Research continues to show a huge array of health benefits for people who meditate regularly. These benefits range everywhere from pain relief and reducing menopausal symptoms to helping people to quit smoking. According to the National Institutes of Health, research is showing that meditation physically changes the brain and may help it to process more information. Many celebrities and self-help experts espouse the merits of meditation. They talk about how it helps them to have more peace and clarity in their busy lives and how meditation is a part of their daily routine. (Full disclosure, I meditate daily using a variety of techniques. For more information on the many types of meditation out there, check out Chapter 1 in my book, Stressed Self to Best Self™, called Meditation: Which Type Is Right For You?) But, is meditation enough? If you’re drowning in mountains of debt, will meditation help you get your financial house in order? What about the deep gnawing unhappiness of your marriage or relationship? Will it help increase the satisfaction with your dead end job? While meditation may help to clear your mind and even lower your blood pressure, in this article I’m going to explain why I think meditation by itself is not enough to create long lasting health, happiness and success in your life. I’m also going to share with you 3 key strategies that can really take your life up to a whole new level.First of all, to clarify, when I pose the question, “Is meditation enough?” I’m not talking about the monks who have been meditating for years and can actually heat up and dry wet blankets in freezing temperatures with just their body heat.1 I’m not talking about master meditators who can physically change how their brains work and create prolonged states of happiness.2 I’m talking about everyday people who maybe do yoga once a week. The people who listen to guided meditation mp3s at night before they go to bed to help them sleep after yet another stressful day. As I already mentioned, there is no question as to the health benefits of meditation and the research that supports it. What I’m saying is that if you really want to make some positive changes for the better in your life, you have to dig deeper and do some personal development work.
For example, let’s say you’re in a dead end job. It may have started out great but now that you’ve been at it for several years it’s become tedious. There’s no more room for advancement, your co-workers spend all day complaining about their work and your boss has questionable business ethics. You not only dread going to work every day but now you have developed some stomach troubles, neck pain and headaches. You can’t even remember the last time you had a good night’s sleep. Is meditation going to solve all your problems? Well, it might help with some of your physical discomforts and the quality of your sleep. However, as we say in the athletic therapy world, you have to find the cause and treat the cause. What I mean by this is that you need to look at how you got yourself into this mess in the first place. What made you choose this job? Why didn’t you start looking for new work at the first sign of trouble? What caused you to become so complacent that you’re completely negating your own health, happiness and fulfillment by staying in this job?
I want to share with you three key strategies that can help you to start answering these questions so that you can get to the root cause of your unhappiness and start making some changes for the better. And yes, I would recommend meditating prior to using these approaches to provide you with some calmness and clarity.
- Appreciative Inquiry: Whenever we have something in our life that’s not working, a great place to start is to review what is going right in our life. This is called appreciative inquiry. Sit down at your computer or with a pen and paper and jot down the positive things you’ve got going for you in five main areas of your life: health and fitness, relationships (family, friends, professional connections), career, finances and spiritual. The brain has a natural affinity for focusing on what’s not working. This is known as the negativity bias. It’s thought that at one time this helped to keep us safe by constantly looking out for threats and danger in our environment, like tigers and bears. However, in our modern world, in order to thrive, it’s imperative to also focus on the positive.
- Just the facts, Jack: Now, write down what’s going wrong in your life using the five main areas we just looked at as your guide. Don’t get into blaming yourself and others. Just type or write what’s causing stress, unhappiness or unfulfillment in your life. After you’ve done that, write down what action steps you need to take to make some positive changes. Going back to the example we started with of a dead end job, you might consider action steps such as updating your resumé and cover letter. You may consider taking some online training to learn a new skill or working with a head hunting agency. You might not know what your next step should be so the action you take may be talking to a friend who overcame a similar problem or consulting a career counseling agency. Essentially it comes down to the expression used in 12 step programs: The definition of insanity is repeating the same steps over and over again expecting different results. If you keep going to work day in and day out at a job that is literally sucking the life out of you, you can’t expect things to miraculously change for the better.
- Dig deeper: This is where some deeper self-reflection comes into play. For some of you this may be an automatic go-to process. For others, it might be brand new. So what I mean by digging deeper is looking for common patterns in your life. Have you always gone for jobs that were “safe”? A decent salary to support yourself and your family at the expense of your own happiness? Do you tend to stick it out in unhealthy, unfulfilling relationships way longer that you should? Do you have a tendency to put everyone else’s needs and happiness ahead of your own? Do you keep eating unhealthy foods and lying on the couch while wishing you could lose weight? If so, where did you learn to do this? Most of our repeated behavior patterns, especially the unconscious ones, come from the programming we received as children. A well-meaning parent might have said, “You’ve got to stick it out. Being a quitter is a bad thing.” So, at age seven or eight you took this to heart and have applied it, consciously or unconsciously, to many areas of your life like your relationships and your work. While sometimes this can be good advice, it can also keep you stuck, unhappy and unhealthy. Maybe you were taught that it’s greedy to ask for what you want so you don’t ask for a raise that you deserve or communicate with your partner that you would like them to help out around the house more. Perhaps a teacher gave you a version of the Rolling Stones song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” so you don’t bother trying.
Once you start unearthing these limiting beliefs that have been holding you back, you can start replacing them with more empowering beliefs and taking positive action.
I hope these three key strategies, combined with meditation, will help you to Go From Your Stressed Self to Your Best Self™!
There are many great self-help and self-development books out there. If you’re not sure where to start, I would recommend Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment by Tal Ben-Shahar, Ph. D. He’s a positive psychology expert and this book is a wonderful combination of autobiography, leading research and practical exercises that you can start doing right away. At the risk of self-promotion, I would also recommend my book Stressed Self to Best Self™: A Body Mind Spirit Guide to Creating a Happier and Healthier You. If you really want to understand how our thoughts impact our lives and the world around us you may want to read Lynne McTaggart’s book, The Intention Experiment that I listed in the Resources section below.
- McTaggart, Lynne. The Intention Experiment: Using Your Thoughts to Change Your Life and the World. New York: Free Press, 2007, 70-73.