Imagine yourself running at top speed. After a few minutes pass, you feel yourself slowly getting out of breath. You feel the aches in your muscles as your body slows down but you keep pushing yourself to keep going. Eventually, you collapse because you’ve exhausted all energy and you can no longer function.
For many people, this is what we do to our minds when we are constantly under stress. All the thoughts dictated by our endless to-do lists accompanied by our worries and fears are burning out our brains.
What if I told you there was a simple process backed by science that you can do in as little as 20 minutes a day that will lower your stress levels, improve your decision making skills and relieve anxiety?
This process is meditation. It has now become widely popular with over 18 million people practicing it in the U.S. alone and it now also has grown into a billion dollar business. Leading companies such as Google, Goldman Sachs and Salesforce use meditation practices in the workplace and 22% of employers have offered mindfulness training to staff back in 2016.
We’ve created this article about meditation for beginners so you can learn about what it is, and how you can use it right now to start experiencing the many benefits it provides.
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What meditation means to your body and mind
The actual practice of meditation can be done in many different ways but the one type that has shown promising results is known as mindfulness meditation.
The purpose of the practice is to train your mind to be firmly focused on the present moment. It involves the act of focusing your attention on something such as your breathing, as well as taking moments to simply observe and be aware of things around and within you.
Meditation recharges your brain
Meditation is what helps you to be in a restful and recuperative state where you are not controlled by your thoughts and feelings. As a result your mind will become better able to manage them in a way where you just observe them so you can make better decisions.
“Meditation isn’t about becoming a different person, a new person, or even a better person. It’s about training in awareness and getting a healthy sense of perspective. You’re not trying to turn off your thoughts or feelings. You’re learning to observe them without judgment. And eventually, you may start to better understand them as well.”
Meditation keeps your brain healthy
Just like how exercises will make your body physically stronger, this mental exercise will make your brain stronger. It activates the parts of your brain that promote things like intelligence, empathy, and happiness just to list a few.
It’s a known fact that our brain start slowly shrinking starting around the age of 30 but keeping your brain in shape with meditation can prevent the shrinking altogether.
Meditation hears the cries of your body
When we’re too busy, we may not notice the subtle symptoms of our body. For example, when we are stressed, there are early symptoms such as tightness, irritation and heaviness in the body. When we ignore these symptoms, it can lead to much more amplified symptoms such as high blood pressure, fatigue and anxiety.
Meditation helps you become more aware with what your body has been trying to communicate with you about your health and well-being in order address certain issues before it’s too late.
Why it’s worth it to start meditation
Over 50 years of scientific research has shown compelling evidence of the many different types of benefits meditation can have on both your brain and your body.
One of the most compelling piece of evidence for meditation that I have found was that it literally changes your brain. Brain scans have shown that the neuron rich part of the brain known as grey matter was noticeably increased in multiple areas of the brain involved with important functions such as decision making, emotional regulation and memory.
To learn more about some of the amazing benefits, you can read my other article: 15 Ways Meditation Boosts Your Brain Power and Your Mood
A simple way to meditate (even for absolute beginners)
If you’ve never meditated before, spending as little as 2 minutes a day may be a great start to develop a meditation habit and experience the results.
One thing to keep in mind is that meditation isn’t about trying to stop your thoughts. It’s more about being aware of them and then simply allowing them to come and go.
All you need is a comfortable space where you are likely not to be disturbed and do the following:
- Sit with your back straight at a comfortable level, either on a chair or on the floor (Whichever is more comfortable).
- Start by leaving your eyes open with a relaxed soft focus.
- Take one deep breath in through your nose and out through your mouth.
- While breathing out, gently close your eyes and resume normal breathing
- Take a moment to pause and enjoy being present in the moment. Feel the pressure of your body on the chair beneath you, the feet on the floor and the hands and the arms just resting on the legs.
- Gently bring the focus back to your breathing and notice the breath and the body with its rising and falling sensation.
- When you’ve realized your mind has wandered from any thoughts, sounds or other sensations, gently bring the focus back to your breath again.
- Gradually bring the attention back to your body and the space around you. Then gently open your eyes again.
- Take a moment to soak in how that felt for you before going about your day.
Clearing the obstacles to meditation
There are many things that may be preventing you from experiencing the amazing results of engaging in regular meditation. Here are some challenges to expect as well as some guidance on how to handle them:
- Doubt – Your skepticism might take over and you might be questioning if such a simple practice can really help you in any way. A ton of evidence has shown it does, so go in with an open mind and trust the process. You will notice the changes gradually and the possibilities will soon become a reality for you.
- Restlessness – You may find yourself restless and constantly distracted with thoughts when meditating. Be aware this is totally normal especially in the beginning. Like any other practice, you will have some good days and bad days but as you continue training your mind, you’ll become more and more fluent with entering into a calm state.
- Impatience– You might not experiencing the benefits as quickly as some other people do. Don’t worry. While it might take you a little longer to see the positive outcomes, go at your own pace and as you continue to practice and get better, you will definitely experience the results.
- Sleepiness – You will definitely have trouble focusing if you’re tired or low on energy. If you find this happening often, try to meditate during a time where you are more awake such as earlier in the day rather than closer to bedtime.
- Discouragement – As with any other new habit formation, life happens and you will miss some days that you were hoping to get a meditation session in. Don’t let this discourage you into giving up. Keep moving forward and do it whenever you can. Every little bit helps to create a big result.
Basic techniques and practicing exercises (With specific steps)
Two of the most researched types of meditation include focused attention meditation (FAM) and open monitoring meditation (OMM).
Focused attention meditation involves the active focusing of attention on an object, your breathing, an image or some words.
Open monitoring meditation involves more of a observation approach where you practice being aware of any experience that comes up without any judgement nor focus towards it.
Most mindfulness meditation sessions use a combination of both these types with focused attention meditation usually in the beginning and gradually shifting to open monitoring meditation.
To help you take your meditation a little further, here are some basic techniques you can practice for each type:
Focused attention meditation
Focused attention meditation can be done in a variety of ways as there are many things you can choose to focus on. Here are some basic techniques that you can use to incorporate:
- Breathing Meditation – This is a very common form of focused attention method where you focus on the breath while meditating. Simply count to 10 with each breath that goes in and out and repeat. Whenever your mind wanders, gently bring the focus back to your breath and start the count over again.
- Walking Meditation – Go out for a walk at a comfortable pace. As you do, start focusing on the sensations you feel in your body. Notice the weight of your feet as it hits the floor and the swinging of your arms with each stride. If you find thoughts coming into your mind, just gently bring the focus back to the sensations you feel as you walk.
- Mantra Meditation – A mantra is a word or phrase that you repeat to yourself. It can be any word so choose a positive one you like that’s comfortable for you to say. As you begin meditation, close your eyes and repeat your mantra to yourself. Focus only on the sound and feel of your mantra and gently bring your focus back to it whenever your mind wanders.
- Object or Image Meditation – This involves placing your focus either on an image in your mind or on an actual object in the environment. Meditation with images can be done with your eyes closed whereas you would need to do it with your eyes open when focusing on an actual object such as a flower or candle flame.
Open monitoring meditation
Open monitoring meditation is all about observing experiences without judging or getting attached to them. This sort of awareness of your thoughts and feelings without being controlled by them is what’s referred to as mindfulness.
This promotes the clarity, perspective and wisdom that comes when gaining insight and helps you make better decisions especially when handling challenging emotions such as fear and stress.
Here’s how you can do it:
- Get comfortable into your meditation position and relax.
- Take long and deep breaths. With every exhale, feel how your body is getting more and more relaxed.
- Now rest your awareness in the present moment.
- Tune into your sensory experiences for several moments. Take a moment to observe the weight of your body on the chair and your hands on your lap. Notice any sounds or smells in your room.
- Monitor your organs by doing a body scan from the top of your head to the tip of your toes and observe any sensations as you do it.
- Take your awareness deeper by monitoring and thoughts or feelings. Recognize any deep emotions. Remember not to think about these emotions, but to simply notice them instead. One way that can help you not get caught up in the emotion is to label them. If you experience fear, just tell yourself “This is fear”. Then let go of it.
- When your mind wanders from the moment, resist the urge to attach yourself to those thoughts. Just let them come and go.
- Exit the meditation by letting your mind slip out of awareness and back to the present moment.
One way to help you get started and really experience the perks of meditation is to participate in guided meditation.
You can always search for a local class or if you’re more introverted, you can download great apps like Headspace that have free meditation sessions that you can do in the comfort of your own home.
You can also try this Guided Morning Meditation for Beginners (That Will Change Your Day)
The transformation you’ve been searching for
One of the key ways that meditation helps you, is by bringing you to the realization that you are not your thoughts or feelings; meditation frees you if you’ve been chained by your thoughts.
By simply connecting with and being more aware of yourself, you develop the amazing ability to handle stress, improve your health and increase your intellect.
So take two minutes now to close your eyes, focus on your breath and be present. Then you’ll be on your way to changing your life for the better.
Motivation is one of the main reasons we do things — take an action, go to work (and sometimes overwork ourselves), create goals, exercise our willpower. There are two main, universally agreed upon types of motivation — intrinsic motivation (also known as internal motivation) and extrinsic motivation (external motivation).
The intrinsic kind is, by inference, when you do something because it’s internally fulfilling, interesting or enjoyable — without an expectation of a reward or recognition from others. Extrinsic motivation is driven by exactly the opposite — externalities, such as the promise of more money, a good grade, positive feedback, or a promotion.
And of course, we all know about the big debate about money. It’s surely an external driver, but is it possible that it can sometimes make us enjoy what we do more? A meta-analysis that reviewed 120 years of research found a weak link between job satisfaction and money.
And what’s more — there is some evidence to suggest that more money can actually have an adverse effect on your intrinsic motivation.
Regardless of its type, motivation is still important to get you moving, to improve, excel, and put that extra effort when you feel like you don’t have a single drop of energy left to keep going.
So, let’s see some of the best things you can do to keep the fire going, even when you’d rather just indulge in pleasant idleness.
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Why Intrinsic Motivation Tops Extrinsic Motivation
“To be motivated means to be moved to do something.”
Generally speaking, we all need motivation.
An avalanche of research, though, shows that when it comes to finding the lasting drive to “do something,” internal incentives are much more powerful than extrinsic rewards.
Why? It’s simple.
There is a great difference when you engage in something because “I want to,” as opposed to “I must.” Just think about the most obvious example there is: work.
If you go to work every day, dragging your feet and dreading the day ahead of you, how much enjoyment will you get from your job? What about productivity and results? Quality of work?
Yep, that’s right, you definitely won’t be topping the Employee of the Month list anytime soon.
The thing with external motivation is that it doesn’t last. It’s susceptible to something psychologists call Hedonic Adaptation. It’s a fancy way of saying that external rewards are not a sustainable source of happiness and satisfaction.
When you put in 100-hour weeks in order to get promoted, and you finally are, how long does your “high” last? The walking-on-a-cloud feelings wear off quickly, research tells us, making you want more. Therefore, you are stuck on a never-ending “hedonic treadmill,” i.e. you can progressively only become motivated by bigger and shinier things, just to find out that they don’t bring you the satisfaction you hoped for, when you finally get them.
Or, as the journalist and author Oliver Burkeman wonderfully puts it:
“Write every day” won’t work unless you want to write. And no exercise regime will last long if you don’t at least slightly enjoy what you’re doing.
If you want to find out more about the different types of motivation, take a look at this article: 9 Types of Motivation That Make It Possible to Reach Your Dreams
Benefits of Intrinsic Motivation
If you are still unconvinced that doing things solely for kudos and brownie points is not going to keep you going forever, nor make you like what you do, here is some additional proof:
Studies tell us that intrinsic motivation is a generally stronger predictor of job performance over the long run than extrinsic motivation.
One reason is that when we are internally driven to do something, we do it simply for the enjoyment of the activity. So, we keep going, day in and out, because we feel inspired, driven, happy, and satisfied with ourselves.
Another reason has to do with the fact that increasing intrinsic motivation is intertwined with things such as higher purpose, contributing to a cause, or doing things for the sake of something bigger than ourselves or our own benefit. A famous study done by the organizational psychologist Adam Grant is case in point.
By showing university fundraisers how the money donated by alumni can help financially struggling students to graduate from college, their productivity increased by 400% a week! The callers also showed an average increase of 142% in time spent on the phone and 171% increase in money raised.
Internal motivation has been found to be very helpful when it comes to academia, too. Research confirms that the use of external motivators, such as praise, undermine students’ internal motivation, and, in the long-run, it results in “slower acquisition of skills and more errors in the learning process.”
In contrast, when children are internally driven, they are more involved in the task at hand, enjoy it more, and intentionally seek out challenges.
Therefore, all the research seems to allude to one major revelation: intrinsic motivation is a must-have if you want to save yourself the drudgery we all sometimes feel when contemplating the things we should do or must do.
6 Ways to Enhance Your Intrinsic Motivation
So, how does one get more of the good stuff — that is, how do you become internally motivated?
There are many things you can do to become more driven. Here are the ones that top the list.
The theory of self-efficacy was developed by the American-Canadian psychologist Albert Bandura in 1982. Efficacy is our own belief in whether we can achieve the goals we set for ourselves. In other words, it’s whether we think we “got what it takes” to be successful at what we do.
It’s not hard to see the link of self-efficacy to higher self-esteem, better performance, and, of course, enhanced motivation. People with high self-efficacy are more likely to put extra effort in what they do, to self-set more challenging goals, and be more driven to improve their skills.
Therefore, the belief that we can accomplish something serves as a self-fulfilling prophecy — it motivates us to try harder to prove to ourselves that we can do it.
You can learn more about self-efficacy in this article: What Is Self Efficacy and How to Improve Yours
2. Link Your Actions to a Greater Purpose
Finding your “why” in life is incredibly important. This means that you need to be clear with yourself on why you do what you do and what drives you. What is intrinsically rewarding for you?
And no matter how mundane a task may be, it can always be linked to something bigger and better. Psychologists call this “reframing your narrative.”
Remember the famous story of John F. Kennedy visiting NASA in 1961? As it goes, he met a janitor there and asked him what he did at NASA. The answer was:
“I’m helping to put a man on the Moon.”
Inspirational, isn’t it?
Re-phrasing how your actions can help others and leave a mark in the universe can be a powerful driver and a meaning-creator.
Volunteering is a great way to give back to the world. It can also help boost your internal motivation by making you feel important in supporting the less fortunate, learning new skills, feeling good about yourself, or linking to some of your inner values, such as kindness and humanitarianism.
When you remove any external reward expectations and do something for the pure joy and fulfilment of improving others’ lives, then you are truly intrinsically motivated.
4. Don’t Wait Until You “Feel Like It” to Do Something
A great piece in the Harvard Business Review points out that when we say things as “I can’t make myself go to the gym” or “I can’t get up early,” what we actually mean is that we don’t feel like it. There is nothing that psychically prevents us from doing those things, apart from our laziness.
But here’s the thing: You don’t have to “feel like it” in order to take action.
Sometimes, it so happens that you may not want to do something in the beginning, but once you start, you get into the flow and find your intrinsic motivation.
For instance, you don’t feel like going to the gym after a long day at work. Rather than debating in your head for hours “for and against” it, just go. Tell yourself that you will think about it later. Once in the gym, surrounded by similar souls, you suddenly won’t fee that tired or uninspired.
Another way to overcome procrastination is to create routines and follow them. Once the habit sets in, suddenly getting up at 6 am for work or writing for an hour every day won’t be so dreadful.
5. Self-Determination, or the CAR Model (As I Call It)
The Self-Determination theory was created by two professors of psychology from the University of Rochester in the mid-80s—Richard Ryan and Edward Deci. The theory is one of the most popular ones in the field of motivation. It focuses on the different drivers behind our behavior—i.e. the intrinsic and extrinsic motivators.
There are three main needs, the theory further states, that can help us meet our need for growth. These are also the things which Profs. Deci and Ryan believed to be the main ways to enhance our intrinsic motivation—Competence, Autonomy, and Relatedness (CAR).
If our jobs allow us to learn and grow, and if we have enough autonomy to do things our way and be creative, then we will be more driven to give our best, and our performance will soar. In addition, as humans are social beings, we also need to feel connected to others and respected.
All of these sources of intrinsic motivation, separately and in combination, can become powerful instigators to keep us thriving, even when we feel uninspired and unmotivated .
6. Tap Into a Deeper Reason
Some interesting research done in 2016 sought answers to how high-performing employees remain driven when their company can’t or won’t engage in ways to motivate them—intrinsically or extrinsically.
The study tracked workers in a Mexican factory, where they did exactly the same tasks every day, with virtually zero chances for learning new skills, developing professionally, or being promoted. Everyone was paid the same, regardless of performance. So there was no extrinsic motivation at all, other than keeping one’s job.
A third kind of motivation was then discovered, which scientists called “family motivation.” Workers who agreed more with statements such as “I care about supporting my family” or “It is important for me to do good for my family” were more energized and performed better, although they didn’t have any additional external or internal incentive to do so.
The great thing about this kind of driver is that it’s independent of the company one works for or the situation. It taps into something even deeper—if you don’t want to do something for your own sake, then do it for the people you care for.
And this is a powerful motive, as many can probably attest to this.
Frederick Herzberg, the American psychologist who developed what’s perhaps still today the most famous theory of motivation, in his renowned article from 1968 (which sold a modest 1.2 million reprints and it the most requested article from Harvard Business Review One More Time, How Do You Motivate Employees? wrote:
“If I kick my dog, he will move. And when I want him to move again, what must I do? I must kick him again. Similarly, I can charge a person’s battery, and then recharge it, and recharge it again. But it is only when one has a generator of one’s own that we can talk about motivation. One then needs no outside stimulation. One wants to do it.”
Herzberg further explains that the so-called “hygiene factors” (salary, job security, benefits, vacation time, work conditions) don’t lead to fulfillment, nor motivation. What does, though, are the “motivators”—challenging work, opportunities for growth, achievement, greater responsibility, recognition, the work itself.
Herzberg realized it long ago…intrinsic motivation tips the scales when it comes to finding long-term happiness and satisfaction in everything we do, and to improving our overall well-being.
In the end, the next time when you need to give yourself a bit of a kick to get something done, remember to link it to a goal bigger than yourself, and preferably one that has non-material benefit.
And no, don’t say that you tried but it’s just impossible to find internal motivation. Remember the janitor at NASA?
Because once you find your internal generator, you will be truly unstoppable.