“I don’t understand! I graduated with the same degree as she did and my GPA was higher! How come she’s so successful and I’m still waiting tables?”
THE KEY TO SUCCESS is dependent upon many things like knowledge, skill, perseverance…just to name a few. But let’s put all those obvious things aside and talk about what I’ve observed in others and in myself. Don’t laugh…but I had an epiphany while watching an episode of American Idol, final season.
Sonika Vaid just finished singing and although her voice sounded as if heaven’s choir door had been left open, I couldn’t tell you what she sang. She was so nervous her words were unintelligible at best–extremely & utterly beautiful sound, but mostly unintelligible. The judges loved her, of course (what do I know) as she made her way off the stage, eyes darting back and forth, bumping through the audience as if she couldn’t see.
Then it was La’Porsha Renae’s turn.
The moment La’Porsha entered the stage (after her broccoli-hair squeezed through) she was in another world: La’Porsha Renae’s World. We were mere stalkers, peeking through her bedroom window. Her performance: STELLAR! She even did an awesome little shimmy-shake wave, showing off the long fringes of her dress–way cool! I understood every word and even if I didn’t, she had me on board with that incredible stage presence.
You could see the focus radiating in her eyes despite the millions of viewers and the hundreds sitting mere feet from her face – all eyes on her! And then it HIT ME: Focus…
It’s all about focus.
What good would a 4.0 GPA do if you couldn’t focus? Sonika Vaid’s voice was amazing, but she couldn’t focus. I imagine for her it was like peering through a pinhole, as she stood on that stage, knowing millions, possibly billions were watching her from their TVs, phones and tablets across the world and worse yet, the hundreds physically sitting behind the judges and far up into the rafters.
She couldn’t focus on the enunciation…the melody was there, but… I have this problem, too. Where I’ll remember the melody before the words. I wonder if there’s a correlation? I’m sure there is a very intelligent explanation that a Neuropsychologist could explain to us, but that’ll have to wait for another blog.
In the meantime, I’ve recognized this fault in myself. Whenever there is a lot of input or a bunch of things going on all at once that require my attention, I find it difficult to focus. Sometimes, I have what I call “Clarity Days,” as opposed to “Senior Moments” and in those “Clarity Days” my brain could run circles around the best of them.
So? What gives?
The answer to that question is probably among the stars, but I did discover that meditation helped clear & center my mind, allowing my ability to focus to return.
Don’t knock it until you try it.
Consciously telling myself in the moment to “focus, focus, focus,” didn’t work too well, but meditation did. It truly worked–something so obvious–but many naysayers are skeptical to try.
I learned meditation from–believe it or not–a BOOK! News anchor Dan Harris wrote 10% Happier after he had an on-air panic attack. The worst thing that could happen to a television personality, especially a seasoned news anchor. It forced him to seek help: Meditation. It has been irrefutably proven effective by science.
Here’s the skinny…
It’s this simple… Find a quiet spot (if possible – it does make it easier), sit in a comfortable position and set a timer for 5 minutes to begin with (trust me, it’s harder than you think), gradually lengthening the time as you master meditation. Now close your eyes and force all thoughts from your mind. What helped me as a young kid was to imagine in my mind a blank, white piece of paper. My mind was always racing at night and I realized it was keeping me awake. I can’t remember if someone told me about the blank paper (probably my mom, she was very smart) or if I discovered it on my own. Either way, it helped.
Once your mind is blank, focus your thoughts on the natural inhale/exhale of your breathing. Don’t count in your head or say to yourself in/out. Remember: no words or thoughts. Just focus on that breathing. If your mind strays and you start thinking, gently and by gently I mean in a nonjudgmental way, forgive yourself and resume focusing on the breathing<–this is the key.
If you hear something that draws your attention like a lawnmower or plane, simply notate it in you mind lawnmower, plane and get right back to the breathing<–this is the key.
Each time when you gently “forgive” your mind for straying or “notate” anything that broke your breath-concentration, it’s called Mindful Awareness. I cannot stress the importance of these two things. Each time they happen and you course-correct, it stimulates changes in the anterior cingulate cortex, insula, temporo-parietal junction, fronto-limbic network and default mode network structures. SUPERCALAFRAGALISTICEXPIALADOSHUS! (tell me you couldn’t resist singing that)
Big words, huh?
Yeah, I don’t understand them either. So let me explain what I do know. Regular practice of Mindful Awareness throws a lasso around the random thoughts that verbalize themselves within our consciousness on a daily basis and tosses them out. For instance, when you hear that lawnmower you think, lawnmower –> I haven’t mowed the lawn in 3 weeks when am I gonna find time to mow the yard before my neighbor reports me because she’s afraid of snakes when she knows they’re harmless garden snakes oh shit I forgot to water the garden I wonder if Jack is home I’ll call him before it gets too hot out I wish I wore short sleeves today are my pits wet…
That annoying run-on sentence above is exactly the sort of thing that goes on in the backgrounds of our minds every minute, every second of the day, every day. It clutters our thoughts and causes fatigue and undue-stress and we all know what stress can do to the mind & body. Mindful Meditation is a tool that helps us become self-aware of run-on thoughts (attention awareness) and with practice eventually bodily awareness and emotional awareness, curbing them, roping them in and re-mapping the mind, resulting in a healthier sense of self identity.
The mechanics are a lot to chew on in a blog post, I know, and I haven’t even covered half of what I think you should know. After all, I want you to read my post, not pass it by from the length. Which is why I’m pointing you to a very, very good case-in-point resource: See what Dan Harris discovered about meditation here, in his INTERVIEW. Find his book (which I highly recommend) here: 10% Happier.<–LIFE CHANGING. Also check out this link, Power of the Mind Formula = I + CAN.
So, the next time you find the world closing into a pinhole:
- Stop immediately & remove yourself from the situation
- Find a quiet, private spot if possible and sit comfortably
- Set the timer for as long as you have available (at least 5 minutes)
- MEDITATE: Focus on that breath, gently course correct & notate
Practice this at least once a day – regardless of the situation – for 5 or 10 minutes to start and work your way up to a goal you can successfully set permanently into your schedule. A great goal would be 30 minutes. An excellent goal would be 1 hour. It may seem impossible at first and very, very frustrating, but remember, that frustration–those keys we talked about–help build that healing reinforcement, like exercise builds muscle. I promise, before you know it that half hour or full hour will be over in a flash and you’ll see a gradual improvement in how you manage stress in your daily life and your overall health.
Meditation worked for Dan Harris, it worked for me…and it will work for you, too!