In past articles (How To Improve Willpower Through Writing Things Down: Decision Logging and How to Strengthen Willpower Through Practice), I’ve talked about things you can do to make willpower stronger. Today I’d like to talk about how doing nothing for at least 10 minutes a day can strengthen willpower and provide a lot of other benefits. Of course, I’m talking about meditation.
Benefits for here and now
Many people use meditation as a spiritual practice, which of course is great, but the benefits I’ll be talking about here have nothing to do with spirituality. When I meditate–even though I’m not especially good at it and have only been doing it seriously for a few months–my attention comes back to the present moment, tension drains away all by itself, and my mind becomes (intermittently) serene. I usually spend from 10 to 25 minutes in the morning, but the effects ripple out through the rest of my waking hours. On days when I meditate, I usually feel less conflicted, less distracted, more focused, and more at peace. On days when I don’t, I’m more likely to be struggling with myself. It’s not a big, dramatic change in how my day feels–at least, not for me–but it is an important change. The difference is most obvious when I look back and see what I’ve accomplished and how I feel about the day.
How meditation helps
The way meditation strengthens willpower is by providing a calmer and more balanced state of mind. In the same way that a person who meditates is less likely to get sucked into dumb arguments with other people, they are also less likely to get sucked into dumb arguments with themselves about excuses for not exercising or about how we don’t want to apologize after accidentally creating a problem for someone.
As Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence (among other books) puts it in this article, “My own doctoral dissertation found (as have many others since) that the practice of meditation seems to speed the rate of physiological recovery from a stressful event. A string of studies have now established that more experienced meditators recover more quickly from stress-induced physiological arousal than do novices.”
Good ways to learn how to meditate online, with books, or with audio
Meditation is easy to learn, and it doesn’t involve any particularly mystical or mysterious techniques. It does take practice to clear away mental clutter and experience a clear mind for more than a few moments at a time, but the benefits come even if most of your meditation is spent realizing that you’re getting distracted.
You can begin to learn to meditate in just half an hour or so. Mary Jaksch of Goodlife Zen offered some good resources for getting started: there’s her own article How to Meditate: 10 Important Tips as well the Zen Mountain Monastery page Zen Meditation Instructions . You may also be interested in the article here on this site, “15-Minute Online Guided Meditation from Kelly McGonigal.”
Or you could go to your local library or bookstore and find books or audiobooks by Jon Kabat-Zinn, who teaches medicine at the University of Massachusetts, and whose life’s work is teaching mindfulness meditation and stress reduction. For example, he has an audiobook called Guided Mindfulness Meditation that offers easy and very effective meditations for increasing mindfulness and relieving stress.
Photo by premasagar