When we think of changing or taking on a new challenge, we think about preparing our bodies and making external physical changes. But a very powerful yet often forgotten component of change is preparing yourself mentally. Everything starts in the mind. So it follows that if you prepare yourself internally as well, there is much higher potential for success.
Many people still associate meditation with the image of a spiritual sage in an ancient temple hovering midair in some far away country. However, modern science has shown that meditation can be applied to everyone, every day, with some real health and emotional benefits.
The Mayo Clinic lists the following emotional benefits of meditation:
- Gaining a new perspective on stressful situations
- Building skills to manage stress
- Increasing self-awareness
- Focusing on the present
- Reducing negative emotions
Some research also suggests that meditation may help people manage symptoms of conditions such as anxiety disorders, asthma, cancer, depression, heart disease and high blood pressure, pain, and sleep problems.
There are many types of meditation and relaxation techniques. After doing extensive research in ancient texts and current guidelines, I believe that there are five simple but very effective steps for applying a daily practical meditation program.
I like to call it “contemplation” instead of meditation, because of the existing stigma relating to meditation. However, contemplation plays an important role in any form of meditation — as a deep reflective thought.
The main goal is to form a direct link between you and your thoughts, so that the subconscious mind becomes accessible to the conscious mind. The best part about this simple method is that it doesn’t need to take more than just a few minutes a day:
Step 1: Choose a specific goal.
Define your goal and make it finite. Losing weight, getting fitter, improving relationships or reducing stress, are far too generalized.
Choose a specific goal within your broader category such as:
Losing weight: Eat a well-balanced lunch today.
Exercise: Get 20 minutes of cardio today.
Stress at work: Complete a specific lingering assignment today.
Better relationships: Listen more intently during conversations today.
Step 2: Make it personal.
At the beginning of the day, choose a motivational quote. Then make it personal. Apply it to a new challenge, behavior or mindset that you would like to change.
Example: “Exercise is a cornerstone in the preservation of health and the prevention of most illnesses.” -Hippocrates.
Your personal quote: “I love how I feel after 20 minutes of cardio exercise!”
Example: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.” -Winston Churchill
Your quote: “I will be persistent and complete my lingering assignment today.”
“Listen with the intent to understand, not with intent to reply.” -Stephen Covey
Your quote: “I will listen carefully before replying when I have conversations at work today.”
You may want to stick to the same motivational quote for a whole week, repeating the same affirmation every day so that it can begin to make a significant impact on your mind.
Step 3: Say it aloud.
Every morning, read your positive affirmation of the day — aloud. Then pause for a few moments. Plan how or when you intend to implement it today.
Internalizing a purely intellectual concept can be difficult. However, when we experience something with our physical senses, it makes a much more powerful and meaningful impression upon us.
Researchers at the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that while people studied, saying the important information out loud had a more significant impact upon the mind and memory. So don’t be afraid to say your positive affirmation aloud. I know it feels a bit weird at first, as we don’t often talk aloud to ourselves, but it really works.
Step 4: Repeat it.
Whenever your mind is free — at home, in the car, on your break — repeat your positive affirmation of the day. Repetition of a statement plays in an important role in many types of meditation.
The National Diabetes Education Program describes a plan to promote healthier habits and prevent diabetes. One of the suggested components of the program is repeating daily positive affirmations: “Some people repeat an affirmation to themselves while walking, or they may post it on the bathroom mirror or refrigerator door to receive encouragement from it every day.”
Step 5: Use your imagination.
Guided imagery is a technique that involves picturing a specific image or goal and imagining yourself achieving it. It is described as mobilizing the unconscious mind to assist with conscious goals.
For example, imagine yourself healthy and at goal weight. “See” how you look. “Feel” how confident you are. Notice your exhilaration with your appearance! Imagine all those dreaded illnesses and diseases you’ll be avoiding by making healthy changes. Feel how much “lighter” you are — physically and emotionally. Athletes use this technique to improve their game by imagining their future performance in detail and how the perfect execution of their task feels.
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, visualization plays an important role in the psychology of mindless eating. Visually plan how much you intend to eat before you start a meal and don’t allow yourself to go over the limit. This way, your mind and body will be prepared to respond to the overeating challenge during the meal.
Meditation is something we often do many times a day without even realizing. It is simply inducing a mode of consciousness. Our method of “contemplation” adds some structure and offers a practical and simple way to reinforce your mind, mood and perspective so that you can take on any new challenge using your most powerful human tool — the mind.