[Bonus article from the 28 Day Meditation Challenge]
What we think impacts our emotions and our actions. In other words, our mind and body are inextricably linked. And if you’re not in the mood to meditate, you’re unlikely to get great results just by forcing yourself to do it. That’s where a few secrets from the world of psychology can come in handy.
Think about how you suddenly jump if you see something you’re scared of. Your mind sees the stimulus and produces a rush of adrenalin in your body. Mind affects body.
Similarly, if you’re really physically tired, it can be very difficult to think clearly. In this case, body affects mind.
How you feel affects how you think which affects how you behave.
Test Your Mind-Body Link
To prove how much positive thinking affects your body and mind, try this quick exercise.
- Sitting in a chair, say out loud the words “tired, weak, tired, weak, tired, weak…” As you keep repeating them, try to stand up. Notice how that feels.
- Repeat the exercise, this time saying “powerful, strong, powerful, strong, powerful, strong…” Notice how you almost jump out of the chair.
What was the difference?
What you were thinking affected your performance.
That applies to any activity we undertake, even meditation. If we expect to find it difficult, we will. If we tell ourselves we’re not in the mood, that’s exactly what we’ll experience. But if we expect to find it easy and to excel at it, we are more likely to succeed.
So if you try to meditate whilst feeling confused, frustrated and fed up, you’re unlikely to feel relaxed and you’re unlikely to enjoy your meditation. But using your mood as an excuse not to meditate isn’t a great idea, either!
Would you like to know how to manage your emotional, mental and physical state, so you can always have the frame of mind that is most appropriate to the task in hand?
Reminder: What’s A ‘State’?
Our state is our “way of being at any one moment” – it comes from our physiology (actions), thoughts and emotions.
The calmer your state, the easier it is to think logically. The more relaxed and day-dreamy the state, the easier it can be to be creative.
Traditionally, we believe that we can’t control our state. How often have you heard (or even used!) the phrase:
“he made me feel bad”
How did the other person get into your head and force you to feel unpleasant emotions? How did they send you annoyed thoughts? How did they gain control over your entire hormone system, which runs the show on the chemical reactions that are our emotions?
When we use phrases like “he made me feel bad”, we’re giving our unconscious mind the message that we’re the victim – we’re not in control; we don’t have any choice.
Alas – or perhaps fortunately – that’s not true.
Although we can’t always change our circumstances, we can always choose how to respond.
The fact is that our state is within our control. We can learn to control our mind. We can choose how to respond. So, if someone provokes us, we are still free to choose whether or not to get annoyed.
Similarly, if we’re not feeling in the mood to do something, such as meditate, we can always, always, always choose another mood. We can choose to feel in the mood to meditate. The rest of this bonus article will show you how.
States can be either helpful or unhelpful.
A helpful state is one that empowers us; it makes it easier for us to achieve our outcome.
An unhelpful state is one that holds us back; it makes it harder for us to perform.
Spend a few moments thinking about the states you regularly experience. Which would you say are helpful? Which hold you back?
My helpful states
My unhelpful states
Now, for each of your ‘helpful’ states, think of a memory – a specific event – that takes you back to feeling that way. Make a list.
Then, if you find yourself in one of your ‘unhelpful’ states, all you need to do is go back to one of the memories from your ‘helpful’ list and it will instantly shift your mood. The memory triggers chemical reactions in your body that impact your emotions. So happy memories can help you feel better, no matter what else is going on in your day.
If we “find” ourselves in a unhelpful state, there are a number of things we can do. If you’d like a ‘quick fix’, here are three really simple things you can do to improve your emotional, mental or physical state:
- Sit up straight – changing our physiology changes our state – remember the ‘powerful and strong’ test?
- Look up! Often, if we’re in an unhelpful state, we naturally look down to the kinaesthetic area of eye accessing, as we dwell on the feelings. Looking up brings us back to the visual arena.
- Smile. Yes, smile! Scientists have proven that, if we smile or laugh for more than a few minutes, it sends signals to our brains to release the endorphins in our bodies that occur naturally when we are happy. It lifts our mood.
Prepared to put in a little more effort?
The ‘anchoring’ technique in the previous bonus article can be amazingly effective.
Want to get up and really shake off that unhelpful state? Then watch out for the Day 18 message: How Wiggling Your Butt Can Help You Meditate.
Are You Trying Too Hard?
Who do you believe: those who tell you that meditation should be enormously hard work? Or those who tell you it should be effortless?
Firstly, dump the word ‘should’. It’s one of the most dangerous words in the English language and all it ever does is trigger those old friends of ours: guilt and obligation. Dumping the word ‘should’, in this case, sets you free to experience things for yourself and draw your own conclusions.
Then, here’s the answer I give to the initial question, when asked by my students.
The harder you try, the harder it is. The less hard you try, the more you accept, the more you ‘let go & trust’, the easier and more natural it becomes.
Meditation can involve changing habits we have cultivated for a lifetime. We have spent many years practising being busy, thinking three things at once, multi-tasking and doing anything other than sitting still. Meditation and mindfulness can feel like hard work at first, but once you start practising for the odd few minutes during the day, it eventually becomes effortless – like a switch you can flick. Just imagine it!
Remember: meditation is about calming your body, mind and emotions, to reconnect with the ‘truth’ of your current-moment experience of life. It is about accepting your thoughts as thoughts and no longer engaging with the emotional conversation. It’s not about a totally silent mind.
If your monkey mind is playing games, rather than fighting it and feeling annoyed, imagine softening your body, mind and emotions – melt away the tension – stop resisting – accept. Let go of the effort. Just allow yourself to experience the results. Surrender to the fact that a state of meditative awareness is actually our natural state. This whole ‘busy-ness’ thing is learned behaviour – so we can unlearn it!
Yes, we really CAN train our mind to be more still and quiet. And it doesn’t need to be difficult or take years; it does take gentle, consistent effort and CHOICE.
Typical signs that you are trying too hard include a clenched jaw, a furrowed forehead, tense shoulders, upper chest breathing, breathlessness and even holding your breath during meditation. That’s why the first step of each meditation we do is to relax the body and then do certain simple breaths to release tension and relax the mind.
Meditation doesn’t have to be hard work, but it does require consistent effort. Just like learning a sport or a foreign language, you wouldn’t expect results if you’re just popping by once in a while. Dedication – gentle, relaxed dedication – and consistent effort will produce much better results than ‘trying hard’ ever could.
Meditation doesn’t require you to ‘do your best’ or ‘try really hard’. It simply asks you to show up, bring an open mind, practise the techniques, and let them work their magic.