No surprise: Our work lives are stressful. Eight in 10 of us are stressed at work.
And you’ve likely heard that meditation is the solution to reducing some of that anxiety. Studies have shown that meditating on our breath not only calms us down, it lowers our blood pressure, helps us focus, and protects our brain from aging atrophy.
So why do just 8% of Americans take the practice seriously?
Dan Harris, co-anchor of ABC’s Nightline, once thought meditation was just for “people who live in a yurt and listen to John Tesh CDs.”
“I’m a fidgety, skeptical newsman, and meditation once seemed ridiculous,” he says. Then an on-air panic attack on Good Morning America in 2004 left him rethinking his life choices and searching for ways to make changes that would sustain his successful career path.
While covering religion for ABC News, Harris discovered mindfulness and meditation. Trying it for himself, he felt calmer within a few days. When he tried to tell friends and colleagues, many would change the subject or become uncomfortable with the conversation, so Harris became a meditation evangelist.
“In my view, there are amazing meditation teachers out there, but there aren’t enough books written for people raised in the age of irony who don’t want the pan flute accompaniment,” says Harris. He wrote 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story as a brutally honest, sarcastic take on meditation in an attempt to reach others who are skeptical and encourage them to try.
Harris says there are three basic reasons why people don’t meditate, and he shares why each excuse is flawed in a video for Happify, a website that offers science-based activities to promote happiness and well-being.
“This is how I used to feel,” says Harris. “I thought meditation was only for hippies and freaks, but the thought that meditation is bullshit is increasingly changing. A lot of media are sharing the science, and people are becoming aware that it’s something that’s good for them.”
Companies like Google, Twitter, General Mills, and Proctor & Gamble have recognized its benefits, and many have added meditation rooms for employees in their offices. Athletic organizations such as the Seattle Seahawks as well as the Marines and the Army also promote meditation.
“That kills the idea that it’s only for weirdos,” says Harris.
Harris calls this the most popular excuse and the “fallacy of uniqueness.”
“If you think you can’t do it because your mind is too busy, welcome to the human condition,” he says. “You’re not special. Everyone’s mind is out of control. If it weren’t, you wouldn’t need meditation.”
Meditation is the act of starting over. You focus on your breath, and when your brain loses focus, you start over, and over and over. Harris likens it to biceps curls for your brain.
“If you’re going to the gym and it’s easy, you’re cheating,” he says. “If meditation is floating into unbroken cosmic bliss, you’re either enlightened or delusional. You have to bake into your expectation that you are going to fail, and in this case, failing is succeeding.”
Meditation takes just five to 10 minutes a day.
“I don’t care if you have 17 children and five jobs, you have five minutes to confront that voice in your head,” says Harris. “Do it before you go to bed, or when you pull your car in the driveway.”
Harris meditates for 35 minutes each day, but he started with just five. “It gives me a sense of calm,” he says.
The results are game changing, says Harris. “Meditation gives you the ability to know what’s happening in your head without getting carried away by it,” he says. “Most of the things you regret–eating that cookie, or sending an unwise email–are done when you’re carried away. Mindfulness is the fruit of mindful meditation, and it has helped me enormously. I am far from flawless, but I get carried away much less.”