Why The Common Advice on Meditating Sucks

Why The Common Advice on Meditating Sucks

I had just caught a ridiculously early morning flight from Sydney to Melbourne, caught the SkyBus into Melbourne CBD, and had two meetings. And it was only 11 am.
My next meeting was a social one. I was catching up with Dean, a friend and mentor who I hadn’t seen in some time. 
About 10 minutes into our catch up, Dean paused and looked at me (in a sort of funny, intense way):
“Rowan, something is different about you. You’re more centred. You’re calmer. And yet you’ve got more energy. What’s changed?” 
What I hadn’t told Dean, or anyone at that point was that I’d been secretly been meditating for 30 days.
That was the only thing that I had changed.

Let’s call it out. Meditation has become a huge fad.

Over the last decade, meditation has been transformed from a quasi-religious, spiritual practice, to a secular habit critical for mental health and navigating a world filled with distractions. 
Today, everyone is talking about it and recommending it….
But when a friend in early 2016 recommended I try meditation, I was sceptical. Growing up in the Christian faith, I had a number of limiting beliefs about meditation, what it was and how it could help.
Fast forward to today, I’ve been meditating every weekday for the last 2 years and it has changed my life. I’ve got more energy and have greater mental clarity than I’ve ever had in my life.
But it didn’t start that way:

Initially, meditation sucked. It did nothing for me…

The way novice meditators are often recommended to get started (as I was) is to download a couple of guided meditation apps. 
These apps get you started on 10-20 minute daily meditation exercises. A calm, relaxing, usually male voice, speaks to you through your headphones, telling you to focus on your breath, count your breath, feel the weight of your arms, and more.
I downloaded the apps.
And then my wife and I gave it a try.  And we fell asleep.

That was it. All meditating did for me was make me sleepy. 
And I couldn’t help but think:
“What an overrated load of crap!”

But then I decided to try something different.

I was reading a fantastic (but horribly named book), ‘The Miracle Morning’ by Hal Elrod, and he was talking about the importance of a morning ritual. A key element of this recommended morning ritual was meditating.
Here we go again I thought. Another person jumping on the meditation fad…
But he made a suggestion I hadn’t seen before.

Don’t listen to the apps and guided meditations… 

What??? Isn’t that Meditation 101?
Instead, Hal recommended that you instead do self-guided meditation.

What is self-guided meditation?

Essentially, it’s when instead of a voice on an app telling you what to do (breathe, listen, sense and more), you guide yourself. So you tell yourself throughout the meditation what to focus on and do next.
I gave it a go…
And the impact was immediate!
Firstly, I didn’t fall asleep (despite trying it at 6:15 am in the morning after dragging myself out of bed). In fact, the opposite happened. 
I felt re-energised. I was wide awake, activated and ready to go for the day. 
Secondly, I felt a greater sense of clarity. My brain felt alive and switched on.
And the impact would continue through the day.
My mind would remain clearer. I’d be able to concentrate for longer periods of time, and my energy levels lifted. 

Why does self-guided meditation work?

I believe the reason self-guided meditation didn’t work for me is that I would ‘zone’ out. I’d switch off because I wasn’t actively thinking but just passively listening to a voice in my headphones. I’d just fall asleep.
With a self-guided meditation, however, you need to remain active. You need to guide the meditation, to constantly observe your thoughts, your breath, your senses, and guide yourself as you intentionally transition your focus from one thing to another. So rather than zoning out, you need to be zoning in.
In my experience, it’s also been better training for you to catch yourself drifting, or your monkey mind going off on tangents. As you become aware of your loss of focus, drifting and monkey mind going crazy, with a self-guided meditation you have to pull yourself back into your focus (not the voice on the headphones).
So it helps you build your self-awareness and focus muscles. 

How do I meditate? What’s my structure?

I meditate for 12-14 minutes each morning, five days of the week (Monday through to Friday).
I wake up at 6 am, drink some water, read my daily affirmations and then I meditate before I start anything else.
I’ve broken my meditation into two parts:

Part 1: 7 Minute Focus Meditation

I set a timer on my phone for 7 minutes and then I start this meditation by focusing on my breath.
I inhale (deep into my diaphragm, with the goal for my shoulders and chest to not move at all) for the count of 3, I then hold it for a count of 3 and then exhale completely for another count of 3. I do this until I’ve got into a good rhythm and I then slowly begin to expand my focus outwards.
I then while continuing this breathing pattern, do a body scan.
So I move from my head, down my body slowly, placing my focus on each body part to create awareness of how I feel, and any tightness, pain, or pleasure.
After I’ve done this, I then expand my focus again to the external world around me (while continuing my breathing pattern). So I begin to listen and focus on the sounds around me of the world waking up. 
Once I’ve spent some time doing this, I then finally bring my focus back to my breath, and I create an intention for my breath.
On the inhale, I visualise myself drawing energy from the world around me, energising me. On the exhale, I have a word as my intention for how I want to live and be that day with the world around me. Often this comes from my overall word(s) for the year. So right now, my intention for my exhale is ‘FOCUS’.
Then my alarm on my phone rings and I transition to Part 2.
You’ll notice I don’t have any specific length of time I’m focusing on breath, body, world, or daily intention.
I move on in my meditation as I feel I’ve brought my attention to the area with sufficient focus. I love this flexibility as it means I can spend more time on areas each morning I feel the need to. Sometimes I’ll spend more time listening to the external world, or setting my intention for my inhale and exhale.

Part 2: 5 Minute Visualisation Meditation

I then reset my timer for another 5 minutes and begin Part 2.
I maintain my focus on deep breathing through my diaphragm in Part 2, however, I now transition my focus to a visualisation of what I want my day to look like.
Lewis Howes in the book, ‘School of Greatness’ has a ‘Your Perfect Day’ exercise. Essentially, you sit down and write down exactly what your perfect day would actually look like. Hour by hour. Where you living, what are your doing, who are you spending time with?
The thinking behind this is that we often don’t realise that might of what we want is actually achievable today. It also is designed to help you get clarity on what you really want. It can be easy to say you want to earn lots of money or have a successful career because you think that’s what you want, when really, what you actually want is time to spend with family, friends, lifestyle and purposeful, meaningful work.
So, I sat down and wrote out my perfect day. Hour by hour. 
And in this 5 minutes, I go through and visualise myself waking up and living this day. 
To remind me of my vision and to inspire and motivate myself every single day to work towards this.
To help me stay focused and in alignment with who I am and what I truly want from life so I don’t get distracted by opportunities that take me away from this.
To remind me that experiences I am already having each day are part of my perfect day, creating a deep sense of gratitude and appreciation for what I already have in my life.
Then my alarm goes off to mark the end of 5 minutes.
And that’s it…
That’s what my meditation practice looks like, step by step.
It’s super simple, it’s self-guided and it’s changed my life.
I’ve got more energy than I’ve ever had in my life. I’ve got more mental clarity and better focus. And I’ve realised that much of what I get to do each day aligns with my vision for my perfect day… 

Do you meditate?

I’d love to hear how meditation has impacted your life in the comments 🙂
What has worked for you? What hasn’t worked for you?

Further Reading & Resources

Written by
Rowan Kunz
Join the discussion

  • I haven’t got into a great routine yet, but I’ve been doing Mindfulness meditation (Vipassana) for some time now. I got the book ‘Mindfulness in Plain English’ by Bhante Gunaratana which was a great introduction. I meditate because of: the experimentally documented cognitive/health benefits (both short-term and into older age) and the desire to be less selfish and more compassionate. I meditate for 20-30mins at a time, although I’m trying to work up to an hour. It was interesting to hear your approach and glad it’s been working for you!

    • Awesome to hear Alex 🙂 A colleague of mine went to a Vipassana retreat and loved it. 20-30mins is awesome! For me, I’ve found 15mins good daily practice. Overtime, I know I need to work towards longer!!

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