recovery.  When used, our brain becomes stronger, more resilient, more effective, and more resistant to distraction, and when inactive, our brain becomes sluggish, lazy, less effective, and even atrophies.

Meditation is a proven “mental strength and conditioning” method that has numerous positive effects on all aspects of life to include helping us regain control of thought, discipline our mind, overcome distractions that prevent us from focusing on what is important, and much more.  Exercising your brain not only changes its quality of output, but it also improves the brain’s efficiency and overall health.

Common physical exercise regimens include a strength training, aerobic endurance, flexibility, nutrition, and other components.  The individual designs their training program around these components to meet their needs and goals. 

Just like physical training, no single “mental workout” meets all requirements.  Some days you need to create mental stamina via a “mental exercise” session.  Other times you may need a “mental planning or preparation” session.  Or finally, you may have a problem or situation that requires “reflection”.  Regardless, you can customize meditative techniques to meet your specific needs.

“Meditation Workout Techniques”

Meditation can get extremely “deep” and complex, or be simple and practical.  I prefer the latter approach and include four actionable, science based, and effective meditation techniques.  The techniques increased my ability to concentrate, helped me create clarity in support of important activities, and helped me to increase control over thoughts and emotions.

My four meditation techniques are:

  • Reset Session: used as a deliberate stress break or as an impromptu drill to interrupt a destructive emotional engagement.   
  • Training Session: used to increase my ability to concentrate, increase my mental stamina, or to create brain health by clearing my mind and attempting to allow my brain to rest, recover, and rejuvenate.
  • Reflection session: designed to think about or seek new ideas, different perspectives, or gain understanding of a specific topic.
  • Preparation session: used to prepare mentally and physically for a specific task or event.

How to Meditate / The Process

Regardless of which meditation technique used, I follow a simple three step process that includes a warmup, the session itself, a cool down.  Let’s look at each step and technique.

The Warmup

Find a quiet location and a comfortable position.  This may be a challenge, but do the best you can.  This may be while riding the bus or subway to work, during a lunch break, or early in the morning.  The key is to find a time and place where you can minimize distractions.

Ease into the session with 5 deep breaths.  These initial breaths help to slow your heart rate, establish focus, and establish breath control.  Throughout the warmup concentrate on your breath, and as you become distracted and drift, recognize the distraction, and immediately refocus on your breath.  Once complete with the initial breathing exercises, transition into the body of the session.

“The Session”

Each session serves its own purpose and is slightly different.  Determine the objective and duration for your meditation session, then set your alarm. Typically, the duration looks like this:

  • A training session: 5-10 minutes.
  • A preparation session: typically, 10 minutes.
  • A reflection session: up to 20 minutes depending on the topic.
  • A reset session: 5 minutes.

The Training Session

The goal during the training session is to increase mental stamina and to improve your ability to concentrate or focus.  Do this by continuing with your deep breathing.  You can also transition to “box breathing” by inhaling for 5 seconds, pausing for 5 seconds, exhaling for 5 seconds, and pausing for 5 seconds, and repeating.  Others may choose to focus on a mantra.  Either technique is fine.  During this 5–10-minute training session, attempt to focus, or “anchor” your thought solely on your breathing.   

Controlling the frenetic mind is the challenge, but your control and focus will improve over time.  When I first started meditating, my mind was out of control and felt like a ping-pong ball bouncing back and forth.  My mind ricocheted from one random thought to another.  I found this very frustrating.  My ability to flush my thoughts, and focus on my breathing rapidly improved, but remains far from perfect.

You too will experience the frenetic mind, but when you do, redirect your thought to your anchor, and continue until the end of the session.  Do not allow yourself to succumb to the frustration of not being able to control your mind.  Monitoring and measuring your progress is challenging.  Continue to practice and your ability to control your mind will improve.

Preparation Session

Preparation sessions are powerful.  They are also my favorite because they provide an opportunity to mentally rehearse for a specific task or an upcoming event.  I’ve used this technique hundreds of times throughout my professional career in preparation for major events, presentations, classes, exams, and most recently, two Ironman events.

This technique allows you to rehearse an entire event, or a specific portion of an event that may be of concern.  The preparation session incorporates visualization and self-talk techniques.

Let’s use an example of an important presentation you are responsible for.  You are in the final stages of your preparation, and the presentation is complete less any final changes.  You are scheduled to conduct your presentation in a couple days, or maybe even within hours.  You feel comfortable with the content, but are now ready to rehearse the presentation.

You can conduct these sessions in your home or work office, or even while traveling to get in an additional rehearsal opportunity.  Prior to starting your session, ensure you have a copy of the presentation and any other tools or products you may need.

Just like the other sessions, go through your warm-up breathing exercises to help yourself “get in the zone”.  Once complete with the warmup, begin to work your way through the presentation making notes of any problems, corrections, or concerns you identify.  To make this an even more powerful event, incorporate expected questions, interruptions, or even anticipated problems into your session.

Your early attempts through your preparation session may be rough.  You will likely find necessary changes or other problems needing refinement.

Once complete, review your notes and make any corrections or other necessary notes.  Depending on the importance of your presentation or event, you will likely want and need to conduct several sessions.  Use each session to refine and improve.

The Reflection Session  

During this session, focus on a specific unresolved problem or project.  The purpose is to improve clarity and understanding of the challenge.  You may find these sessions more nebulous in nature.  As a result, begin by limiting the duration to five minutes.  As you become more comfortable with this specific session, increase the duration.  You may want to keep a pen and paper handy to record any notes or thoughts as they bubble to the surface. 

Attempt to keep your mind clear, allowing pertinent thoughts to surface.  If random and unrelated thoughts occur, regain control by concentrating on your breathing, and then reorient your focus to your intended topic.  You may not uncover any new revelations, but you may gain clarity or confidence on a previous thought, perspective, or solution.  This technique works well while going for a run, a walk, or a drive. 

The Reset Session (The Abbreviated Meditation Session)

Sometimes you may find yourself suddenly distracted in the middle of deep work and don’t have time to commit 10-20 minutes to a meditation session.  When this occurs, use a technique commonly known as a “reset” session to assist.  A “reset” session begins by recognizing the need for a short break.  You can use these reset sessions to help you:

  • Regain focus after recognizing your distraction.
  • Regain your composure after becoming angry or frustrated.
  • Take a short recovery break.
  • You can even plan them into your day around your work or training schedule to aid in the recovery process or to help you “get in the zone”.

After your warm-up, take slow and deep diaphragmatic breaths. Inhale for a count of 5, hold for a count of five, then exhale for a count of five. If time permits, go for five minutes. If you don’t have five minutes, do it for 30 seconds. A short “reset” session can slow your breathing, your heart rate, and even your brain activity. This technique is quick, easy, and an effective method to help regain focus. 

 “The Cool Down”

Like any other cool down routine, the purpose is to ramp down and prepare for a return to normal activity.  Once your timer goes off, continue to focus on your breathing and complete the session with 5-10 additional deep breaths with each inhale and exhale lasting 5 seconds.  Finally, think about how the session went and make notes for any required changes, frustrations, or any other thoughts that may help you prepare or improve your next session.

Conclusion

Suppose you read about a pill that you could take once a day to reduce anxiety and increase your contentment. Would you take it? Suppose further that the pill has a great variety of side effects, all of them good: increased self-esteem, empathy, and trust; it even improves memory. Suppose, finally, that the pill is all-natural and costs nothing. Now would you take it? The pill exists. It is meditation.” (Jonathan Haidt, 2005)

Just like strength development, or any other facet of performance, you can’t exercise mind control when you need it, if you haven’t taken the time to previously develop it.  If you are going to try meditation for the first time, you must commit and make a legitimate effort for several weeks.  If not, you will quickly reach a point where you will think, “this is a complete waste of time” and stop.  Fight this urge to quit, and keep working at it.  You will likely be making progress and not even realize it.  Remember, your goal is not to become a great meditator; your goal is to achieve your best-self through your improved ability to focus. 

When first learning to meditate, have realistic expectations and don’t expect immediate results or some Zen-like euphoric experience.  I have been meditating for several years and never experienced either, but have improved my ability to focus.

If you are new to meditation, don’t waste time starting from scratch.  Use my techniques as a starting point, and build from there.  If my techniques don’t work, learn successful approaches from others by doing a quick web or YouTube search.

The “ping pong” mind problem will occur.  It is natural and frustrates everyone.  Be patient and persistent and gradually your ability to control your thoughts will improve.

Like anything else, consistency is the key. Keep the sessions short and frequent.  This approach is more effective than long and infrequent ones.

Meditation is extremely personal so do not allow anyone to say “you are doing it wrong.”  Find something that works for you, meets your needs, and adjust as required.

To learn more, download a sample of my Peak Performance Begins in the Mind and corresponding workbook

Consider taking my “Creating Laser Like Focus for Optimal Performance!” Course  

References:

Haidt, J. (2005). The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom. New York: Basic Books.

Ragan, T. (2019, April 17). “The Launch Pad for Learning: Neuroplasticity with Dr. Michael Merzenich.”. Retrieved from Trainugly.com: https://trainugly.com/learner-lab-podcast/

Sullivan, J., & Parker, C. (2016). The Brain Always Wins. Improving your life through better brain management. Great Britain: Urbane Publications Ltd.

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