Meditation: The Ultimate Catalyst for Behavior Change
Let’s face it, most of your unhealthy habits aren’t complicated. No matter how deep we dive into the details of areas such as nutrition, it’s always the simple things that make the biggest difference. The hard part is actually doing them.
Stress: The Origin of Unhealthy Habits
You can create lofty, elaborate plans all you want, but in most cases they simply don’t turn into long-term habits. If you know what to do, why is it so damn hard to just do it? In short, it all comes down to stress. Almost all unhealthy habits are nothing but a means to escape stress or cover it up with temporary pleasure.
This is where meditation comes in. By learning to effortlessly release your stress, while cultivating a sense of ease to prevent accumulating high levels of stress, then you’ll find yourself making better decisions without even trying.
Spontaneous Behavior Change
After people begin a daily meditation practice, they typically end up with more than they bargained for. Not only is their mind becoming a more pleasant place to live, but their external life gradually transforms itself with minimal effort.
When stress levels are high, it has a huge effect on your hormones as well, leading to things like food cravings, fatigue, etc. Once this has been alleviated by meditation, eating better, drinking less, and exercising no longer require huge amounts of will power. As a result, people who had no plans in these areas prior to starting to meditate tend to spontaneously find themselves adopting healthier lifestyles.
Another way to look at it is that meditation brings you back in tune with your natural instincts and intuition – no longer drowned out by the white noise of stress and mental over-activity. This means that not only are you more likely to begin healthier habits, but you’re also more likely to be drawn to the right healthy habits for you. So rather than forcing yourself to follow the latest fad diet, you’ll more likely be pulled toward foods that are balancing for you – just like every other animal in nature that makes ideal food choices instinctively.
How to Start
There are countless different methods of meditation (and I’ve studied / tested many of them!), but I’ll explain here a very simple practice that I think is a great for complete beginners and experienced meditators alike:
~ First, find a comfortable place to sit where you can sit up straight, without your back being supported. If you have reasonably flexible hips, sitting cross-legged on the ground is ideal (it locks your hips and back into better alignment), otherwise it is perfectly fine to sit on a chair.
~ Next, with as little force and effort as possible, sit up tall and straight – if you’re on a chair, sit toward the front edge of the chair, away from the back rest. Place your hands on your legs or lap in any way that you find comfortable (different schools of meditation emphasize different hand positions, but the most important thing is simply that you find a position that is comfortable for you so it doesn’t become a distraction).
~ Close your eyes and begin to breathe as calmly and easily as you can – there is no need to force in deeper breaths than what comes natural. Focus your attention inwardly on simply allowing everything to slow down and relax, with no effort or strain. Do not worry about whether or not you are still thinking. If you find yourself lost in thought (and you will), simply return your focus to your breathing and consciously relax your body more with each exhale.
~ There is no bad time for meditation (though I don’t recommend it while driving!), but the 2 times that tend to be most effective are immediately upon waking up and as a buffer between work and home in the evening. Right after you wake up is usually the best place to start since it’s the only time of the day that you can reliably fit in every day without your day getting in the way.
~ I recommend starting with 20 minutes per meditation. While this may seem like a long time as a beginner, I’ve found that shorter meditations often never allow a beginner to experience anything other than constant mental chatter and likely frustration with their lack of improvement.