For the past eight months, I’ve been using the guided-meditation app Headspace every day, and it’s had a noticeably positive effect on my mood.
I first heard about Headspace late last year on Tim Ferriss’ podcast. Its proponents include Wall Streeters, Olympic athletes, and celebrity executives like Arianna Huffington and Richard Branson. The company reports it has 8.5 million active users.
The Headspace app is a hub of meditation exercises tailored to a specific topic, like creativity or stress. Guiding you through these lessons is Headspace cofounder and former Tibetan Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe.
Puddicombe teaches a secular form of mindfulness meditation, which is intended to keep you in the moment and in control of your emotions.
As I’ve learned through Headspace, it’s not actually useful to sit there with your eyes closed and expend energy trying to rid your mind of all thought.
In one of Puddicombe’s animated tutorials, he portrays the basics of mindfulness meditation with a simple metaphor:
Imagine yourself sitting by a busy highway. Cars continue to pass by. You can choose to sit there and notice the cars without focusing on any of them, or you can follow a car down the road.
It’s the same with mindfulness meditation. As you sit there, eyes closed, controlling your breathing, all kinds of thoughts will be flying through your mind. Instead of exerting energy to try to block them, which often backfires and makes the mind more cluttered, continue to focus on your breath and let the ideas float by, acknowledging that they exist without engaging them.
The fundamental takeaway from this exercise for me has been the realisation that I do not have to engage a negative thought and fuel it with emotion when I find myself in a difficult situation. For example, if I’m speaking to someone who says something aggressively rude, I have a choice to either attach energy to my impulsive thought of meeting that aggression with my own, or recognise that thought and let it float by as I proceed without engaging. It has also helped me be patient as I wait for results or a response from someone, a situation that normally would cause me to be anxious.
It can be easy to dismiss mindfulness on its surface as some hippy-dippy placebo, but the bottom line is that it’s a straightforward, logical approach that reminds you that you are in fact in control of your emotions.
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