Busting the Myths of Meditation with Dan Harris

This week, Savvy Psychologist Dr. Ellen Hendriksen talks to award-winning journalist and news anchor Dan Harris to bust the myths that stop you from meditating, plus gets a little coaching along the way.

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD,
Episode #183

EH: That's the practice!

DH: See, yes, it's not only—yes, it's the practice and the reason it's the practice is when you see how nuts you are, you then are no longer yanked around by the insane voice in your head. And that is why that moment, the moment of waking up from distraction, is so important.

And so I think people need to understand that. That this is a form of exercise, a kind of bicep curl for your brain, where every time you get distracted you begin again and again and again and you're going to have to do that millions of times.

It's just like when you go to the gym. If you're not panting and sweating, you're cheating! And if you—as I like to joke, if you sit down to meditate and all thoughts evaporate and you're flooded with bliss, then you're either enlightened or you're dead. And that is the point that needs to be hammered home over and over and over to people. You're not failing at meditation because you've become distracted. The fact that you noticed you were distracted means you have succeeded.

EH: That makes sense. Okay, so already you're doing some mythbusting for us. So for people who think "I can't do this," that's a fantastic answer for them. And so in Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics, you address some other really common roadblocks to meditating. You tell me, but the most common roadblock, I'm imagining, is "I don't have time." So what do you say to folks who say they don't have time to meditate?

This is a form of exercise, a kind of bicep curl for your brain, where every time you get distracted you begin again and again...

DH: So, one of the biggest, if not the biggest obstacles that we encountered was, "I don't have time for this." People are really busy these days, they're really stressed, and I think the perception of time-starvation in this atmosphere of tech saturation is very pervasive and often quite pernicious.

And so you say to people, "Hey, you should meditate because it might reduce your stress," but actually the very proposition increases their stress, because they probably know they should be doing the thing but they're not doing the thing and so they're kind of beating themselves over the head with the thing.

So on this score I have good news and even better news. The good news is that I think 5-10 minutes a day is a great habit, and from what I can tell from talking to the neuroscientists I know that study what meditation does to the brain, 5-10 minutes is enough for most people to derive many of the advertised health benefits and psychological benefits. And the better news is that if you don't feel like you have 5-10 minutes a day, then one minute counts.

And I would say it's one minute daily-ish. And so that's sort of the bar that we as a company are now setting, and that I as a public speaker am now setting, which is: I think a great way to start, if you're really worried about time, is to try to do one minute most days.

And that is a combination of two of my favorite concepts. One is "one minute counts," that one minute truly is enough to engineer a collision with the voice in your head so that you see the voice for what it is and are not so owned by it.

And two, "daily-ish," which is something I picked up from somebody I met at a speech I was giving in Newton, Massachusetts, at my old high school, Newton South, who talked about "daily-ish" being useful because your aim is to do it every day but you have enough wiggle room so that if you don't do it one day, the voice in your head doesn't pop up and tell you a story that you've failed.

EH: It's not a tragedy if you miss a day. You can just start again.

DH: Absolutely, just like you do on the cushion when you get distracted.

EH: Got it. Okay, so the book introduced me to a concept that had never occurred to me before. And that was that meditation can be enjoyable. And so, in the book, my favorite meditation was this one called "Enjoying the Body," which sounds like it should be R-rated, but as your co-author, Jeff Warren, says, it's actually about, "relaxing into your body like you're relaxing into a hot tub." Which is a great image. And so I'll say to our listeners that we've included this meditation at the end of the episode, so be sure you stick around and you can try that out for yourself. But Dan, for you, you note that this idea of enjoyment was a new perspective for you too. So what was your practice like before and then after this revelation that meditation could be enjoyable?

DH: Yeah, my practice was not a pretty place. And still in many ways is not. You know, I have this tendency to kind of grit my teeth and do what I know to be good for me.

EH: Like, eat your vegetables, exercise, exactly.


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