I recently started experimenting with mindfulness meditation to help me de-stress before work and start my day with a clear mind. I was finding that I was heading into work with all of these non-productive thoughts racing through my mind such as “What am I truly passionate about?”, “Is this the career that I truly want?”, “I am not good enough at my job”, “What about my financial situation?” “Am I happy with my life?”, etc. Although these are important questions to be asking yourself, it can become overwhelming and exhausting when you are repeating these questions over and over in your head when you should be focusing on the task at hand. So I started practicing what is known as mindfulness meditation for 5 – 10 minutes before I go into work. Mindfulness meditation is described as a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on a dynamic and automatic stimulation, such as breathing, while allowing one’s thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations to be acknowledged and accepted (1). I have been doing this through the use of a meditation podcast that talks you through a basic meditation session. Practicing mindfulness is actually extremely difficult. However, if I can accomplish this for even a few minutes I have found that it helps me get through my day in a more focused and clear state, and to enjoy the present moment for what it is.
The added bonus to my dabbling in meditation is that I have found that mindfulness is an effective strategy to get me through hard training sessions. In the past I have used a lot of self-talk during races or particularly hard training sessions, such as “How badly do you want this?” and “Come on you can do this”. But I am finding that focusing on the present moment, and acknowledging that I am feeling some pain and discomfort, is allowing me to perform quite well and enjoy the sessions more. By eliminating thoughts of when a particular set will be over, be that running, swimming, paddling or weights, or by preventing my mind from wandering to when I get home or what I am going to eat, I am dealing with these harder sessions better. For example this morning I did a 1:45 run consisting of about a 20 minute warm up, 10 x hill sprints on a very steep hill (22° incline) on a 3 minute cycle, followed by a hilly run back home. The hill sprints were hard and I do every 3rd one a bit harder. So this morning I focused on being present in the moment as I was sprinting up that hill and not letting my mind wander to when it would be over, but rather just trying to enjoy the moment. I felt as though I got through these sprints more easily and my times were decent too.
I like to think of training as my time; a time that I do not have to think or worry about anything else in the world – not work, not money, not dishes that need to be cleaned, not clothes that need to be washed or not errands that need to be run. By focusing on the present moment and letting go of the past and the future, I can really embrace the training session and enjoy it. Also, by focusing on the present moment I feel that I can achieve a more peaceful state of mind.
My interest in meditation was sparked by the book by neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris – Waking up: A guide to spirituality without religion http://www.samharris.org/waking-up. This is a very fascinating book that made me look at my own mind and thoughts in a different way. I suggest that if you are interested in meditation then read or listen to Sam Harris’s work.
I had a brief look at the research that has been conducted into mindfulness meditation and there has been a ton of studies. These studies look at the effects of mindfulness meditation on pain tolerance, distress, anxiety, depression and distraction. Most studies seem to report positive outcomes (2).
While I am still an extreme novice to the world of mindfulness meditation, I can clearly see the benefits it provides in today’s world of stress and deadlines and worries about career and personal finances. Perhaps you should give it a try.
- Zeidan F, Gordon NS, Merchant J, & Goolkasian P (2010) The effects of brief mindfulness meditation training on experimentally induced pain. The journal of pain : official journal of the American Pain Society 11(3):199-209.
- Gu J, Strauss C, Bond R, & Cavanagh K (2015) How do mindfulness-based cognitive therapy and mindfulness-based stress reduction improve mental health and wellbeing? A systematic review and meta-analysis of mediation studies. Clinical psychology review 37:1-12.