Week One in Review

In my first blog post, I wrote about the difference between goals and systems, and how I planned on implementing various systems to help me be successful in 2019. It’s now been a week since I posted that article, and I wanted to spend some time reflecting on how I’ve done so far.

Blogging / Writing

I wrote that I wanted to “develop a consistent writing practice in 2019.” While I haven’t written every single day, I have written quite a bit. In addition to my first post, I made two other blog posts: a review of Finally, Some Good News by Delicious Tacos (my most popular article so far), and a beginner’s guide to meditation. I also took on a paid writing project, which is keeping me very busy. I have already written about 4000 words for it, with plenty more to go.

Grade: A-

Meditating

My next intention was to “incorporate a meditation practice into my morning routine.” I haven’t 100% succeeded, but I have done three or four morning meditation sessions. The difference between days when I meditate and days when I don’t is night and day, which I explain more here. Even on the days where I didn’t do a proper session, I still tried to slow down and take a few mindful breaths. Still, I want to make meditation part of my morning routine, even if it’s only for a few minutes.

Grade: B-

Reading

This is my weakest area so far. I haven’t actually sat down with a book since my initial post. Fortunately, the writing project I mentioned above requires a lot of research, which involves reading. Still, it’s not the kind of reading I want to do. I plan to correct this by beginning Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential in the next week. It has been on my reading list for years, and I’ve heard great reviews.

Grade: C

Exercising

Finally, I wrote that I planned “on doing some kind of physical activity every day.” Here, too, I have fallen short. On the bright side, I did make it to the gym four or five times in the last week. The most difficult part is always forcing myself to go. Once I’m there, I enjoy it, and I feel great afterwards.

Grade: B+

Conclusion

I don’t know if I’ll do one of these posts every week, but I do plan on doing them from time-to-time in order to monitor my progress. I could have done better for the first week, but I think I did well given the fact that I’ve had the added challenges of getting back into the swing of work (after having been off for almost two weeks) and taking on a new project that’s eating up a good bit of time. I hope that, moving forward, I can be more consistent with these practices and reap the benefits of compound interest.

Have you implemented any new systems for 2019? If so, how are you doing? Let me know in the comments below!

Meditation for Beginners

Introduction

I recently wrote that engaging in a routine meditation was one of the most important systems I’ve ever implemented. Over the years, I’ve preached to family and friends about the various benefits of meditation. I tend to get the same standard responses.

How do you do it?

What’s the point?

I’ve tried it, but I just can’t get into it.

Despite the rising popularity of meditation in the past few years, a lot of people still view it as some esoteric practice reserved for bald Tibetan men on mountains and crystal-wearing weirdos.

There’s also a lot of confusion about meditation. With all the variations, how can anyone ever know if they’re “doing it right?” How long should you do it? Do you have to do it every day?

How to Meditate

Although there are numerous types of meditation, the basic idea is simple.

Just focus.

I prefer to focus on my breath, and will be using breathing meditation across the examples in this article. Others prefer to focus on mantras or even things like candlelight. What you focus on doesn’t really matter.

With a breathing meditation, as you inhale, think, inhale. As you exhale, think, exhale. You can do this over an over again. Inhale, exhale, iInhale, exhale.

Try it.

You’re already meditating. Wasn’t that simple?

If you prefer, you can mix it up a bit. You can count your breaths instead. One, Two, Three, Four, and so on, until you get to ten. Then, repeat.

You’re probably thinking, “Do you count inhales and exhales as a single breath, or the inhale as one and the exhale as two?”

Or, “What if my mind wanders and I lose my place? Do I start over or try to remember where I left off?”

Maybe even, “Am I supposed to breathe intentionally, or just let my breathing take place naturally?”

The truth is: it doesn’t matter. Why? Because the point of meditation isn’t about adhering to “the rules.”

What’s the Point of Meditation?

The point of meditation is to train the mind to be present.

As you focus, your mind will inevitably wander.

What should I have for dinner tonight?

I need to finish that project for work.

Did I remember to pay my electric bill?

A lot of beginners beat themselves up about this. “I can’t even count to ten before my mind starts wandering! This is pointless!”

Actually, that’s the whole point. Your mind naturally wanders. Even expert meditators’ minds wander.

You practice meditating when you catch your mind wandering, and bring your attention back to the breath.

I’ve logged several hundred hours’ worth of meditation over the years. I did a 20-minute session earlier today, and my mind constantly wandered.

I’m hungry.

It’s kind of chilly in here.

Ugh, this chair is so uncomfortable.

These kind of thoughts are natural–necessary–for meditation. Don’t fight them. Simply work to catch yourself in the process of thinking them, then shift your attention back to your breath.

It’s so nice out.

Maybe I should go for a walk.

I’m getting hungry.

What do I want for dinner?

I’m going to have to go to the grocery store to buy something to cook.

Wait, wasn’t I doing something?

Oh, yeah, meditating!

Inhale, exhale.

At first, you will probably spend the vast majority of your meditation session with a wandering mind, only to catch yourself right before your alarm tells you that you’re finished. As you practice, you will become more efficient at catching yourself. And as you get better at catching your wandering mind and returning your focus to the breath, you will begin to notice the various benefits of meditation.

The Benefits of Meditation

Even if you understand how meditation works, you may be thinking, “Why would I spend ten or twenty minutes (or longer) doing this every day? My life is already busy enough.”

Meditation Improves Your Focus

There’s an interesting quote, purportedly said by Gandhi, that goes something to the effect of, “I have so much to accomplish today that I need to meditate for two hours instead of just one.”

Wait, what? If he’s so busy, how can he afford to spend an extra hour meditating?

Think about the whole point of meditation: training the mind to be present. Every time you catch your mind wandering and return your attention to your breath, you are increasing your ability to FOCUS.

Let’s be honest: at least at face value, paying your breath is pretty boring. If you can train your mind to focus on it for long periods of time, just imagine how that spills over into your day-to-day life.

Increased focus makes it much easier to do any task for extended periods of time, whether that means reading, writing, studying, painting, cooking, working, whatever. Rather than hopelessly multitasking and daydreaming about one thing or another, you can direct your full attention to the task at hand.

Meditation Enhances Emotional Control

Researchers have determined that humans have 80,000 thoughts per day. Of those, 90% are repetitive and 80% of them are negative.

No wonder so many people are stressed out, anxious, and depressed.

Well, what if you could change that?

With a regular meditation practice, you can.

If the whole practice of meditation teaches you to be present and catch your thoughts as they wander, you’re in a much better decision to be conscious of negative, repetitive thoughts as they arise.

Just like during meditation, when you catch your mind wandering and shift your attention, you can do the same in your waking life as well.

I don’t know why X happened. 

It’s so horrible that Y did that. 

I can’t believe he said Z.

Normally, people spend the entire day thinking these kinds of thoughts over and over again. Worst of all, many people aren’t even aware that they’re thinking them! They’re just “in a bad mood” or “feeling anxious,” but they can’t figure out why.

After a bit of meditation practice, you can catch yourself, and think, Is this thought helping me? I’m going to shift my attention to something useful instead.

And that, friends, is when the real magic begins to happen.

Conclusion

Meditation is simple. Anyone can do it. Even if you can’t find an extra ten or twenty minutes to spare, you can always pause just for a second and inhale, exhale.

As you practice, your ability to focus grows. This spills over into your day-to-day life, allowing you to accomplish tasks with ease. Furthermore, it does wonders for your mood. Rather than getting mired down in repetitive negative thoughts, you can catch yourself thinking those thoughts, stop, and direct your attention to something more productive. You can literally think anything you want to think.

Although this article focused on two of the (in my opinion) primary benefits of meditation, there are tons of others.

Give it a try today. There are tons of apps out there (my favorite is Headspace), but you can simply set a timer for a few minutes, close your eyes, and inhale, exhale.

Have you ever tried meditating? Are you an expert meditator? Share your experiences in the comments.

2019: Goals vs. Systems

It’s a new year, and many people are thinking about what they can do to make it better than the last. I was thinking about how to improve my situation for the year ahead, and I remembered a key point from one of my favorite books, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams. In it, he explains the critical difference between goals vs. systems, and why systems give you a much better chance at success.

A simple example, given by Adams himself, is weight loss. “I will lose 25 pounds” is a goal. Eating right is a system. If you have a goal of losing 25 pounds, you might spend your time floundering in the gym, bouncing from one fad diet to another, and constantly weighing yourself in frustration. (And even if you were to succeed at losing the weight, maintaining it is another story.) In contrast, by learning to eat right and doing so consistently, the target is easily accomplished.

Here are the following systems I plan to implement in 2019:

Blogging/Writing

I bought this domain about a decade ago with the intention of starting a blog, but always made an excuse to push it off until later. No more. Scott Adams once described blogging as a system he used to kick up dozens of business opportunities. Blogging also led him to write articles for the Wall Street Journal and ultimately a book deal. I want to develop a consistent writing practice in 2019. As with any system, the important thing is consistency. I’d rather write a few words every day instead of a ten thousand words one month and nothing for the next three. My hope is that a consistent writing practice will translate into a lot of high quality articles for this site, among other things.

Meditating

I also want to establish a daily meditation practice. I’ve been meditating off-and-on since 2013. It’s no coincidence that some of the happiest and most productive periods of my life occurred when I meditated for 20 minutes every morning. However, “I will meditate for 20 minutes every morning” is a goal, not a system. Therefore, my intention is to simply incorporate a meditation practice into my morning routine. Again, consistency is king. One mindful breath each morning is better than an hour-long session once every couple of weeks.

Reading

As a teenager, I read a news article about a contest between President Bush and Karl Rove to see who could read the most books in a year. Politics aside, I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of a friendly reading competition. I’ve read several hundred books since then, but consistency is something I’ve struggled with. I might read two or three books in a single week and then go months before reading another. Recently, this podcast reminded me of the importance of reading regularly. “I will read 50 books this year” is a goal, not a system. Instead, I plan to build a consistent reading practice, by reading at least a little every day. Ideally, this will translate into me reading a large number of books for the year. Still, the idea is to read consistently rather than hitting magic number of books.

Exercising

As with meditating, many of the happiest and most productive periods of my life happened when I was exercising regularly. In law school, I’d wake up at 5:30 AM and hit the gym Monday through Friday. Then I’d return to my apartment to shower and meditate before class. It was the ideal start to the day, leaving me refreshed and grounded for the tasks ahead. Unfortunately, my current schedule won’t allow me to get to the gym every morning before work. Then again, “I will go to the gym 5x a week” is a goal, not a system. Instead, I plan on doing some kind of physical activity every day, whether that means walking in nature, going to the gym, or simply doing a few push ups.

Conclusion

The best part about these systems is that they will be self-reinforcing. Exercising, eating right, and meditating will have me looking and feeling great, allowing me to read regularly. (Plus, meditating will help me better remember what I’ve read and synthesize that information with what I already know.) In turn, reading will flood my brain with new ideas to write about, giving me plenty of ammo to blog/write. And, who knows, maybe a consistent blogging practice will kick up a few business opportunities for me, too.

What systems would you like to implement for 2019? Leave a comment and let me know!