2016 is over. The year that saw Trump get elected and Britain vote to leave the EU has been consigned to history.
2017 is upon us. It's a new year, full of possibilities and yet to be determined outcomes.
As it begins, your thoughts may turn to what you're going to do differently this time around The Sun.
You may even set yourself some New Year's Resolutions or goals.
I'm no stranger to this impulse. I love challenging myself. Even more than that, I love the idea of experimenting with different habits and recording the impact they have on my well-being and productivity.
Last year, I undertook such a challenge. Alongside my goal of working 20 hours a week on building my business (while still working a regular job), I determined to meditate every single day of the year.
I'd set myself this goal the previous two years running. However, on both occasions, circumstances conspired against me and I failed in my efforts.
This time, though, I knew exactly what I was facing. I knew how to avoid repeating previous mistakes and make sure that I was successful.
And I was. 365 days later, I'd managed to stick to my goal of meditating every single day of the year.
There were close runs ins (pulling my car over to the side of the road to get a session in at 11.50pm and having to break off late night phone conversations with my girlfriend to ensure I didn't miss the midnight deadline) but there wasn't a day that went by without me sticking to this practise.
Mentally and spiritually stronger, I now want to share my experiences with you.
My hope is that you'll engage in a similar undertaking and that my insights will help you do so successfully. I'll reveal everything I've learned about how to use this practise effectively and the positive changes you can expect to see as a result of doing so.
Before we begin, though, let me first explain the parameters of my yearlong challenge.
A Different Kind of Meditation
I don't want to appear disingenuous by using the word meditation. It's the most recognisable word I could find to explain my challenge in a way that the reader (you) would understand. However, in the sense that I didn't focus on my breathing, or clearing my mind of thoughts, I wasn't meditating in a traditional way.
Instead, I focused my mind.
If you google the term 'meditating', the second definition the search engine offers is this, 'think deeply about something'.
This is exactly what I did. I went to my room, sat down, fixed my eyes on a burning candle (if night time) or the treeline I could see out of my window (if during the day), and focused my thoughts on a few specific aims.
The aims were as follows;
1. Selling a million copies of my book.
I would see the number 1,000,000 clearly in my mind or rehearse a scene in my imagination where, after having sold the requisite amount, I revisited my old University (the site of my greatest unhappiness) and experienced a moment of triumph.
2. Feeling great.
I would focus on a massive wave of positive energy flowing through my body. Although I couldn't always do it, I would aim to get this feeling pulsating. I wanted it to be that powerful to remind me of the state I aspire to live in during the day.
These were the thoughts I'd alternate between, although I focused most regularly on the first. I choose them because I wanted to experience them in my life.
When it came to the rules of the challenge, I had to mediate for 10 minutes every day and I had to do this before midnight. If I hadn't completed by then, or went just 1minute over, then it was considered a fail and my challenge would be over.
This is what I learned.
1. There's No Perfect Time to Meditate
Sometimes I did it first thing in the morning, sometimes it was last thing at night. Occasionally, I even did it during the day. It made no difference to the effectiveness of the meditation.
Practise is what gets you good at silencing random thoughts and strengthening your focus, not doing it at a particular time.
2. Meditating Every Day Requires a Surprising Amount of Planning
This is something you need to be aware of. If you're up and out of the house early in the morning you may not have time to do it before work. A busy job may prevent you from doing it during the day. Being tired at night, or going out with friends, may stop you from getting it done before you go to bed.
Of course, these circumstances do not occur every day. But if you're looking to take on the yearlong challenge, then you need only miss one day and you've failed.
To prevent this from happening you must plan, either the day before or when you wake up in the morning, when you'll do your 10 minutes of meditation. You can set a timer on your phone, record it in a diary or, if your memories good and you're accustomed to meditating daily, then make a mental note.
3. You Don't Need to Time Your 10 Minutes
A rough guess will suffice. You don't want to be thinking about the time, or whether it's nearly up, while you're meditating. This breaks your focus and prevents you building an emotional connection.
Whenever you feel ready, and think you've done close to 10 minutes, bring the session to a close.
4. It Doesn't Matter Whether You Meditate With Your Eyes Open or Closed
I did both. Sometimes I built a deeper connection emotional connection by shutting my eyes. Sometimes looking at natures scenic splendour helped me relax. I found both equally effective.
5. There Will be Occasions When You Don't Feel Like Meditating
Throughout the course of a 365-day year, there are going to be moments (perhaps many of them) when you feel tired. There are going to be occasions when you feel demotivated or receive bad news.
In these moments, the thought of doing your 10 minutes' meditation will be unappealing to say the least. However, this is when the practise shows its true value.
You may have thought you're engaging in a powerful mind calming and focusing practise, but the secret and most powerful benefit of making yourself meditate daily is the boost to your willpower and discipline.
By doing it when you don't want to, you gain mastery over the weaker elements of your mind. Expect to see knock on effects in areas like controlling your eating, going to the gym and working on your project or business.
6. Meditating a Little Every Day is More Powerful than Infrequent Marathon Sessions
This rule also applies to exercise, diet or any habit change you want to create. Success is largely about positive momentum. The most effective way to create this is to do something regularly.
7. These 10 Minutes are the Most Important of your Day
We're conditioned into thinking the job interview or the exam or the first date are the most important moments of our lives. However, the way these events play out is largely a reaction to beliefs we have stored in our subconscious minds.
You create empowering beliefs by feeding your mind with empowering thoughts. That's why these 10 minutes a day should be considered sacred and given precedence over everything else.
8. Tick Off in your Diary Once You've Completed a Day
This is a great way to stay motivated. It's a constructive dopamine rush. Rather than getting your hit from outlets that offer a temporary buzz (e.g. chocolate and shopping), you gain a real sense of reward from celebrating each successful day by noting it down.
9. Sometimes it will Feel Like Hard Work
Meditation isn't always fun. Stopping your thoughts from wandering can feel like hard work.
Don't be surprised if you have this experience. It's just the lazy, untamed side of your mind fighting back and saying it doesn't want to work.
Don't listen to it or allow it to wander. Keep bringing it back to whatever you're focusing on. Eventually, it will obey.
10. The More You Do it, The Easier It Gets
The good news is, it gets easier. About three months into my yearlong challenge and meditating daily was no longer a hassle. By the time I reached six months, I was positively looking forward to my daily sessions. I viewed it as a chance to connect with my higher purpose. In this way, my time spent meditating felt sacred.
Expect to experience a similar transition.
11. You Will Become Mentally and Spiritually Stronger
What do you stand to gain by meditating daily?
Here's a summary.
- Relaxation and a boost to your mood.
- Improves discipline and willpower.
- Helps you harness the power of focus to achieve your desires.
- Connects you to your life's purpose.
- Sets your subconscious mind to work on finding a path to your goals.
- Keeps you on a level when daily events might be causing you to panic.
12. Every Session Doesn't Have to be 'Successful'
A successful meditation session is as follows. You silence your wandering mind and gain an emotional connection with the object of your focus (in my example, feeling ecstatic about selling 1 million copies of my book). Once complete, you walk away feeling refreshed and positive.
It's important for you to know, especially if you're a beginner, that this won't always happen. Sometimes you will sit down, close your eyes and for most of the 10 minutes your mind will wander. Then, when you open your eyes, you'll feel like you haven't accomplished anything and it's been a wasted session.
Even when you don't build the connection you desired, you've still done something incredibly important. You've turned up. You've displayed your commitment to grow and given yourself the opportunity to be great.
Don't underestimate just how powerful this is.
13. To Be Successful, This Goal Must Become One of Your Top Priorities
As a hypnotherapist whose witnessed many people being successful (and failing) at achieving their New Year's Resolutions and goals, I can tell you that which side of the divide you fall on will have a lot to do with your priorities.
You'll remember me mention pulling my car over at 11.50pm at night, and breaking off conversations with my girlfriend, to ensure I completed my daily meditation. These were selfish and bizarre actions. However, completing this challenge was one of my top three priorities for the year so they had to be done.
If you don't prioritise in this way, then 101 different circumstances and events will occur and prevent you from being successful. When you do prioritise, those circumstances and events fall in around your goals.
For me, even earning money would have been sacrificed to keep my commitment.
14. You Must Have a Strong 'Why' to See This Through
As I mentioned before, it's very easy to skip a day when doing this challenge. You prevent this from happening by attaching a powerful meaning to the goals completion.
For me, the success of the challenge was about who I was as a person.
Was I the kind of person who could excel?
I'd always done well in school, at work and with sports, but never excelled. I gave 80% to 90% effort all the time but I could never quite get to 100%.
I didn't want to be that person anymore. I wanted to be a super achiever and I saw the completion of this yearlong challenge as a big part of me making this transition.
This reason undoubtedly helped me on the occasions I considered taking a break. It fired me up because I was so determined to live up to my ideal.
Find a similarly powerful reason and you will succeed.